Departments - BackTalk

January 27, 2015
PCT Magazine

Yellow Jacket = Coat;
Yellowjacket = Stinging Insect

I recently read Brad Harbison’s editorial in the August issue of PCT about insect common names. Over the years I’ve had the exact same argument with marketing and advertising personnel regarding “yellowjackets.” Here is how I explain the use of one word vs. two words.

When you look at the names with two words, you must first ask if the second part, by itself, is descriptive of an insect. For example, “bug” is a type of insect and the term is further defined to a more specific type or species by adding a descriptive adjective before it; thus, it should be two words. Examples include:

  • In Hemiptera: bed bug, bat bug, kissing bug, seed bug, leaf-footed bug and assassin bug.
  • In Hymenoptera: paper wasp, European hornet, honey bee, bumble bee, leaf cutter bee and harvester ant.
  • In Blattodea: German cockroach, Surinam cockroach and field cockroach. But maybe it should be “cock roach” instead of cockroach? Although “roach” is a slang term for cockroach, the official common name for these insects is “cockroach” and that fact has never been in dispute.

When applying this “rule” to yellowjacket, is “jacket” an insect? When I think of a yellow jacket, it is a description of a jacket that is yellow and worn by a person. “Hey, would you get me my yellow jacket out of the closet?” Hopefully, I’m not handed a wasp! Yellowjacket, therefore, is descriptive of a specific group of insects and is further defined to species by descriptive adjectives: Eastern yellowjacket, German yellowjacket, etc.

Would you call a member of the Collembola a “spring tail”? A “tail is not an insect. A silverfish is not a “silver fish” — that would be more descriptive of a coho salmon or other silver-colored fish. A “fire brat” may be a bratty kid who is fascinated with fire, but is not a “firebrat” which is a type of silverfish.

We further complicate things when we get to the three-word common names. We have two species in the same cockroach family: the smoky brown cockroach and the brown cockroach. Some authors use “smokybrown” while others use “smoky brown.” I prefer the three word version because “smokybrown” is not in itself a recognized official word in any dictionary I’ve consulted. Same with Indianmeal — it’s not a real word other than in some entomology texts.

Hopefully this helps clarify the situation — although my explanation may not be the official ESA position.

Stoy Hedges
Stoy Pest Consulting
Memphis, Tenn.


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