gambusia

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noun gam·bu·sia \gam-ˈbü-zh(ē-)ə, -ˈbyü-\

Definition of gambusia

  1. :  any of a genus (Gambusia) of live-bearers (family Poeciliidae) including some introduced as exterminators of mosquito larvae in warm freshwaters — compare mosquito fish

Origin and Etymology of gambusia

borrowed from New Latin, genus name, from Cuban Spanish gambusino (in the idiom pescar gambusinos “to engage in a fruitless activity,” literally, “to fish for gambusinos”; of uncertain origin) + New Latin -ia 1-ia The name Gambusia was introduced by the Cuban zoologist Felipe Poey (1799-1891) in Memorias sobre la historia natural de la isla de Cuba, vol. 1 (Havana, 1851), pp. 382-83. Poey states somewhat cryptically “El nombre debe su etimología á la palabra provincial cubana Gambusino, que significa nada, con idea de chasco ó burla: así se dice pescar Gambusinos cuando no se pesca nada.” (“The name owes it etymology to the provincial Cuban word Gambusino, which means nothing, in the context of a joke or jest: so one says ‘to catch Gambusinos’ when nothing is caught.”) Though unstated, the implication is perhaps that the word gambusino is actually a local name for the fish Gambusia punctata—otherwise, his coinage lacks evident motivation. Note that while Poey gives guajacón as the vernacular name for Gambusia punctata, the corresponding name for his Gambusia puncticulata is gambusito. Gambusino is entered in several lexica of 19th-century Cuban Spanish with basically the same meaning as given by Poey but no further etymological illumination (perhaps earliest in Esteban Pichardo Tapia, Diccionario provincial de voces cubanos, 1836).


First Known Use: circa 1889


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