Saturday, September 12, 2009


I know why the cricket sings

Last week, NPR covered a project that’s called the New York City Cricket Crawl (and see the New York Times article on it). It’s a joint project of the American Museum of Natural History and other groups, and they’re asking New Yorkers to go out and listen for the sounds of specific species of crickets and katydids, and to report them. They want to, you see, determine if certain species are still in the area, and how prevalent they are. And it’s been postponed until tonight, owing to yesterday’s inclement weather.

They’re suggesting that people record the sounds on their mobile phones, which prompts NPR’s Richard Segal to ask about the quality of such a recording. AMNH’s Louis Sorkin admits that mobile phones are optimized for the human voice, so, indeed, “they’re not one of the better ways to do it.” He adds this:

But if people do their homework, go to the Cricket Crawl web site, look at the pictures of the common katydids and crickets that will be most likely found, and listen to their vocalizations, then they’ll be prepared to go into the wilds of New York and listen.
The “wilds” of New York [City], indeed. He-he-he.

But, um: vocalizations? Here’s the definition of “vocalization” from Britannica Online:


Any sound produced through the action of an animal’s respiratory system and used in communication. Vocal sound, which is virtually limited to frogs, crocodilians and geckos, birds, and mammals, is sometimes the dominant form of communication.

Now, crickets and katydids make their sounds by rubbing together external body parts, not by using their respiratory systems in any way. They don’t “vocalize”, and Mr Sorkin certainly knows that quite well.

Do we think he was just trying to use a fancier word for “sounds”? Ah, yes, we do.

Sometimes, the simpler word is also the right one.


Beth B. said...


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