A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 12, 2004
Litterbug (Litter Bug)
"Litterbug" (also spelled "litter-bug" or "litter bug") is a term that comes from the "jitterbug" era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Many city advertisements told New Yorkers not to be "litterbugs."

"Please do not be a 'litterbug'" was printed in the Victoria (BC) Daily Times on March 29, 1939. "The Litter Bugs" was an editorial in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle on June 8, 1940.

There are several claims of coinage. Wikipedia states:

"Keep America Beautiful conducted many local PSA campaigns early in its history. One of these early campaigns in Pennsylvania (PENNDOT), some attribute to having coined the term 'litterbug', as opposed to the New York Transit Authority. It was, however, coined by Paul B. Gioni, a copywriter in New York City who originated it for The American Ad Council in 1947."

"Litterbug" could not have been coined in 1947 because the earliest printed citations are from 1939 in British Columbia, Canada.

[This entry was assisted by research from Fred Shapiro and John Baker of the American Dialect Society.]


Wikipedia: Keep America Beautiful
Keep America Beautiful conducted many local PSA campaigns early in its history. One of these early campaigns in Pennsylvania (PENNDOT), some attribute to having coined the term "litterbug", as opposed to the New York Transit Authority. It was, however, coined by Paul B. Gioni, a copywriter in New York City who originated it for The American Ad Council in 1947. Keep America Beautiful joined with the Ad Council in 1961 to dramatize the idea that every individual must help protect against the effects litter has on the environment.

Wiktionary: litterbug
Etymology
litter +‎ bug
. Coined in 1947 by New York copywriter Paul B. Gioni for The American Ad Council.
Noun
litterbug
(plural litterbugs)
1. A person who tends to drop litter and not clean it up.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
1947 N.Y. Herald-Tribune 16 Feb. 2/7 (heading) 47,000 subway '*litterbugs' pay $107,000 in fines in 1946 drive.

29 March 1939, Victoria (BC) Daily Times, pg. 8, col. 6:
"Accumulation of refuse in outhouses and shed is detrimental to health and harbors rats and other vermin," said Thomas E. Lancaster, city sanitary inspector, in a statement endorsing 'Clean-up, Paint-up Week."

"The city health department asks your co-operation and assistance in keeping Victoria a clean, tidy and healthy city.

"One of the worst problems confronting the city is indiscriminate dumping of refuse on vacant ground, which gives the city a dirty and untidy appearance. Please do not be a 'litterbug'."

14 August 1939, Victoria (BC) Daily Times, pg. 7, col. 7:
Too Many "Litterbugs"
CAPE TOWN (CP) -- It takes from 800 to 900 cleaning men to remove dustbins, wash streets and sweep up refuse from gutters here. City officials lament there are "too many litterburgs [sic] in Cape Town."

8 June 1940, Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, "The Litter Bugs" (editorial), pg. 8, col. 2:
How do people get that way? How can they scatter rubbish and even garbage along public highways, in parks, on picnic grounds?

11 June 1940, Vancouver (BC) Sun, pg. 13, col. 2:
Total War on 'Litterbugs'
Untidy Folk Beware! City to Enforce Its Strictest Bylaw


17 June 1940, Plainfield (NJ) Courier-News, "The Litter Bugs" (editorial), pg. 6, col. 1:
Plainfield and its vicinity have their share of those selfish thoughtless persons whom we might well describe as "litter bugs."

How do they get that way? How can they scatter rubbish and even garbage along public highways, in parks and on picnic grounds?

20 August 1940, Green Bay (WI) Press-Gazette, "British Squires Protesting Damage Caused By City Folks," pg. 33, col. 6:
(J. Gunston in The Field of London. -- ed.)
"The litter-bugs are annoying, and may be damaging when their litter is broken bottles and empty tins."

20 June 1941, Vancouver (BC) Daily Province, "Children's Health Posters Show Skill and Imagination" by Palette, pg. 39, col. 2:
Allan Beaton, in his "Don't Be a Litterbug," displays grand humor.

31 October 1942, Philadelphia (PA) Tribune, pg. 6, col. 3:
Don't Be A Litter Bug Is New Slogan
Clean Street Campaign Opens Here With Big Meeting In City Hall

"Don't Be A Litter Bug," that is the slogan for you, and you, and you to remember, if you are a citizen of this, the third largest city in the United States, which also has the dubious reputation for being the dirtiest city.

The slogan was given to the public on Wednesday night of last week when hundreds of representatives of Negro and white organizations in the city met in the Mayor's office.

8 April 1943, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, pg. 5, col. 6:
Leaders Plan Cleanup Drive in Triangle
Business, Civic Bodies Map Program For Beautifying District

Plans for a clean-up campaign that will eliminate "litterbugs" and bring beautification of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle were announced last night at a meeting if civic leaders and city officials in the Chamber of Commerce Auditorium.

14 May 1943, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, "Litter-Bugs A Problem' (editorial), pg. 6, col. 2:
THERE'S a new kind of bug loose in St. Petersburg. We call it the "litter-bug."

A "litter-bug" is an unco-operative citizen who is too lazy to deposit paper wrappers, cigarette butts, or small bits of trash in their proper receptacles.

4 April 1946, Olean (NY) Times Herald, "Cleaning Up After the Park 'Litterbug'" (editorial), pg. 20, col. 1:
Warm days of late March opened a new season for the city parks, so far as attendance is concerned. They also served to center attention to a growing nuisance, the Park Litterbug. The Litterbug may be either male or female. He is deliberately or thoughtlessly untidy. He can be tracked through River Park by a trail of paper, orange peel and other debris as easily as a hound follows a fox."

21 April 1946, Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner, pg. 2:
The season of outdoor activities is here. And that serves to center attention on the fact that litterbugs will become a part of community life just as they always have before. (...) Litterbugs are deliberately thoughless [sic] and untidy. They can be traced through city parks and along streets and roads by a trail of fruit skins, ice cream cartons, candy wrappers, milk and beverage bottles (often broken) and other debris, as easily as a hunting dog follows the trail of a game animal or a varmint.

8 May 1947, The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), "At City Hall: Are You a Litterbug?" by Frank Tumpane, pg. 3, col. 3:
A litterbug is a species of pest, found in torrid, temperate and frigid climates, which roams streets of towns and cities dropping discarded newspapers, cartons, candy wrappers and variegated debris.

26 February 1979, Associated Press -- Alice Rush McKeon, a conservationist and roadside beautification advocate believed to have coined the word "litterbug," is dead. She died Saturday at her home here at age 94. Mrs. McKeon first used the word litterbug to describe random discarding of trash in a nationally circulated booklet on conservation, "The Litterbug Family," in the 1930s.

5 February 1998, CNN Today -- The cartoonist who created the subway signs years ago, Amelia Opti Jones, also known as Oppy, started in the 1940s. Her son survives. She coined some words. Interview-Bill Jones, Oppy's son, says "litterbug" has become part of the language.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • Tuesday, October 12, 2004 • Permalink