Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel, The Metamorphosis, has a man waking up to find himself transformed into a “monstrous insect”. Although the author’s intention was to have the creature remain unidentified, it has a carapace and several legs, and with the German ungeziefer meaning “bug, vermin” (in Old High German, an unclean animal unfit for sacrifice) many interpret it as a cockroach. Our morbid fascination with the cockroach is perhaps because, alongside its association with filth and pestilence, it is one of the oldest insects, with fossilised cockroaches dating back 320 million years. The English name is far more recent. One of the earliest forms is recorded in Captain John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), in which he describes “a certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung”. The Spanish word for these Bermudian insects was cucaracha , or beetle – an extended expressive form of the 14th century cuca , or caterpillar, butterfly larva, bug, pest – and in some Castilian dialects cockroach . Smith’s English spelling of the word is suggested as having been influenced by caca , baby talk for “excrement” in many European languages. In a matter of decades the word was modified to the form we know today – likely based on the familiar English word “cock”, or rooster (a roach is a fish). Such altering of a word to resemble a more familiar form is known as folk etymology. By the 1820s, the word was often clipped to “roach”, possibly motivated by embarrassing homonymy with “cock”. The “cockroach” epithet, unsurprisingly derogatory, has been used widely in politics, primarily to dehumanise. The traditional Spanish folk song La Cucaracha became popular during the Mexican revolution (1910-20), with stanzas mocking politicians’ drunkenness and villainy. The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw ethnic Hutu extremists repeatedly describing the Tutsis as inyenzi, or cockroaches. And during the current Hong Kong protests , pro-Beijing elements have regularly used the word to describe protesters and journalists . But another side to the cockroach comes to the fore in popular culture. It is a cockroach that survives on an uninhabitable post-apocalypse Earth in the 2008 film WALL-E (although, in reality, they are not the most radiation-resistant organism). The 1993 Hong Kong comedy Flirting Scholar, coined the Cantonese síu kèuhng, “little power”, for a pet cockroach. A more popular Cantonese slang term for cockroach than the formal gaht zaht , it is also a term of admiration for resilience in the face of adversity.