The alligator is a large lizard-shaped reptile with four short legs and widespread toes. The hide is rough and scaled and the tail is long and muscular. Both male and female alligators are the same color, and there is no way to tell the two apart on the outside.

The skin on the alligator is very tough and covered with smooth horny scales in rows. The head of the alligator is large, flat, elongated and equipped with enormous jaws, hinged far back so that the mouth opens wide.

The animal known as the alligator was known in English as the lagarto or aligarto (and other variations) until Shakespeare's time. These names can be traced to the Spanish phrase "el lagarto" ("the lizard"), which in turn derives from the Latin word for "lizard," "lacerta". The English spelling, however, does not approximate alligator until the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works in 1623; the Folio uses the spelling "allegater".

In the last act of Romeo and Juliet, the servant Balthasar reports to Romeo about Juliet’s supposed death. The despairing young lover plans his own suicide by securing poison from a nearby apothecary who keeps "in his needy shop a tortoise hung, / An alligator stuff’d, and other skins"(V.i.42-43).

Shakespeare makes no further reference to this animal, but that use of the "r" to end its name became accepted, and by 1699 alligator was established in its current spelling.

"Alligator"
Words by Robert Hunter and Ron McKernan (PigPen); music by Ron McKernan.
Reprinted with permission: Copyright Ice Nine Publishing.

This was the first Hunter lyric recorded by the Grateful Dead.
The song first appeared on Anthem of the Sun


Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
Sleepin by the river just like he usually done
Call for his whisky
He can call for his tea
Call all he wanta but he can't call me

Oh no
I been there before
and I'm not comin back around there no more

Creepy alligator comin all around the bend
Talkin bout the times when we was mutual friends
I check my mem'ry
I check it quick yes I will
I check it runnin
some old kind of trick

Oh no well I
been there before
and I ain't a comin back around
there no more
no I'm not

{this verse by the Grateful Dead}

hung up waitin' for a windy day
Hung up waitin for a windy day
Tear down the Fillmore,
Gas the Avalon

{this verse by PigPen:}

Ridin down the river in an old canoe

a bunch of bugs and an old tennis shoe
out of the river all ugly and green
the biggest old alligator that I've ever seen
teeth big and pointed and his eyes were buggin out
contact the union, put the beggars to route
screamin and yellin and lickin his chops
he never runs he just stumbles and hops
just out of prison on six dollars bail
mumblin at bitches and waggin his tail

Alligator runnin round my door
Alligator runnin round my door
Alligator runnin round my door
Alligator runnin round my door

Alligator creepin round the corner of my cabin door
He's comin round to bother me some more

In Box of Rain, his published collection of Grateful Dead lyrics, Robert Hunter notes:

This was the first of my lyrics recorded by the Dead. I got paid two hundred fifty dollars from the record advance for Anthem of the Sun with which I bought a used car and headed north to Seattle, where I tried to make a living restringing beads from Goodwill for a friend's boutique. I made about five dollars at this occuption. The car broke down, which was okay, since I couldn't afford gas for it, so I hitchhiked back to S.F. and decided to hang in there with the Dead. Pigpen added lyrics of his own to "Alligator" and I've presented it here with his turns of phrase intact.

As noted above, the verse that begins "Ridin' down the river in an old canoe" is by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the Dead's first keyboardist.


On a completely non-Grateful Dead related note, there is a silly song about alligators which goes:

The alligator is my friend
He can be your friend too
You can wear him on your head
Or wear him on your shoe

Aaaaaaaa-ligator
Can be your friend can be your friend... too!

The accompanying hand motions (what, you thought this wasn't a multi-media performance piece?) include pointing at the head and feet, and opening and closing fully-extended arms, one over the other, like the jaws of an alligator, for each mention of the word "alligator." In particular, on the second singing of "alligator," the arm-jaws are opened wide for the whole long extended first syllable, because that is silly and fun, of course.
And very lastly, the word "alligator" is a highlight of Kermit the Frog's first scene in The Muppet Movie (1979). "Read my lips," the Muppet says, and his face enunciates every bit as much as his voice: "AL-LEY-GAY-TOR." ♥ Yay!

Last updated 6 April 2012 because more alligator trivia is all in good fun, and if it can include Muppets, then so much the better.

Al"li*ga`tor (#), n. [Sp. el lagarto the lizard (el lagarto de Indias, the cayman or American crocodile), fr. L. lacertus, lacerta, lizard. See Lizard.]

1. Zool.

A large carnivorous reptile of the Crocodile family, peculiar to America. It has a shorter and broader snout than the crocodile, and the large teeth of the lower jaw shut into pits in the upper jaw, which has no marginal notches. Besides the common species of the southern United States, there are allied species in South America.

2. Mech.

Any machine with strong jaws, one of which opens like the movable jaw of an alligator

; as, (a) Metal Working

a form of squeezer for the puddle ball

; (b) Mining

a rock breaker

; (c) Printing

a kind of job press, called also alligator press.

Alligator apple Bot., the fruit of the Anona palustris, a West Indian tree. It is said to be narcotic in its properties. Loudon. -- Alligator fish Zool., a marine fish of northwestern America (Podothecus acipenserinus). -- Alligator gar Zool., one of the gar pikes (Lepidosteus spatula) found in the southern rivers of the United States. The name is also applied to other species of gar pikes. -- Alligator pear Bot., a corruption of Avocado pear. See Avocado. -- Alligator snapper, Alligator tortoise, Alligator turtle Zool., a very large and voracious turtle (Macrochelys lacertina) in habiting the rivers of the southern United States. It sometimes reaches the weight of two hundred pounds. Unlike the common snapping turtle, to which the name is sometimes erroneously applied, it has a scaly head and many small scales beneath the tail. This name is sometimes given to other turtles, as to species of Trionyx. -- Alligator wood, the timber of a tree of the West Indies (Guarea Swartzii).

 

© Webster 1913.

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