Sunday, September 24, 2006

Daddy long-legs

After saying recently that I'd be reducing the frequency of my posting, I find that I have a lot more to post about. Having finished my sabbatical, I'm back in the land of the listening and the talking, and so my list of things to write about gets longer and longer and their topicality gets staler and staler. I noted about a dozen experiences yesterday that I could have blogged about. How frustrating to have to ration my blog time...

So, before this one becomes untopical:

Britain is having a 'plague' of crane flies, or as the Daily Telegraph (their photo, right) and everyone else around me puts it, daddy long-legs. In AmE, daddy long-legs refers only to certain types of spiders that have very long, thin legs and a small body. In BrE, it can refer to spiders (although then it's usually called the daddy long-legs spider), but also to just about any insect that has similar legs.

I first heard the term used thusly a few months ago, when I went to eradicate a bug in my kitchen and Better Half and his sister protested. BH'sS said, "Don't kill it! It's a daddy long-legs!" I'm not sure that it really mattered to her that it was a daddy long-legs; she is a friend of all creatures great and small. I protested, "No, it's not. It's only got six legs." BH and sister replied that that's how many legs a daddy long-legs has.

The insect in question looked like a daddy-long legs spider, except for being two legs short of spiderhood. It looked kind of like this picture (via Google Images from a website that no longer exists, so I don't know what the insect is). But the plague of crane flies has inspired an epidemic of using daddy long-legs in a more specific sense, to refer to these flying things--usuallly in the expression Ugh, get it out of here! I hate those daddy long-legs! The OED lists the crane fly meaning first, with examples of the term going back to the early 19th century.

I was going to write this and wait a day to post it, but (AmE) what the heck...

20 comments:

Aviatrix said...

It's a daddy long-legs in Canada, too.

Anonymous said...

In Scotland, or at least my wee corner, they're called Jenny long-legs which I always thought was a much nicer name

Anonymous said...

Actually, that reminds me of an eprisode of Mythbusters when they said that daddy long-legs are the most poisonous type of spider (or words to that effect) picture me and my Mum looking at each other with a WHAT? If you were a really cruel kid, you caught them and pulled their legs off but poisonous? When they should footage of spiders, the penny dropped.

City Slicker said...

I can confirm
There was annoying little beast torturing my curtain the other evening!

Rebecca said...

If it's a spider I can let it live, if it's fluttering around a light it has to die, whatever it's called. Hate hate hate hate them. There were lots of them on holiday, plaguing me.

AllieTheKiwi said...

Adding a geographic 'same here' for New Zealand. Although I must say I'd not noticed that some have only 6 legs and others have 8. I presumed that the ones with wings were perhaps males whilst the ones without were females or vice versa ... a theory that would no doubt make any Entomologist cringe.

lynneguist said...

The Encyclopaedia Britannica points out:

"In English-speaking countries other than the United States, the crane fly is popularly called daddy long legs because it has a slender, mosquito-like body and extremely long legs. (In the United States, “daddy longlegs” generally refers to an arachnid.)"

So, while Canadian English is like American English in many ways, this is one way in which it's like the rest of the British Commonwealth.

Aviatrix said...

Hmm. Canadian English straddles the gap between American and British in so many ways I can't say which it is closest to. Pronunciation is closer to that of the northern states than of anywhere in the UK, but I will choose a British spelling checker over an American one. The main differences being "gaol" "tyre" and the ize/ise words. We keep the U in words like colour, and all the double letters in words like traveller and jewellery.

I kind of like the fact that mine is the only country in which "organized labour" is spelled correctly.

lynneguist said...

...and the vocabulary shares more in common with AmE than BrE, but there are exceptions, like daddy long-legs. (And then there are the things that are just Canadian. Like saying Grade 9 instead of 9th grade. I watched too much Degrassi Jr High in (AmE) grad school.)

pj said...

'What the heck' certainly isn't exclusively AmE; I (BrE) use it a lot.

lynneguist said...

Ah, that BrE label was Better Half's doing. (I usually read him the postings before they go up.)

OED has heck as dialectal in the UK, but they don't say what dialects, and it could very well be that it's not dialectal anymore.

Howard said...

> In Scotland, or at least my wee corner, they're called Jenny long-legs which I always thought was a much nicer name

My Lancastrian grandfathers used to call them "Harry Longlegs".

The small-bodied long-legged spiders are often called "Harvesters" or "Harvestmen". See http://www.kendall-bioresearch.co.uk/harvestmen.htm
for a picture and description.

ally said...

Harvestmen are a different thing to those small-body-spindly-leg spiders (Pholcidae)- in fact harvestmen aren't spiders at all (as the website howard's linked to says). The things that hang around in all the undusted corners of my home are definitely real web-spinners though. I don't know what they're called but I'd never refer to them as daddy long-legs (-legses?). Though wikipedia does... (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pholcidae - lots of other names there too).
Ugh, it's making my skin crawl just typing this. Must stop.

ally said...

Just realised that i said i didn't know what they're called but had previously mentioned they're Pholcidae - what i meant was that i don't have a name for them... just 'those spindly spiders with the tiny bodies'.

dearieme said...

"thusly": you are a tease.

Anonymous said...

"...I'd never refer to them as daddy long-legs (-legses?)"
Daddies long-legs, surely?

ally said...

Long-legged daddies?

John Cowan said...

In discussing the "tire center" (AmE) / "tyre centre" (BrE) / "tire centre" (CanE) trichotomy, a Briton commented that to him a "tire centre" would be a place where you go to get tired.

outerhoard said...

One word that can be fun for scaring the British with is "bluebottle" - which in Australia is a Portuguese Man-o-War, but in Britain is something very common but much less dangerous. Use of the word across dialects can cause the British party to imagine, for a moment, that something as common and inescapable as the British bluebottle might be as dangerous as an Australian one!

Anonymous said...

It's called Jangnim Gummy('Blind Spider', if translated) in here, South Korea, but not commonly known. I also didn't recognize the bug until I visited New Zealand.