Water snakes, weavers and weevils

I’m thoroughly tired of politics at the minute, so you’ll have to wait a bit for such gems as ‘What Sartre would say about the Labour leadership election’. Instead, today I have for you some completely arbitrary animal etymologies that I quite liked:


‘Næddre’ in Old English. This word comes from the PIE root ‘netr-‘ and is cognate with ‘natrix’ in Latin and ‘neidr’ in Welsh among others. It means water snake, and probably comes through association with ‘nare’, meaning ‘to swim’. Interestingly, this is one of the words that lost its initial ‘n’ due to a confusing of the article and the noun. When hearing ‘a næddre’ people assumed they were hearing ‘an æddre’ and over time this stuck. The same happened with the word ‘apron’ (originally a ‘naperon’) and the reverse happened with ‘a nickname’ (originally ‘an ekename’). Another factoid for you: dragonflies were originally called ‘adderbolts’. No one is quite sure of the reason for the change in name.


From Old English ‘Bitela’ cf. ‘bitel’ (biting). Literally: ‘little biter’.


One of those rare animals that is recognisable in most European languages (Spanish: avispa, German: Wespe, Dutch: wesp, Norwegian: veps etc) the wasp has its very own adjective and of course gives it name, via Italian, to the iconic Vespa scooter.It is thought that the root is in PIE ‘webh’, which is itself the root of ‘weave’. If this is the case, it surely refers to the intricate makeup of their nests.

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The Condition of the Left in England

'A grotesque mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism.' Skeptic and linguaphile.

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