Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Do You Wish That Your Legs Grew Long?

A few days ago I asked Spencer a question about spiders. “If you’re in the shower and you see a spider in there, do you deliberately wash it down or do you do you own thing and let the little guy fend for himself?”

And after that, we drifted to the subject of the daddy longlegs. Not any specific one, but just the idea of them. Now that I think about it, they’re probably the first spider I consciously remember seeing. They’re so omnipresent, despite being so slight. Just thinking about what they look like, I feel like they’re the product of some sci-fi writer’s imagination: a tiny, dot of a creature, suspended in the air by nearly invisible legs. Some stray period or the dot from a lower-case “i” that grew legs and walked off the page.

When I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t even know how the term “daddy longlegs” should look in print, as I can’t remember ever seeing it. “Daddy Long Legs”? “Daddy-long-legs”? The name itself sounds weirdly old-fashioned and Mother Goose-like, when you actually think about what you’re saying. And then I haven’t got a clue how to pluralize it. Surely I’ve seen more than one of these weird arachnids in some corner of an room before, but I can’t think of a logical way to say that there’s more than one. “Look, I see two daddies longlegs?” Or “Shoo away those daddy longlegses.” Not a clue.

I looked it up in the dictionary and then on the Wikipedia. It turns out that the term itself doesn’t really mean anything, as it refers to a different bug or spider or whatever depending on where you are. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it’s “Any of various arachnids of the order Phalangida, with a small rounded body and long slender legs.” It’s also apparently called the harvestman, which lends the critter even more of a human character than I feel comfortable with. A daddy longlegs can even apparently be a fly — the crane fly.

For the first time in a while, researching something has led to it becoming even more ambiguous than before. A week ago I figured I would have been able to explain what a daddy longlegs was to someone who didn’t know. Now I’m not so sure.

2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how to spell it either, but for now I'll go with Daddy-long-legs. Growing up, my siblings and I reserved crane fly for the winged versions, and protested stubbornly when these were called Daddy-long-legses. But this is hardly authoritative.

    On a somewhat related note, in the last month I have had two conversations (this makes three) about the deargadaol AKA devil's coach-horse beetle. I always gave it a wide berth, but got to reminiscing about our encounters after reading this article on earwigs.

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  2. Oh, and when I see a spider in the shower I neither wash it down nor let it fend for itself; I gather it up and release it outside. If I meet a spider indoors somewhere out of the way, I am inclined to let it be, but if its position is likely to result in spider-human conflict, I gently evict it. Or at least I try to. Last night I noticed one settling into a nook near a food stash, but when I went to scoop it away it plunged into a crevice.

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