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This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.

earwig

[ˈɪərˌwɪg]

noun

1. Any of various insects of the order Dermaptera,  esp Forficula auricularia  (common European earwig ), which typically have an elongated body with small leathery forewings, semicircular membranous hindwings, and curved forceps at the tip of the abdomen

verb (used with object)

2. To fill the mind of with prejudice by insinuations.

3. informal  to eavesdrop

Etymology

Old English ēarwicga,  from ēare ear+ wicga beetle, insect; probably from a superstition that the insect crept into human ears.

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I had intended to write this post about the word ephemeral, but after starting the post I realised I would just repeat my (slightly inane) ramble about ph sounds I made a few weeks ago.

I decided to go down a different road and chose a noun – or is it?

I have a soft spot for words which originate from Old English. They’re not as pretentious as words which come from the “Classics” languages of Greek and Latin.

On top of that, earwig comes from the delightful belief (still defended by my friend, who refuses to believe otherwise) that they crawled into your ears. This may be delightful that people believed it, but it’s also slightly disturbing.

Eddie Izzard does a hilarious sketch in which he asks, “if bees make honey, what do other insects make?” – spiders make gravy, and earwigs make chutney.

And you can see where this comes from. They look like the type of animals that would make chutney.

Their name suits them wonderfully, as it’s a bit – well – creepy, and so are they.

Since this origin, their name has also become a verb – to eavesdrop, or to fill another’s mind with prejudice.

These poor animals have been given the stigma of sneaky, conniving animals who listen in to private conversations and, near enough, brain washing.

However, they do look creepy; you can see why this has happened.

Earwig

Eric(a) the earwig; probably listening in to your private conversations right now

I love the word earwig for one more reason: the phonology.

/ˈɪər/ is pronounced differently in so many different accents, depending on how high or low or front of back or rounded the vowel sound is, and on whether the accent is rhotic or not. It’s a word which changes depending on who says it, making the beautiful variations of the English language more obvious.

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