Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wiggy wonderings from Ixjt

Dear Word Spy

I was wondering why an earwig was called an earwig, because an earwig doesn't relate to an ear or a wig, so why on earth is it called an earwig!?

I wish I could meet you because your books are the best and I enjoyed "The Word Spy" so much.

Well that's all I've got to ask and say.

Kind regards,


P.S I really like your books and I'm a really big fan.

Dear ijxt,

(Hmm, how do you pronounce that name?)

Thank you for this great question - I've often wondered about earwigs myself. 

The odd thing is, the word "wig" meaning a bit of extra hair we might put on our head, and "wig" in "earwig", are actually not the same word even though they look like it.

The hairy wig is short for a longer word, "periwig", which came from "perwyk" which came from a French word "perruque." (If you look at the end of the word, "uque", and think of the "u" as becoming a "double-u" - maybe you can sort of see how it made the sound "wig" eventually.)

So much for that sort of wig. But the wig in earwig is a different word. That sort of wig is an Old English word for a worm (think of how worms "wiggle" and you'll remember!). So an earwig is a kind of wormy-beetly insect. They don't usually get inside people's ears, but they do like small secret places to burrow into, so I guess people were afraid they might get into their ear, so they called them "earwigs" or "earworms."

Ah, earworm - there's a word. Nowadays we use it to mean a catchy song that we can't seem to get out of our head, even if we don't want to hear it any more. It sort of burrows inside and settles down there. 

By the way, one of the Word Spy's favourite words is "vermiform." It means "shaped like a worm."  And do you like that very thin pasta called "vermicelli"? It means - yes - "little worms". Yum!

Thanks for this interesting question  - and I'm so happy you like my books.

yours, wiggling,

the Worm Spy

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