Living With Dialects

Speakers of a language from different geographical areas sometimes use different words or different pronunciations to refer to the same object. These variations define a dialect. The Harvard Dialect Survey was developed by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder in 2003. Of the 100+ questions, several featured insects or arthropods. The name “Daddy Long Legs” was used by almost 95% of respondents from all areas of the country. “Firefly”, “Lightning Bug” and “I use both interchangeably” split equally (29-40%) with most using the two names interchangeably. Entomologists have sought to discontinue the term “lightning bug” in favor of “firefly” as the insect is a beetle and not a bug. Perhaps this indicates and education effect?

The creature with the most variability was the terrestrial isopod. The strongest showing was “Roly Poly” (33%) followed by Pill Bug (16%). There were a lot of names given. Terrestrial isopods are not a single species but a group that contains over 4000 species. Wood Louse the name more commonly used by biologists was used by only 0.5% of the population. It is useful to be aware of the commonly used names when communicating to the public about arthropods. A presentation about the “Roly Poly” may elicit a visual image in more of the audience than a presentation about wood lice.

Survey map

Survey map of the names for terrestrial isopods
After: Vaux and Golder

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Education, Literature, Taxonomy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Living With Dialects

  1. Debra says:

    Wow. I love this. I always wondered what doodlebugs and twiddlebugs were. I’d see these words in stories and guessed they meant fireflies. (Wood louse is the illegible term in yellow I guess).

  2. jjneal says:

    Doodlebug is the name commonly applied to antlion larvae.

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