This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Nuts and Bolts: the troll's distaff.

The other day someone offered me a book about trollsländor, which translates as troll's distaffs (a distaff is the stick you put your flax on before you start spinning it).

So, what is a troll's distaff, exactly?

Well, it's pretty much the same as what in England is called a devil's darning needle. Or in Norwegian øyenstikker, which means eye stick. Or in Welsh gwas y neidr, servant of the devil. Or in Russian, sometimes, flying adder.

Can you guess what it is, yet?

In many countries - Greece, Germany, France, Spain - it's called libelúla, or libellule, or libélula or Libelle, which words come from the Latin libella, which means, rather dully, level.

Does that help at all?

In Turkey it's called Yusufçuk. Yusuf is Joseph, and the rest I'll leave you to guess.

In Hungary it's szitakötő, which seems, particularly improbably, to mean sieve signing or sieve binding.

In Croatia it's vilin konjic, an Elfish horse.

In Ireland it's snáthaid mhór, or great needle - 

 - and in Iceland it's drekafluga...

...which means...

...have you got it yet?

Yes, dragonfly.

How soon did you guess?

I must say here, in simple justice to dragonflies, that in Japan dragonflies are symbols of strength and bravery, and to the Hopi of North America they are a symbol of life.

In England, however, they have been said to turn themselves into needles to sew up the mouths of lying children.


File:Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) dragonfly, female (5070363690).jpg
Photo of Variegated Meadowhawk by Steve Barardi

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