Lousy with Names

Male Human Head Louse by Gilles San Martin

Lousy with Names

A louse is a louse is a louse,
Close enough,
In German, Norwegian and Dutch,
While Romancers keeps it in-house,
Close enough,
From the Latin pedis, and such,
While Slavs use a different nous,
Close enough,
With vusi – it doesn’t change much.
So a louse is a louse, from West to East,
And ev’rywhere the same.
But a woodlouse, that’s a diff’rent beast –
The bug with a thousand names…
Roly-poly, cheesey wig,
The sow bug, pill bug, backyard blimp –
And dandy postman, parson’s pig,
Or slater, cafner, carpet shrimp.
And other tongues have a similar feast –
Or so the pundits claim…
But an insect louse ? That’s just a louse –
They’re itchy, but they’re tame.

I have touched on woodlice before, and also eyelash lice. Their diversity of names reminds me somewhat of butterflies. Incidentally, though both ‘wood’ and ‘louse’ are present in Anglo-Saxon, they don’t seem to have been put together until 1611.

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