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25 Dramatic Dragonfly Nicknames From Around the U.S.

We have many reasons to love dragonflies. They look cool, eat mosquitoes—and have some nifty nicknames across the U.S. In our continued partnership with the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we bring you 25 dramatic dragonfly designations from around the country.

1., 2., AND 3. DEVIL’S DARNING NEEDLE, DARNING NEEDLE, AND SEWING NEEDLE

Devil’s darning needle, darning needle, and sewing needle are just a few nicknames that come from the way dragonflies “fly back and forth over the same area as a needle travels when darning socks,” according to Hawaiian Nature Notes.

Devil’s darning needle is a chiefly northern term, while darning needle is mostly used in the Northeast, Inland North, and the West. Dining needle, a variant of darning needle, might be heard on Long Island; Spanish needle in Nebraska; stitcher in California and Massachusetts; and sewing needle in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.

Dragonflies are harmless but somehow gained a nasty reputation. A belief was that the “devil’s darning-needle [would] sew together the fingers or toes of a person who goes to sleep within its reach,” according to the 1899 book Animal and Plant Lore. It would also “sew up the mouths of scolding women, saucy children, and profane men,” “sting you to death,” and “enter the ears and penetrate the brain of a person.” Animal and Plant Lore isn't the only place these ideas pop up: In The Insect Guide (1948), author Ralph B. Swain writes that “it was once popularly believed that [large dragonflies] sewed up the ears of truant schoolboys,” while a 1967 quote in DARE says “it would sew up your mouth if you told a lie.”

4., 5., 6., AND 7. EAR CUTTER, EAR SEWER, EAR NEEDLE, AND EYE STITCHER

Want kids to behave? Make up scary stuff about insects. The term ear cutter comes from the myth that dragonflies “will cut the ears of children who lie,” according to DARE. Synonyms include ear sewer and ear needle, the latter of which is probably a blend of ear sewer and darning needle. Eye stitcher comes from the frightening idea that dragonflies “will sew your eyes shut if you don’t behave.”

8. SCHNEIDER

Pronounced sneeder or snyder, this Wisconsin moniker comes from the German word for tailor and also refers to the daddy longlegs and other insects.

9., 10., AND 11. SNAKE SERVANT, SNAKE GUARDER, AND SNAKE HEEDER

A Pennsylvania term, snake servant apparently comes from the belief that dragonflies warned snakes “of approaching danger, and aided them in the acquisition of food,” according to the Journal of American Folklore.

Also in the Pennsylvania German area were snake heeder and snake guarder, according to A Word Geography of the United States. The latter term is a loan translation of the Pennsylvania German schlangehieter, while the former is a partial translation of the same word, according to DARE.

More snake-related nicknames include snake waiter, especially in Maryland; snake peter in Wisconsin and New Jersey; snake feeder in the Midland and Plains States; and snake charmer in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Montana, and the Northeast.

12. SNAKE DOCTOR

While dragonflies might be the stuff of bratty kids’ nightmares, they were apparently a boon to snakes. Snake doctor, chiefly used in the Midland and South, comes from the idea that dragonflies could “cure snakes” or snakebites. According to the 1893 book Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi, the “two bumps sometimes seen on the [dragonfly], just behind his wings, are called his saddlebags, and in them he is reputed to carry medicine for the snakes.” Meanwhile, an Alabama resident told DARE dragonflies “picked off the gnats that would gather in a small cloud around a sunning snake.”

Other doctor epithets include witch doctor, especially in the South Midland, and mosquito doctor, probably a blend of mosquito hawk, another nickname for the dragonfly, and snake doctor.

13., 14., AND 15. DEVIL’S DRAGON, DEVIL’S RIDING HORSE, AND DICKINSON’S HORSE

Dragonflies were considered devilish in some regions, with devil’s dragon quoted in Tennessee; devil horse and devil's horse in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi; and devil’s riding horse in North Carolina. In Iowa you might hear Dickinson’s horse or Dickinson’s mare where, we’re speculating, Dickinson might be a variation on Dick, Dickens, and other old-fashioned names for the devil.

16., 17., AND 18. HORSE DOCTOR, MOSQUITO HORSE, AND HORSE STINGER

Horse-related idioms are another variation. You might hear horse doctor in Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas, where one resident said it might be “bad luck for ‘horse doctors’ to fly around near the fish pole.” Mosquito horse might be heard in Mississippi and Georgia. In Nebraska, horse stinger comes from the old-timey belief that dragonflies stung horses and even sucked their blood, according to the book Hill County Harvest.

19. AND 20. MULE KILLER AND BEE-BUTCHER

Similarly, mule killer comes from the incorrect belief that dragonflies killed mules, and not-so-similarly, bee-butcher from their true habit of eating bees and other small insects.

21. FOUR-EYES

Not just a schoolyard taunt, four-eyes might be a dragonfly designation in Illinois, referring to its compound eye, according to DARE. Sarah Zielinski writes at Smithsonian that “nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is eye, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them.”

22. AND 23. HELICOPTER AND AIRPLANE

Then there are the regionalisms related to how dragonflies move. According to Zielinksi, they’re “expert fliers” and can “fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate mid-air.” So it’s no surprise that the dragonfly is known as a helicopter in areas like Indiana, Pennsylvania, and the Upper Midwest. Meanwhile, over in California, Delaware, Washington, and South Dakota, the insect might be called an airplane, airplane bug, and airplane fly.

24. GLOBE-SKIMMER

According to Hawaiian Nature, a particular species of dragonfly known as the globe-skimmer takes “advantage of any little puddle of water in the lowlands to breed,” which is why “this species is so abundant, even in the driest localities.” The species migrates 11,000 miles—the farthest of any insect.

25. LONG-ASS BUTTERFLY

And if you’re ever in the Buckeye State, be like one Ohioan jokester who referred to a dragonfly for what it is: a long-ass butterfly.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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