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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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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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