Piss-ant discovery

New word for the day: pismire = ant.

From “piss” and “mire”, apparently due to the “urinous smell of an anthill” – I’ve never noticed such a smell, but maybe European ants are stinkier than upstate NY ants…

“Mire” here doesn’t mean mud. It’s another word entirely – an old-school word for “ant”. There’s something like it in lots of the Germanic languages. Interestingly, some scholars think it comes from a root which gives us “mig” and such Latinate joys as “micturition”. “Mig” is defined by one “Atkinson” in his Cleveland Glossary:

Mig, liquid manure; the fluid which runs away from the midden, or from the stall drains of a cow-house, &c.

That is to say, mig = piss.

So, poor Pissy Emmet the piss-ant is defamed in both syllables of pismire. And he doesn’t escape it in Latin “formica” (or descendants like Spanish hormiga) either – you can guess where those last two syllables come from. Sadly, I don’t have the resources to determine whether “myrmex” in Greek comes from the same root. It would be a grave indignity for Achilles, whose compatriots the Myrmidons took their name from the ant, if this were so.

Not surprisingly, looking up “pismire” in the Promptorium Parvulorum puts you in a pretty funny section. Here are three consecutive entries:
PYSMERE. Formica.
PYSPOTT, idem quod pyssynge vessel, supra.

That last one just cracks me up!

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