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MrGrimm888's avatar

How did Flies get the honor? (Details )

Asked by MrGrimm888 (16911points) November 30th, 2016

Flying, or the ability to do so, is one of the greatest things in nature. Many birds,insrcts, and some mammals fly. Many are beautiful, scary, or majestic.

Of ALL the creatures that fly,why did the Fly ,get the honor of being called a ‘Fly?’

Thereare some that have cool colors, but they’re still flies. They eat poop. Their young are considered repulsive by most.

You have Dragon Flies, and Horse Flies. All thanks to Flies though.

Why did such a small, unspectacular creature get the honor of such a verb.

We don’t call Fish ‘Swims.’

Don’t call Chetas ‘Runs.’


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21 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

It’s actually a case convergent evolution. The noun comes from the Middle High German word “Flügel,” which means “wing.” It entered Old English as the word “flȳge” or “flēoge,” which referred to any winged insect. The verb comes from the Proto-Germanic word “fleugana,” which means “to fly.” It entered Old English as the word “flēogan,” which also means “to fly.” Simplifications in spelling and pronunciation over time led both words to become “fly.”

Technically, there is no insect that is just called a “fly.” What most people call “flies” are actually supposed to be called “house flies.” But they are so common that the first word gets dropped. It’s only an important distinction in biology, where the word “fly” (in noun form) most properly refers to insects of the order Diptera (the so-called “true flies,” which are distinguished by their use of a single pair of wings for flying).

josie's avatar

A lot of flying insects are called flies. House flies, dragonflies, mayflies , horse flies, sand flies , fruit flies etc.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Yeah @josie , but the ‘fly,’ is THE Fly…

@SavoirFaire . Pleasure as always. And thanks for the information.

josie's avatar

I get your point

zenvelo's avatar

THE Fly is only a movie. But what kind of fly are you referring. To @MrGrimm888 ? Be specific! All the ones listed by @josie are genetically identified as flies.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Flies…. I guess, house flies? You know, just flies….

If Falcons, or Eagles were called ‘flies,’ I’d get it more…

SavoirFaire's avatar

@zenvelo I take it that @MrGrimm888 is referring to Musca domestica, which goes by many names (including “house fly,” “common fly” and sometimes just “fly”). And funnily enough, not all of the flies listed by @josie are genetically identified as flies. They all have “fly” in their names, of course; but of that list, only house flies, horse flies, sand flies, and fruit flies belong to the order Diptera. Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, and mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera.

ucme's avatar

I get it & it’s an interesting point, like our moon, all planets have them but they get to have names like Europa or Ganymede, there sits ours & it owns the brand Moon…show off.

LostInParadise's avatar

Okay, fly is short for housefly, but it still leaves open the question of why there is a variety of insect names ending in fly. As the OP points out, there is nothing analogous among other groups of animals.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise Like I mentioned in my first response, the word “flȳge”/“flēoge” originally referred to any winged insect. Adding words to the beginning of each variety’s name seems like a pretty straightforward way of differentiating them in the absence of modern scientific classification.

And while it’s true that we don’t see other animals named after verbs, flies are also not named after a verb (again, I explained this in my first response). If we look for other groups of animals that share a common noun, however, we can find many. Let’s take bears, for example.

We have brown bears, black bears, polar bears, and panda bears (all members of the family Ursidae), and then we have animals that are often misidentified as bears such as the koala or the red panda/bear-cat (which is neither a panda nor a bear nor a cat).

And of course, we here at Fluther ought to be aware of an even larger category that follows this same pattern: fish. While many creatures with “fish” in the name are in fact fish (such as goldfish or catfish), there are also several that are not fish (including cuttlefish, starfish, and our own beloved jellyfish).

LostInParadise's avatar

Point taken, but it still leaves the question of why the act of flying was taken from winged insects. My preference would be to associate flying with birds. And why does the word swim not come from the word for fish?

No matter how I look at it, I am in agreement with the OP’s original statement that it is an odd association.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise Again, see my original answer. The verb for flying was not taken from winged insects. The two words came to be homonyms by way of convergent evolution. Neither was derived from the other.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^It’s still very interesting ,to me,that Flies ended up with the name.

I figured that there was a language issue behind it.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Oh, it’s definitely interesting. Apologies if any of my answers have suggested otherwise.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^We’re good . Like I said, always a pleasure. Thank you for your contribution.

LostInParadise's avatar

@SavoirFaire , Finally got it. Pardon my obtuseness.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise No problem. I actually confused myself a couple of times while researching my answer, and that was with all of the information in front of me.

elbanditoroso's avatar

And when did “fly” come to mean “zipper”? As in ‘your fly is open’.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@elbanditoroso Technically, your fly is not your zipper, but rather the material that covers your zipper (or buttons, or whatever closes the opening in your pants). But since a fly can usually only be open when the buttons or zipper or whatever are undone, they’ve come to be synonymous in common usage. In any case, the origin of using “fly” for the material that covers the opening in a pair of pants goes back to the early 1800s and comes from an analogy with tents.

The fly of a tent is the outermost layer, and its flaps cover the entrance to the tent. So while the fly is technically the whole outer layer, people started using the word “fly” (or sometimes “flies”) to refer to the entrance flaps. This use of “fly” for “flap” then made its way over to fashion, which is how the flap that covers your zipper came to be known as your “fly.”

This, of course, raises the question of why the outermost layer of a tent is called a “fly.” The reason there is that it can be used on its own as a sort of makeshift shelter. But the fabric it was made out of was too valuable to place on the ground (where it was more likely to be damaged), so it would be strung up in the air—as if flying—when used in this way. Thus the name.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Like a flying buttress in architectural terms….

SavoirFaire's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Yes, indeed! Or a flying arch. “Fly” ends up being a rather diverse word due to its associations with height, speed, wings, flaps, and probably other things we aren’t even thinking about right now. The use of “flyer” for a type of advertisement, for instance, is often thought to be derived from an analogy with a flock of birds (because the distribution pattern spreads out widely from a closely packed group, sort of like a flock of birds taking off). The malleability of language is quite fascinating.

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