The worm that turned
While working in my garden this afternoon I dug up lots of worms, so I thought it might be interesting to find out more about the word worm.
Meanings of worm (/wɜːm/ /wɝm/) include:
- a member of the genus Lumbricus; a slender, creeping, naked, limbless animal, usually brown or reddish, with a soft body divided into a series of segments; an earthworm. More widely, any annelid, terrestrial, aquatic, or marine;
- any animal that creeps or crawls; a reptile; an insect;
- serpent, snake, dragon;
- four-footed animals considered noxious or objectionable.
Some of these meanings are archaic or obsolete.
There have been many variant spellings, including wirm, wrim, wyrme, weorm, werm, werme, wurm, wurem, orm, wrm, wourme, woirme, woorme, worme, and it finally settled on worm.
Worm comes from the Old English wyrm (a serpent, snake, dragon), from the Proto-Germanic *wurmiz (serpent, worm), from the Proto-Indo-European *wrmi-/*wrmo- (worm), possibly from *wer- (to turn). *wrmi-/*wrmo- is also the root of the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word gorm (blue/black), the Welsh gwrm (dusky), the Danish/Norwegian/Swedish orm (snake), the Latin vermis, which is the root of the English words vermilion and vermin, and quite a few other words in various languages.
Some interesting worm factoids
- there are some 2,700 different types of worms
- an acre of land can contain over a million worms
- Cleopatra VII made the export of worms from Egypt a capital crime as she realized the important roll they play in keeping soil fertile
- Charles Darwin studied worms for many years and concluded that they are one of the most important creatures on earth.