Ants in the dictionary

It’s absolutely amazing to see the number of creatures -insects, fishes, birds and animals that have crawled, swam, flown and strolled into our everyday usage of the language. One feels like being in a noisy, smelly and a crowded zoo with an aquarium thrown in for good measure. Some of the creatures, of course, are too tame and pedestrian to be in the zoo, but they are definitely milling around us.

Not wanting to play favourites and offend any creature by mentioning them out of their pecking order, I am going strictly by the alphabetical order—the way some of the movie credits roll these days. Few other movie credits roll in the order of appearance and that also matches with the alphabetical order as the creatures come in the order of appearance—in the dictionary.

The tiny harmless (not always) ants take the first bow. By their ceaseless activities (have you ever caught an ant napping?) the ants have become symbols of hard work with boundless energy. Working like ants is an expression that is commonplace. Note the plural. Ants like us live in communities. There are numerous types of ants. Some harmless and some deadly. Some of them can strip a carcass of bison in minutes. Yes, you have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian ants. Despite their tiny size, they are capable of building mammoth structures of dwelling units which we call termite mounds. We are not very surprised when we see a tiny ant emerging from a mound that is three thousand times its size, but we stare with awe at pyramids and wonder how a five-and-half feet man built it.

Marching like a column of ants is another term in use. They must have been the original inventors of the queue system and believe me from what I have read, their queues can extend to a kilometer and more, and still be orderly. Of course now and then you see an influential ant jump the queue and no one protests. The rich and the powerful get away with it always. The queues and the rules are for the middle class. It is the same everywhere.

If the biting or the tickling variety gets into our trousers we would be moving around quite energetically to dislodge them or crush them in our pants. When we are in public and they get into awkward places we may have to pinch that area surreptitiously to get rid of them. Ants in the pants means to be highly restless or impatient. Can understand why. We do not want the family jewels disturbed, do we? Antsy is another term used to mean, restless, impatient etc.

When we want to coax kids to take an intravenous injection for some ailment contracted by them to avoid school, we tell them that the needle prick would not hurt and it would be like a silly ant bite. Well, I can tell you there are some ants in the African jungle who wouldn’t be amused by that comparison and when they bite you, you would compellingly revise your opinion and think of their bite as anything but silly.

Those are the expressions that exist about ants. There ought to have been one more expression but we seemed to have missed it. Just to jolt you out of your smug sex life here is a shocker: the queen termite in a cosy warm climate lays more than five thousand eggs in a single day and thinks nothing about it. That is 208.33 eggs per hour, 3.47 eggs per minute or an egg every 17.29 seconds, and in her royal lifetime lays about three million eggs. How is that for a productive life? But we do not honour them by saying reproducing like ants because of some silly technicality that ants lay eggs and do not produce baby ants. When you are small in size nobody gives a damn. The expression for reproduction is reserved for rabbits. Talking about rabbits there is some juicy stuff… oh! … oh! … but I am jumping the order. Rabbits are a long way off. The juicy stuff will have to wait. Next in the series would be our closest cousin, the ape.

Next article: Space for our cousins
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