Why The Entire English Speaking World Can’t Agree on What These Bugs Are Called

Photo Courtesy of Folini
Photo Courtesy of Folini

It’s been some forty years since I last squeezed between a shrub bush and my grandmother’s concrete porch in Nowhere, Appalachia, USA.  Nestled alongside a mountain on one side and an unnamed creek on the other, I spent a countless number of hours “hauling coal” one Tonka dumptruck load at a time.

Though those days are all but a faint memory in my ever aging mind, the moment my eyes spot what we always called a “Roly-Poly” I am instantly transported through miles and years back to those summer afternoons when everything in the world was perfect.  Finding one of these creatures beneath her shrubbery was an unexpected treat and one that always concluded with me tickling the bug in order to watch it roll up into its legendary “roly-poly” ball!

If there was ever an insect that sums up the average kid’s childhood it is this one, though strangely, very few people can agree on what these funny exoskeleton crustaceans are even called.

Regional variants in American-English is nothing knew, is it a shopping cart or a buggy? A commode or a toilet? And oh yeah, who would have ever imagined that there are actually people who ride toboggans off a snow-covered hillside?

Interestingly, however, it’s not just us crazy Americans who can’t seem to unite in whether these tiny insects are “potato bugs”, “pill bugs” or “roly-pollies”, it seems that the entire English speaking world has segregated itself into tiny camps when it comes to what to call these things.

Down Under, Aussies around the Melbourne area call them “butcher boys” In Australia, folks while the rest of the nation, as well as New Zealand use an old Scottish and Irish name for the insects, “slaters”.

Meanwhile, our friendly neighbors to the north, have a handful of names for the creatures.  Along the nation’s eastern coastline, they are either called “boat-builders” or “carpenters”, while on Canada’s west coast, they are known as “wood bugs”.

In England, the creatures are known by a different name in what seems like every town!  In Reading they’re called “cheeselogs”, in Kent they’re “cheesy bugs” and in Devon they’re “chiggy pigs”.  Other names for them in the United Kingdom include “doodlebug”, “granny grey”, “monkey-peas” and “pea bugs”.

Ultimately, it is believed that there are there are two main reasons why these bugs go by so many different names throughout the English speaking world:

The first reason is rather simple — there are over 5,000 known species of these types of bugs and though all of them share several similar characteristics, they can also vary greatly in their sizes and activities, leading to various names throughout the world.

The second reason is that the sun never sets on English speaking and the language serves as a predominate language in at least one nation in every continent — leading to numerous unique settlements and cultures, all independent of the other.  Thus while an Atlantic islander-Canadian may reference the creature as a “boat builder”, a dairy farmer in England will call the bug a “cheese log”.

In an era when the English-speaking world can’t seem to agree on very much, there is one thing that all English speaking cultures should be in 100% agreement: don’t eat these things!  Though they are crustaceans like lobsters or crabs, “roly-polies” are said to have an unpleasant taste similar to “strong urine”… Appalachian Magazine, however, has not independently verified this — and we have no intention of doing so either!

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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  1. In northeast middle Tennessee we called ’em rolly-polly’s or beach balls for their appearance instead of the size.
    The last sentence I can attest to, THEY TASTE NASTY, though its likely been close to 50 years since I tasted one.

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