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from their being commonly haunted by phan-
toms ; 2 and these expressions, in consequence of
the ambiguity of the word larva just noted, being
capable of a twofold construction — as either ' in-
fested by grubs/ or 6 infested by imps ' — it is
possible that we may find here the explanation of
sundry curious phrases in which a crazy person is
popularly said to have his head full of maggots,
of flies, bees, crickets, or grasshoppers. Phrases
of this kind are observable in many modern lan-
guages, and it is suggested that they may be the
result of a mistaken or too literal rendering of
the words larvarum plenus, as if they meant c full
of grubs.' For instance, 'maggot* was the term
very frequently employed by a bygone generation for

or beetle, from buka, a bugbear ; Welsh bwcai, something dreadful,
also a maggot ; Limousin bobaou, bobal, a bugbear and an insect,
and the Albanian boube having like meanings ; Hung, bubus, a bug-
bear ; Serv. buba, vermin ; Lap. rabme, a ghost, bugbear, also an
insect, a worm (Wedgwood).

1 Vide History of Christian Names, by Miss Yonge, vol. i. p.

2 Compare Maury, La Magie et l'Astrologie, pp. 263, 288. He
holds mania to be properly the condition of being haunted by the
ghosts of the dead, manes. Mana, mania, was the ruler of the
under-world (Taylor, Etruscan ^Researches, pp. 116-124).


a whim, or some crotchety notion that has got into
a person's head ; and a whimsical person that be-
trayed such a weakness was said to be ' maggoty,'
or ' maggot-headed.' A fantastic man is described
in an old volume as c wholly bent to fool his estate
and time away ... in maggot-pated whimsies.' 1
A musical composition, such as we might nowa-
days call a fantasia, or capriccio, was then known
as a ' maggot/ 2 Similarly in French, according
to Cotgrave, verreux, wormy, worm-eaten, is also
6 hot, cholerick, hasty, light-headed, odd-humoured,
haire-brain'd/ and verue is an c odd humour in a
man, a worm in the head.' ' II lug a pris une
verue, he is grown very fantasticall, humorous,
giddy-brain'd, the worm pricks him, the toy hath
taken him in the head/

Avoir des moucherons en teste, to have flies in
the head, we are informed on the same authority,
means ' to be humorous, moody, giddie-headed ;
or to have many proclamations or crotchets in the
head.' 3 < Giddy' itself is provincially applied to

1 Bishop's Marrow of Astrology, p. 60, in Nares, s.v. "Maggot-
pated. Cf. l There 's a strange Maggot hath got into their Brains,
which possesseth them with a kind of Vertigo. . . . Our Preach-
men are grown Dog-mad, there 's a worm got into their Tongues, as
well as their Heads ' (Howell, Fam. Letters, 1645, Bk. II. 33).
In the Cleveland dialect, mav:h=(l) a maggot, larva of a flesh-fly ;
(2) a whim or foolish fancy : mauiky, (1) maggoty j (2) given to
fancies or absurd whims.

2 Brewer, Diet, of Phrase and Fable, s.v.

3 Conrad, one of the medieval princes of Ravenna, was nicknamed
Musca in Cerebro, ' Fly-brained,' because he was generally con-
sidered mad. Vide Wedgwood, s.v. Muse.



a dizziness in the head to which sheep are liable,
the result, it is said, of having hydatides on the
brain. Perhaps it is these latter that are alluded
to in Heywood's ' Spider and Flie,' where he
says —

■ As gidds cum and go, so flies cum and are gone.' !

When we say that a person out of spirits has
the blues or the dumps, the French say that he
has the black butterflies, les papillons noirs. In
Italian, grillo, a cricket, is also ' a fond hum-
our or fantasticall conceit. ' ' Grilli, crickets,
also toyes, crikets or bees-neasts in one's head '
(Florio). Gabbia da grilli, sorgii, 6 a cage for
crickets or for mice, a self-conceited gull/ 2 An
equally curious expression is found in Dutch.
A musard, or moody person, is said in that lan-
guage to be like ' a pot full of mice,' een pott vull
milse, or to have c mouse-nests in his head,' milse-
nester in koppe kebben. Mr Wedgwood points out
that the verb muizen, to muse, was erroneously
supposed to be derived from muize, muse, a mouse,
and then muizenis, musing, was converted into
muizenest, mouse-nest. Compare the French ' avoir
des rats, to be maggoty, to be a humorist ' (Boyer).
In the argot of Paris, avoir une dcrevisse dans le

1 Wright, Provincial Diet., s.v. Gid.

3 Another leaping insect is substituted for the cricket in the
Scotch phrase ' He has a flea in his lug,' meaning he is a restless,
giddy fellow (Jamieson).


vol-au-vent (i.e., dans latete) means to be deranged
or crazy.

A Scotch expression for one who is confused,
stupefied, or light-headed, is ' His head is in the
beis,' or bees ; and i bee-headit ' means hair-
brained, unsettled. c Wyll, my maister, hath bees
in his head,' occurs in the old play of 6 Damon
and Pithias ;' and i He has a head full of bees,' in
Ben Jonson's ' Bartholomew Fair,' i. 4. Compare
the Polish roj, a swarm, and rojanie, musing,
reverie, dreaming.

With a slight variation of the phrase, the cover-
ing of the head was substituted for the head itself ;
and a person that was considered crotchety, crazy,
or obfuscated by drink, was said to ' have a bee
in his bonnet ' or cap. 1

Spenser, in his allegorical description of the
body as the Castle of Alma (i.e., the soul), speaking
of the head, says —

( All the chamber filled was with flyes
Which buzzed all about, and made such sound,
That they encombred all men's eares and eyes ;

1 The word martel in the French phrase, avoir martcl en tete, to
have a bee in one's bonnet, to be crotchety, is asserted by Dr
Brewer (Diet, of Phrase and Fable) to be a corruption of martin,
an ass ! It can hardly be doubted, however, that it is identical with
martel, a hammering, and then a throbbing or beating of the pulse
under excitation of feeling. Cf. ' Martel, Jealousie, suspition,
throbbing or panting upon passion ; a buzze in the head, a flie
in the ear ' (Cotgrave). It. martello, ' a hammer, also jealousie in
loue, panting or throbbing of the heart ' (Florio).


Like many swarmes of Bees assembled round,
After their hives with honny do abound.
All those were idle thoughtes and fantasies,
Devices, dreames, opinions unsound,
Shewes, visions, sooth-sayes, and prophesies,
And all that famed is, as leasings, tales, and lies/

Faerie Queene, Bk. II. canto ix. 51.

The rise and diffusion of the curious notion that
the disordered brain is so strangely haunted may
have been favoured, perhaps, by that vague sensa-
tion, which is sometimes experienced, of there
being something whirring or moving inside the
head, and which, in an old French phrase, was
likened to the shifting and running of sand in an
hour-glass —

1 II a la teste pleine de sablon mouvant. His head is full of
crotchets, his braine fraught with odde conceits ; he hath a
running, or a giddy pate of his own.' Cot grave.

The original idea, however, may have been that
the brain was infested and preyed upon by some
hidden insect, and that the sudden accesses of
eccentricity or insanity were due to causes not
greatly different from the gnawing of a worm 1 or
the stinging of a gadfly. 2 Such beliefs were once
widely prevalent at a time when little or nothing
was known of diseases and their exciting causes,

1 Some have supposed that by the scriptural expression of the
undying worm (Isa. lxvi. 24; Mark ix. 44) are to be understood the
pangs of remorse and a guilty conscience.

2 The Greek word oUtros denotes the gadfly, and also madness,


and similar superstitions linger even still among
the ignorant. Thus, in Manx, beiskteig being a
worm or maggot, beisktyn, the plural of beiskt
(literally i a little beast,' Lat. bestia) is a word for
the toothache, from an opinion that the pain is
produced by a worm in the tooth. According to
a Rabbinical tradition, Titus, after the siege of
Jerusalem, was punished by an insect named
yattush, a fly or gnat, which entered through his
nostrils, and preyed upon his brain. 1

Somewhat similar is the meaning underlying
the French verb four miller, to tingle with pain, to
have a pricking or creeping sensation, its original
import being to swarm with ants, Lat. formiculare,
formicare, from formica, an ant. ' Formication '
still means a tingling sensation, and ' formica ' is
an old medical term for a species of wart and a
certain disease in a hawk's bill. 2 Compare the
Greek murmekia, warts, murmekizo, to itch, from
miirmex, an ant; the Esthonian kiddisema, to
swarm, to creep, tickle, or itch.

Indeed it may be noted that not unfrequently
the inroads of certain diseases which seem to gnaw
and fret the flesh are likened to the ravening of
beasts of prey, and the very names of these latter
are given to those diseases. For example, ' the
wolf (it occurs in the sermons of Jeremy Taylor,

1 Vide Cornhill Magazine, * The Talmud,' Aug. 1875, p. 209.
s Bailey, Diet., s.v.

150 FRET.

and in other old writers) is a common word for a

sort of eating ulcer, which in Italian is also named


'They [the sacrilegious] lie in the bosom of the church, as
that disease in the breast called the cancer, vulgarly the wolf;
devouring our very flesh, if we will not pacify and satisfy them
with our substance.'

Adams, Sermons, Lycanthropy.

1 Hunger is like the sickness called a wolf, which, if thou
dost not feed, will devour thee and eat thee up.'

Lewis Bailey, Practice of Piety (1743), p. 201.

In German, wolf is a wen, and wolf am finger, a
whitlow. In French, loup is ' a malignant and
remedilesse ulcer, a canker in the legs which in the
end it wholly consumes ' (Cotgrave). ' Canker '
itself, as well as ' cancer,' Fr. chancre, is the Latin
cancer, a crab, and similar is the twofold meaning
of the German krebs. ' Scrofula ' being a Latin
word derived from scrofa, a sow, and akin to scrobs,
a trench, and scribo (originally to scratch), seems
to denote the disease which grubs up, tears, and
devours the flesh of its victim, 1 even as

* The sow freting the child right in the cradel.' 2

1 So the Spanish comer, to itch, is from the Latin comedere, to de-
vour, the French rogne, the mange, is from rogner, to gnaw or fret,
and our ' mange,' from the French manger, to eat.

Demangeaison, the itch, a derivative of the latter, is used figura-
tively of mental irritation, as in Boursault's little play of ' Le
Pluriel des Mots en Al,' ' Tax des dimangeaisons de te cesser la
gueule,' — I am itching (i.e., have a stroDg desire) to break your

2 Chaucer, The Knight's Tale, 1. 2021.

FRET. 151

The occurrence of the word i fret ' in this line
from Chaucer, and in another passage shortly
afterwards which tells of Acteeon —

' How that his houndes have him caught
And freten him, for that they knew him naught ' —

reminds us that mental disease, as well as bodily,
is frequently compared, in respect of its wasting
and ravaging power, to the action of gnawing and
devouring. When a person under the influence of
grief is said to be c fretted,' 1 the expression pro-
perly implies that his substance is being eaten
away by corroding care 2 just as a garment (in the
language of our Authorised Version) is fretted by a
moth. i Tristitia enim/ says Yan Helmont, ( non
secus atque tinea vestem vitam roditS Compare the
following passages : —

1 And ever against eating cares
Lap me in soft Lydian airs.'

Milton, L 1 Allegro.

1 ' Fret,' notwithstanding its simple appearance, is really a com-
pound word, to for-eat, (Goth. )fra-itan, (Ger.) ver-essen, to eat up
(Garnett, Philological Essays, p. 108). In connection with fretting,
and its ordinary accompaniment, tears, it may be observed that the
latter word (A.-Sax.) taer, (0. H. Ger.) zahar, (Goth.) tagr, is near
akin to the Swedish tdra, to consume, corrode, eat, wear away,
tara sig sjelf, to fret one's self, (0. H. Ger.) zeran, (Ger.) zehren, (Eng.)
' to tear.' Precisely similar is the relation of its congeners the Greek
ddkru, to the verbal root dak- (ddknd), to bite, (Sans. ) damg, and
of the Latin lacryma, to the verb lacero, to tear.

2 The Greek meled&ne, care, sorrow (cf. melein, to be anxious), ac-
cording to Max Muller, means a consuming, a melting away, or
grinding to dust, being from the root mar, to grind or pound, and
so cognate with the Latin mordeo, to bite.

152 FRET.

' Gnarling sorrow hath less power to bite
The man that mocks at it and sets it light.'

Shakspere, Richard II., i. 3.

' I can feel my forehead crost
By the wrinkle's fretful tooth.

Lord Lytton, Spring and Winter,

And so the afflicted Lear found —

' How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child.' Lear, i. 4.

When, on the other hand, we say of a person
that he ' frets himself ' about anything, we use a
phrase almost equivalent to the Homeric one, i He
devoureth his own heart ' (6v/jl6v 16V), and similar
to that employed by the Royal Preacher, ' The fool
foldeth his hands together, and eatethhis own flesh''
(Eccles. iv. 5), i.e., wasting his energies, vexes and
disquiets himself in vain. Compare the Danish
gnave, to gnaw, also to fret, to be peevish. So in
old English writers, < corsive ' and ' corsey,' a con-
tracted form of a ' corrosive,' is found repeatedly
with the meaning of a gnawing care, anxiety, or,
as Burns calls it, ' heart-corroding care and grief. ' 1
The Russians have a like saying — ' Rust eats away
iron, and care the heart.'

1 And that same bitter corsive which did eat
Her tender heart and made refraine from meat.'

Spenser, Fairie Queene, IV. ix. 14.

Epistle to Davie, Globe ed., p. 58.


' For eVry cordiall that my thoughts apply
Turns to a corsive, and doth eat it farder/

B. Jonson, Every Man out of Rumour.

'He feels a corzie cold his heart to knaw.'

Harrington, Ariosto, xx. 97. 1

' Chagrin/ French chagrin, cark, care, vexation,
is that which gnaws and frets the mind, just as
e shagreen ' (Fr. chagrin), the shark-skin, wears
away the wood or other material which it is used
as a rasp to polish, It. zigrino. i Shagreen, out of
humour, vexed ' (Bailey). The Genoese sagrind is
to gnaw, and sagrindse, to fret, consume with
anger. 2

Very similar is the use of the Italian verb
limare, to fret, to gnaw, originally to file, from the
Latin lima, a file, while the same word lima is the
Italian name for the plaice or bret, French limande,
on account of its rough skin when dried being em-
ployed for wood polishing. So ' attrition ' and
c contrition/ theological terms for sorrow for sin,

1 Vide Nares, who gives the above quotations s.v.

2 Diez. The spelling ' chagrin ' would seem to countenance the
derivation of the word from carcharus, a shark, Gk. Jcdrcharos, sharp,
jagged, through a form carcharinus ; and so Haldeman, Affixes, p.
114. Compare the Greek rhlne, which denotes both a file or rasp,
and a shark whose rough skin is used for the same purpose. It is
really, however, the Persian saghri, a kind of leather made from
the ass's skin. Tavernier, in his Travels in Persia, says — 'Cespeaux
de chagrin se font du cuir de cheval, d'asne, ou de mule, et seule-
ment du derriere de la beste, et celuy qui se fait de la peau de
l'asne a le plus beau grain. ' Cf. ' Cufsh sagri I have translated sha-
green slippers. Sagri is the skin of a wild ass's back ' (Hajji Baba in
England, vol. ii. p. 125 ; Southey, C.-P. Book, vol. ii. p. 464).


the one denoting a lower, the other a higher and
more perfect, degree of repentance, meant origin-
ally a rubbing or wearing away, and then figu-
ratively a fretting of the heart and mind, being
derivatives of the Latin verb tero, to rub or bray
to pieces. ' Remorse,' from the Latin remordeo,
to bite again, 0. Eng. ' again-bite/ reminds us
that conscience, when awakened, has sharp teeth
that do not remain idle. 1

By an analogous figure of speech the idea of
vexing and harassing another with reproaches,
taunts, or accusations is often conveyed by words
expressive of tearing, gnawing, and biting. Thus
' back-biting,' the graphic term by which we
characterise slanderous charges brought against a
person in his absence, 2 has its exact parallel in the
Latin phrases, ?nordere, rodere, dente carpere, to
bite, gnaw, or tear one with the teeth. The ex-
cellent maxim in which St Augustine employs one
of these latter words in this sense might appropri-
ately be written over the portals of every dining-
room —

* Quisquis amat dictis absentem rodere amicnm,
Hanc mensam vetitam. noverit esse sibi.'
Who loves to bite with words an absent friend
No welcome findeth here.

1 Samuel Ward, in his sermon ' Balm from Gilead,' speaks of the
reproofs of conscience ' gnawing more than any chestworm ' {i.e.,
coffin- worm).

2 ' And oft in vain his name they eloselv bite.'

P. Fletcher, Purple Island, c. 10.


In Hebrew a synonymous expression is c to eat
one piece-meal' (akal kartze), that is, to calumniate
him, and fritter away his character by groundless
accusations, and that is the phrase used in Daniel
(iii. 8), where it is recorded that the Chaldeans
' came near and accused the Jews.' So in the 35th
Psalm David complains that his enemies ' did tear
him, and ceased not' (v. 15), i.e., they ' spoke
daggers,' even cutting words, or as Gesenius in-
terprets it, they rebuked and cursed him, the word
here employed being kdratz, to rend or tear
asunder. Nakabh, to pierce or cut through, is
similarly used for to curse in Job iii. 8 ; Prov. xi.
26, &c. Compare the following usages, i To pique
a person,' Fr. piquer, to vex, urge, exasperate with
sharp or biting words, meant originally to prick or
pierce (Cotgrave) ; Eng. i to give one a cutting up.'

6 To exasperate ' is to make one rough, as by the
application of a rasp or grater.

' To harass,' Fr. karasser, is apparently 6 to
harrow ' and hurt his feelings, as the harrow with
its jagged projections hurts the earth, being akin
to harcer, fiercer, to harrow.

' A sarcasm,' in contrast with what Dr South
has termed i the toothless generalities of a common-
place,' is i a biting taunt, a cutting quip, a nip-
ping scoff' of a bitter and personal nature, which,
as it were, draws blood, and leaves a scar behind.
It is the Greek sarkasmos, from sarkdzd, to tear

156 NAG.

the Jtesk (sdrx). i Cynics ' (from the Greek kudn,
kunos, a dog), as might be expected from persons
with sharp teeth and a currish, snarling disposition,
are much given to this cruel amusement.

6 Nag/ to keep up a continual course of railing
and irritating remarks, ' nagging,' worry, is the
same word as * gnaw,' Norse nagga, to gnaw, irri-
tate, or plague, Ger. nagen, prov. Eng. nag, to eat,
naggle, to gnaw, Dut. knagen. So Dan. gnaven, a
gnawing, is likewise a scolding or chiding. Of
similar origin is the word ' niggard,' for a parsi-
monious, cheese-paring fellow — a skinflint, as he is
sometimes termed — who gnaws and scrapes his
bones till the dogs despise the reversion of them,
being a derivative from the Icelandic ngggja, to
rub, scrape, or gnaw. 1 The Old English word
was nygun; and Pers the usurer is described in
Mannyng's ' Handlyng Synne ' as ' a nygun and
auarous ' (1. 5578).

The following passage, which also illustrates

what has been said above about ' fret,' is put in

the mouth of Anamnestes in the old comedy of

Lingua (1632) —

'A company of studious paper-worms, & leane schollers,
and niggardly scraping Vsurers, and a troupe of heart-eating

1 With this we may compare the provincial English 'near'
(Sternberg, Northampton Glossary, s.v.), exactly equivalent to the
Danish gnicr, 'a griping, stingy, penurious fellow' (Wolff), gnidsk,
niggardly, which is a derivative of gnider, to scrape ; (Cumberland)
$croby, niggardly, akin to Dut. schrobben, Gael, sgriob, to scrape.

TEASE. 157

enuious persons, and those canker-stomackt spiteful creatures,
that furnish vp, common place-books with other men's faults "

(Act iii. sc. 2).

Another instance of the same figure is afforded
by the verb ' to tease/ which in everyday language
is used more commonly in its metaphorical sense
of annoying or vexing a person, ruffling his temper
by a series of petty and repeated provocations,
than in its original one of pulling out matted wool
or hair, and loosening it by plucking and tearing,
A. -Sax. tcesan, Dut. teesen, Ger. zausen. The
plant which was frequently used for the purpose of
raising the nap of cloth, and teasing it to a proper
degree of roughness, was called the c teasel ' (A.-
Sax. tcesal). This was a species of thistle, in Latin
carduus, as we are reminded by our word i card '
for dressing wool. Hence, too, comes the Portuguese
cardo, the fuller's thistle, which c is also a symboli-
cal word for torment, pain, affliction, &c.' (Vieyra).
Compare the Spanish escolimoso, hard, obstinate, 1
from the Latin scoli/mus, a thistle, Greek skol-
umos, the original conception being that of a person
whose manner, rough as a burr, and bristling, is
suggestive of the motto Nemo me impune lacessit.
Similarly, when a rude and abrupt manner is de-
scribed as being brusque, it is implied that, so far
from being soft and polished, it is sharp-pointed
andrepellent,like the prickly shrub called butcher's-

1 Pineda, Span. Diet., s.v.


broom. For the French brusque (formerly brusc),
Spanish and Italian brusco, uncivil and sharp, also
denote that plant, and are derived from its Latin
name ruscum. The first ' brushes ' were besoms
made of this material (Ger. brusc/i). Compare the
two meanings of c broom.'

We have seen above that the name of the cricket
or grasshopper has sometimes been used as synony-
mous with a whim, caprice, or eccentric humour,
and obviously it was the fitful movements of those
insects by sudden and unexpected bounds which
afforded the point of comparison. Grillo is thus
employed in Spanish and Italian, and grillon in
French. ' II a beaucoup de grillons en la teste, he
is in his dumps ; his head is much troubled, full
of crotchets, or of Proclamations ' (Cotgrave).

In German die grille is a whim or vagary, grillen
fangen, to catch crickets, is to indulge in useless
thoughts, and grillenf anger, a capricious person.
All these are from the Latin grgllus, a cricket.
Now this word was also used as an art term to
signify a caricature or grotesque composite figure. 1
Grilli, or crickets, are frequently found depicted on
ancient gems engaged in various human occupations,

1 Antiphilus jocosis (tabulis) nomine Gryllum deridiculi habitus
pinxit, unde id genus picturse grylli vocantur' (Pliny xxv. 37).
See ' Handbook of Engraved Gems,' C. W. King, p. 96. It is curious
to find the Icelandic gryla meaning an ogre or bugbear, but gryl,
grille is an 0. Eng. word for grim, terrible.


as porters, gladiators, and so forth ; and it was

probably this fantastic use of the insect, as well as

its irregular movement, which helped to make it

a synonym for a capriccio, or curious fancy.

Similarly ' caprice/ Fr. caprice, It. capriccio,

signified originally the sudden spring of the goat,

so that Chapman uses the word, in his time not

yet fully naturalised, with perfect propriety when

in his translation of the c Hymn to Pan ' he depicts

the motions of the goat-footed god as follows : —

* Sometimes
(In quite opposed capriccios) he climbs
The hardest rocks and highest, every way
Running their ridges.' x LI. 15-18.

The word is a derivative of the Latin caper, 2 a
goat, as is also our verb 6 to caper,' to skip about
like that playful animal. Compare Horace's simi-
lem ludere caprece ; W. gafrio, to caper, from gafr,
a goat.

That Shakspere was familiar with this derivation
is evident from the words which he makes Touch-
stone address to Audrey —

1 Homeric Hymns, &c, translated by Geo. Chapman, Library of
Old Authors, p. 107. Cf. Genin, Recreations Philologiques, vol. i.
p. 272.

* Caper, Etruscan capra, corresponds to A.-Sax. hcefer, 'heifer,'
Scand. hafr, Irish qabhar, Welsh gafr, Corn, gavar, Alban. skap,
and is akin to the Persian dapish, 6apush, Sans, kampra, agile. It
comes from the root cap, camp, to move (? bound), and probably
originally meant ' the skipper.' In Lapp, habra is a goat, kapa,
Finn, kipa, to skip, Turkish 6apuk, swiftly, Pers. cabHk (Pictet,
Orig. Indo-Europ., vol. i. p. 368 ; I. Taylor, Etruscan Kesearches,
p. 317). Cf. Egypt, abr.


1 1 am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious

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