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I was remarking that the French word for spider, araignée, seems awfully technical and cumbersome compared to "spider". I'm sure native speakers don't perceive it as such, but to me it only suggests its etymology in arachnid, which is for us a purely technical, unevocative term.

In contrast, spider comes from spinther, i.e. "one that spins". We also have the (archaic) lob "lumpy thing" and (atter)cob "poison-head", still visible in the modern cobweb.

Does French have any terms that evoke a more poetic, descriptive sense of what spiders are and do? Or is the French cultural image of spiders so different from the role they played in English culture?

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    ...that said, the ultimate etymology of araignée, in Greek ἀράχνη "thread-knotter", is pretty good!
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 21 at 19:42
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    There's a horror movie called Arachnid.
    – Lambie
    May 24 at 18:08
  • @Lambie Interesting point. Somehow it is more horrible than "Spider" would have been. I wonder why -- Phonology? Morphology? Foreignness (not that it's foreign, but it feels unEnglish)?
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 24 at 22:22
  • Charlotte!.....
    – Drew
    May 25 at 21:09

2 Answers 2

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Arachnide or the rarer araneïde are the technical and unevocative words in French for a spider.

Araignée doesn't sound at all technical or cumbersome. I don't think we have any established alternate poetic and descriptive term to name them outside maybe la tisseuse. There is also the very archaic aragne.

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  • Thanks! The contrast between an etymologically transparent word and an even more etymologically transparent word is one I shouldn't underestimate. And would you say "la tisseuse" is purely poetic/literary or could one use it in conversation?
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 22 at 19:39
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    @LukeSawczak I wouldn't use la tisseuse in a conversation.
    – jlliagre
    May 24 at 9:34
  • @jlliagre, not either j'ai envie de tisser (1:45).
    – mins
    May 26 at 21:22
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Araignée is a very basic term for spider, as can be evidenced by its use in children's books, e.g., Chloé l'araignée. I do agree that it is not an obviously simple one for non-French speakers... but as a non-English speaker I could add that elephant also seems rather technical to me, yet it is casually used in English (also rhinoceros and hippopotamus - but here one could say rhino and hippo).

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    It's certainly true that you can't gauge the perceived complexity or arcaneness of a word from the outside. Even the fact that every kid knows the four-syllable, Spanish-derived "alligator"...
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 24 at 12:24
  • @LukeSawczak Not sure about alligators, but definitely crocodiles May 24 at 12:27

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