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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Along Came a Spider

A long time ago, a mortal called Arachne angered a god. Arachne was a great weaver, who even boasted that she was a better weaver than the goddess Athena, who was apparently a weaver, in addition to being the goddess of roughly everything. Seriously, goddess of wisdom, warfare, Athens, architecture, and apparently weaving too. There's all these gods who only have one job, and then there's poor Athena, doing all the hard stuff. I mean, Ares. Being the god of war is his only job. So how come Athena's got to do half his job for him even though she's got got all that other mess going on? Isn't that just like a man?
Anyhoodle, Athena, despite being way too busy for this nonsense, hears Arachne's boasting and challenges Arachne to a weave-off, which I'm sure is way more badass than it sounds. When she sees that Arachne actually might win, she employs a new strategy - tearing up Arachne's work and then ripping her face off. Like one does. 
Eventually, once she's done mauling the lady, Athena decides that's not good enough and turns her into a spider for good measure. That's why Arachnida is the name for the biological class spiders belong to, and why we've got words like arachnophobia. 

Of course, Arachne isn't the only one who gave her name to make a word. A word that comes from somebody's name is called an eponym. And it turns out Arachne's not the only one who inspired an eponym with some drama involving weaving. Who knew something so domestic could be so controversial? 
The word Luddite was first used to describe some nineteenth century textile makers who, feeling their jobs threatened by new knitting and weaving technology, got a little out of hand. In a futile attempt to block the inexorable flow of progress, Luddites ran around smashing the looms and frames. The movement got their name from a young man who may or may not have existed, Ned Ludd, who may or may not have started the trend some decades before. Nowadays, a Luddite is a person who opposes the tyranny of technological advancement.
Ned Ludd's pretty lucky in the eponym department. Hopeless as the cause may be, at least he's remembered for fighting for what he believed. He could do a lot worse - think of poor Prince Albert.
Who did not, by the way, have or invent the eponymous piercing. The men who developed and popularized the piercing just made that up. Probably because they wanted to avoid the possibility of giving their own names to the procedure.  

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