Yesterday’s post dealt with áfidos/aphids and the ants that herd them, so it seems reasonable today to talk about the Spanish word for ‘ant,’ hormiga. Like Spanish horma, which developed from forma, hormiga used to be formiga (which is still the Portuguese form); the older Spanish formiga had developed from formica, the Latin word that meant ‘ant.’
English formic can mean ‘having to do with ants,’ but more commonly the adjective appears in the phrase ácido fórmico/formic acid, which was given its name because it occurs naturally in red ants. While ants have been known to walk on countertops, Wikipedia says that Herbert A. Faber, one of the two men who in 1912 invented the Formica® laminate used in countertops, chose the product’s name because the new material served as a substitute for mica.
Spanish hormiguero is ‘a nest of ants, an anthill,’ and an oso hormiguero is ‘an anteater’ (which, despite the oso, is not any type of bear). The wonderful Spanish verb hormiguear means ‘to feel as if ants are crawling on a part of one’s body’ (English exits the animal kingdom and calls that ‘pins and needles’). By extension, Spanish hormiguear means ‘to run about like ants, to swarm.’
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman