May 30, 2011

Etymology of term "roly poly"

I came across one of these shells in South Carolina earlier this year and couldn’t recall its name.

“Oh, that’s a roly poly,” a British beachcomber explained.

Looks more like a roly poly than an olive to me

It was a good find considering most of the beach was covered with an extremely thick, clunky, and rather unattractive variety shell called a surf clam.

I was shocked by their sheer size.

This surf clam was almost the size of my hand

The technically correct term isn’t roly poly, but rather olive instead, per its zoological place in the Olividae family. But why let scientific standards get in the way of a better descriptive term.

Roly poly has a better sound to it.

There goes another roly poly (aka olive) disappearing into the sand

Sometimes you’ve got to listen to the tourists!


Prem Subrahmanyam said...

I must protest! Rolly-polly is the southern name for the pillbug or sowbug, the little terrestrial isopod crustaceans. Your tourists were horribly misinformed! ;)

Caroline said...

Those sowbugs are roly polys in South Dakota too. My #3 daughter's favorite critter when she was little. This is the child who would have an "arachnoleptic fit" (read that, scream the house down) at the sight of a spider, but she loved to pick up the roly polys.

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Speaking of bugs, the sand fleas at the beach gave my youngest son a terrible rash. He seems to be more sensitive to them than everyone else. But we also noticed a pattern, a similar problem arose the same time last year, i.e., at the start of the wet season when the sands became newly wet with afternoon rains.

I'll have to rethink that roly poly term, although it may be too late: my kids have already adopted it whole sale, plus a volunteer at Conservancy of Southwest Florida liked the term, too.

Who came up with olive, anyway?

Janie said...

Roly poly sounds good and is nicely descriptive, but I, too, use the term for a cute little bug.
It does look a little like an olive to me. But, hey, if the kids want to call it a roly poly, I'm not about to argue...

Robert V. Sobczak said...

They are very pretty shells. It's fun watching them slide back into the wet sand.