The bluebottle (Calliphora vomitoria) is a buzzing nuisance in summer - this picture is by JJ Harrison
Lately I have been “running around like a blue-arsed fly”, a lovely phrase I picked up from my parents during my childhood.
I don’t think there is any doubt about it, the saying must surely come from the buzzing behaviour of the bluebottle, an annoying fly (Calliphora vomitoria) found in many parts of the world.
It’s very much a fly of hot summer weather and rotting food, rubbish and excrement. Even its stop-start buzzing is annoying. Which is all a shame, as it has a pretty metallic blue colour. Here’s a lovely website all about iridescence, featuring the bluebottle and other lustrous marvels.
The bluebottle has a lustrous behind...
Why do we call it a bluebottle? My dictionary has no idea. Although I suspect it may come from the old word bot or bott, meaning the larva (maggot) of a botfly, which infests the skin of various mammals, producing warbles (painful, hard swellings). This particularly affects the stomachs of horses or the noses of sheep.
Bott probably comes from the Scots Gaelic word boiteag, which means a maggot. The word maggot itself may come from a Middle English word maddok/mathek from Old Norse mathkr, all meaning “maggot” and related to that other word mawkish, meaning “maggoty”.
My memories of the bluebottle come from the days before fridges, when we kept food in a larder or metal-meshed meat-safe. Our constant fear was maggots from bluebottles. We had roast shoulder of lamb (a cheap, fatty cut) for Sunday dinner (in the middle of the day, we didn’t call it lunch).
The leftover meat was placed on a high shelf and many was the time it was retrieved only to find the white fat moving with cream-coloured maggots. A bit offputting!
But flies are not the only bluebottles. In Britain bluebottle is also a name for the common cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – not that I would ever have called it that. Another nickname I wouldn’t have used is “bachelor’s button”. Pretty flower, anyway.
Bluebottle is also a name for the common cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) - this picture is by Adrian198cm
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