Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







The Flies Of Summer

What would summer be without flies? For people living in most parts of the world the answer would be: "A relief!" Flies are one of the most "pesty" of insects, and because of high populations during the summer, they are at their worst at this time.

We do what we can to alleviate the problem with flies. We screen our windows, spray insecticides, and even torture these insects by allowing them to land on sticky paper. In spite of our best efforts, the flies still pester us as they have for several million years. This long association has given humankind ample opportunity to reflect on the nature of humans and flies and incorporate the truth into folklore.

The pest nature of flies is the lesson in a number of bits of folklore from around the world. From New England: "One dead fly spoils much good ointment." From the Hebrew we learn: "The fly does not kill, but it does spoil." An English saying holds: "Flies come to feasts unasked." "A fly can drive away horses" is found in the Greek. Egyptian wisdom holds: "A fly is nothing; yet it creates loathsomeness." A Swahili saying relates that: "A fly does not mind dying in coconut cream."

The futility of the battle of the flies is reflected in this old saying: "Do what we can, summer will have its flies." "Even a lion must defend himself against flies," suggests that strength doesn't mean much when it comes to avoiding flies. The fact that you can't expect help with flies is the message in this bit of Italian folklore: "Let everyone keep off the flies with his own tail."

Try as we might, it is nearly impossible to keep all flies out of our houses as this Russian saying relates: "Flies and priests can enter any house." A similar idea is the basis for the Spanish saying: "The busy fly is in every man's dish." That saying not only relates to the futility of trying to avoid flies entirely, but it also makes the point that no one is immune to being bothered by this group of insects. That's also the message apparent in this old New England saying: "Fine fruit will have flies about it."

Humankind has little good to say about flies. Such an attitude was reflected by Odgen Nash in his well known lines about the lowly fly: "God in his wisdom created the fly, and then forgot to tell us why!" Of course, flies play important ecological roles on this earth, but that is of little consequence to someone who has just witnessed a fly parading across their potato salad at a picnic. To such a person the only saying of much relevance is the one that goes: "The only good fly is a dead fly!"


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann