Plural flies/flaɪz/. Forms: fléoge (in combination fléog-, fléoh-), flýge, Northumbrianflége, ME fliȝe, southernvliȝe, ME fleoȝe, flye, southernvlie, ME fleȝe, southernvleȝe, fleih, southernvleih, ME–16, 17 Sc.flie, ME– northern and Sc.flee, ME flegh, (ME fleeȝe, fleh, flei(ghe, fley(e, flij), ME–16 flye, 16– fly.(Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):
Etymology: Old English fléoge, flýge, weak feminine (Northumbrian flége ? strong masculine) = Middle Dutch vlieghe (modern Dutch vlieg, Old High German flioga, fliuga (Middle High German vliege, modern German fliege) < Germanic *fleugôn-, < root of *fleugan to fly. From the weak grade of the same root comes the equivalent Scandinavian word, Old Norse, Swedish fluga, Danish flue.
The plural form in -s appears in 13th cent., but the original plural ending -n was not wholly obsolete in the 15th cent.
e. Phrases: like a fly in amber: see ambern.2 1a. a fly in the ointment
[after Eccl. x. 1]
: some small or trifling circumstance which spoils the enjoyment of a thing, or detracts from its agreeableness. fly on the (coach-)wheel (see quot. 1870). to send away with a fly in one's ear: cf. flean. 4to break, crush, a fly upon the wheel (fig.): to spend a great deal of energy and labour upon something not worth it. let that fly stick in (or to) the wall (Sc.): say nothing more on that subject. don't let flies stick to your heels: be quick. (to) drink with the flies (Austral. and New Zealandcolloq.): see quot. 1943.
g.there are no flies on:
(a) there is no lack of activity or astuteness in (a person); there is no fault to be found with, there are no blemishes in;(b) there is nothing dishonest or ‘shady’ about (a transaction). So to have no flies on, etc. slang (orig. Austral. or U.S.).The earliest examples indicate that the phrase was probably orig. applied to cattle that are so active that flies do not settle on them.
1848 H. W. HaygarthRecoll. Bush Life Austral. ix. 101
‘It's lucky we got them,’ said Amos; ‘there were “no flies” about that black bull.’ Note. This expression is very common in Australia... Anything particularly good is said by the class of men we are here describing to have ‘no flies’ about it.
1868 J. DiproseSt. Clement Danes 99
To this celebrated pugilist [sc. Deaf Burke] is attributed the old story of the ‘flies in the gin-and-water’, and hence the term ‘no flies’ became prevalent. [The story follows.]
1888 Missouri Republ. 24 Feb. in J. S. Farmer Americanisms
Persons who are capable of descending to New York and Boston English are fully justified in saying that there are no flies on St. Louis or the St. Louis delegation either.
1888 Detroit Free Press 25 Aug. (Farmer & Henley)There ain't no flies on him, signifies, that he is not quiet long enough for moss to grow on his heels, that he is wide awake.
1893 J. S. Farmer & W. E. HenleySlang III. 23/1There are no flies on me, on him, etc.,..‘I am dealing honestly with you’; ‘he is genuine, and is not humbugging’. In America, the expression is used of (1) a man of quick parts..(2) a person of superior breeding or descent.
1897 R. M. StuartIn Simpkinsville i. 18
They wasn't no flies on his shape, nor his rig, nor his manners neither.
1898 Strand Mag. May 516
I kin put you in the way of making your pile, I kin. This is a bona-fide offer. No flies on my business.
1900 G. BonnerHard-pan iii. 83There are no flies on your little sister.
1928 J. GalsworthySwan Songii. vi. 156There are no flies on your uncle.
1948 C. Day LewisOtterbury Incident iv. 43There are no flies on Rickie. I'm pretty sure he'd spotted how his own shoes got dirty.
1961 Observer 23 Apr. 18/2There are no flies on Benaud. If England start bowling their overs slowly, no one will have to draw his attention to it.
i.fly on the wall:
(a) an unperceived observer; one who is able to overhear discussions, etc., without being observed or involved;(b) Cinematography a film-making technique in which events are presented realistically by observing rather than by directing the action; frequently attributive; cf. cinéma véritén. and adj.
1949 N. MitfordLove in Cold Climatei. vi. 61
I had been throwing an occasional glance in their direction, wondering what it could all be about and wishing I could be a fly on the wall to hear them.
1971 A. SampsonNew Anat. Brit. xii. 239
I spent a week inside the department, overhearing committees and meetings as a fly on the wall.
1983 Listener 10 Feb. 8/3
The ‘fly-on-the-wall’ technique, so successful elsewhere, would not overcome this problem.
1985 M. R. D. MeekSplit Second vi. 38
‘What did you wheedle out of Maggie?’ ‘Well..she was no fly on the wall, but there have to be letters, documents, papers to be typed.’
1986 City Limits 12 June 23
This is a film that has tried hard not to impinge its identity on its subject, using a fly on the wall approach.
2. With defining word as black-, blow-, flesh-, horse-, house-, sheep-fly, etc.: see those words. Hessian flyn. ( Cecidomyia destructor) an insect that infests wheat, said to have been introduced into America with the Hessian troops, during the War of Independence.Spanish flyn. = cantharidesn.tsetse-flyn. ( Glossina morsitans) an African fly which carries disease (esp. sleeping sickness) and transmits it to humans and animals by biting.
a. In farmers' and gardeners' language, often used without defining prefix for the insect parasite chiefly injurious to the particular crop or animal indicated by the context; the hop-fly, potato-fly, turnip-fly, sheep-fly, etc. Chiefly collective in singular as the name of the disease consisting in or caused by the ravages of these insects.
a1704 J. LockeWks.
Before they come to think of the Fly in their Sheep, or the Tares in their Corn.
1707 J. MortimerWhole Art Husbandry 122
To prevent the Fly [in turnips] some propose to sow Ashes with the Seed.
1799 Trans. Soc. Arts17 47
An easy and efficacious method of destroying the Fly on Hops.
1819 A. ReesCycl. XIVFly..a disease incident to sheep, in consequence of their being stricken by a fly, which produces a sort of maggot, that eats into, and remains in the flesh.
1842 C. W. JohnsonFarmer's Encycl. 490/1Fly in turnips (Altica nemorum), the vulgar name of a species of flea-beetle, which attacks the turnip crop in the cotyledon, or seed leaf, as soon as it appears.
1888 Times 26 June 12/1
In some (hop) gardens a good deal of fly exists.
(a) An insect attached to a hook as a lure in the mode of angling called fly-fishing.(b) An artificial fly, i.e. a fish-hook dressed with feathers, silk, etc., so as to imitate some insect.Often collective in the phrase to fish with fly.
1589 J. LylyPappe with Hatchet 3
I doo but yet angle with a silken flye, to see whether Martins will nibble.
1653 I. WaltonCompl. Angler iv. 93
Or with a Flie, either a natural or an artificial Flie.
1653 I. WaltonCompl. Angler iv. 111
Your gold, or what materials soever you make your Fly of.
†8. With reference to a festival formerly observed by the Oxford cooks. Obsolete.On Whit-Tuesday the cooks ‘marched in silken doublets on horseback to Bartholomews or Bullingdon Green to fetch the fly’, and ‘on Michaelmas Day they rode thither again to carry the fly away’. See Aubrey Rem. Gentilisme (1881) 202 (written in 1686); Aubrey supposed the sense to be that of 5a above.
c1602 in M. L. Lee Narcissus
App. ii. 32
They [the cooks] have sett a little porch before so great an house, and have called their show the flye.
1654 E. GaytonPleasant Notes Don Quixotiii. v. 99
The man that preaches the Cooks Sermon at Oxford, when that plump Society rides upon their Governours Horses to fetch in the Enemie, the Flie.
1661–6 A. WoodHist. & Antiq. Univ. Oxf.
Many people resorted here [i.e. to St. Bartholomew's Hospital]; as the cooks bringing in of the fly.
1903 Work 1 Aug. 412/3
Inside this lining will be laid a thin coating of tinfoil, on which will be placed what will look like a strong netting or fly-screen, except that the wires of which it is composed will be carefully joined and highly polished.
1952 ‘N. Shute’Far Country 18
She went and rang the dinner bell outside the flyscreen door.
fly-fungusn.(a) the fly-agaric, Amanita muscaria;(b) the house-fly fungus, Entomophthora muscæ.
1822 Mem. Wernerian Soc. Edinb. IV. 343
The plant commonly known by the name of the fly-fungus (from its property of destroying flies when steeped in milk), has made some noise of late on the Continent.
1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 780/1Amanita muscaria, the fly fungus, formerly known as Agaricus muscarius.
1912 L. O. HowardHouse Fly ii. 64
With the common house fly fungus (Empusa muscae) a slight change in the amount of atmospheric moisture is sufficient to bring about germination.
1952 C. J. AlexopoulosIntrod. Mycol. vii. 177
The most familiar of the Entomophthorales is Entomophthora muscae, commonly called the fly fungus.
fly-papern.(a) a sheet of paper prepared to catch or poison flies;(b) Flypaper Act (slang), the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1909; so to be on the flypaper, to be subject to this Act, to be a criminal known to the police.
1851 H. MayhewLondon Labour I. 435/1Fly-papers came..into street-traffic..in the summer of 1848.
1910 F. MartynBurglar in Baulk 8On the flypaper, subject to the Crimes Prevention Act.
1865 H. B. StoweHouse & Home Papers 290
I would shut my eyes on fly-specks, and open them on the beauties of Nature.
1907 Westm. Gaz. 15 July 2/1
Even your Caesar Borgia is but a fly-speck in the infinite.
1909 R. A. WasonHappy Hawkins 113
Lookin' like a fly-speck on a new tablecloth.
1939 H. WormaldDis. Fruits & Hops v. 103
Frequently associated with Sooty Blotch, but sometimes occurring alone, are groups of black, circular dots which from their size and appearance are known as Fly Specks.
1947 J. Stevenson-HamiltonWild Life S. Afr. iv. 42
The trunk is indeed everything to the elephant..Furnished with a good large bunch of long grass it makes a better fly~swish than do most animals' own tails.
1578 H. Lyte tr. R. Dodoens Niewe Herballii. lvi. 222
We may call it in English properly flie Orchis, bycause al the kindes of Serapias Orchis, haue in all their floures the..likenesse of one kinde of flie or other.