It’s Monday, and like most normal people, we hate Mondays. The weekend is over and we seemingly have nothing to look forward to except the daily grind, toil and drudgery of work—which on a Monday morning feels like a combination of sweatshop monotony, salt mine back-break, potato-peeling carpal tunnel syndrome, and tobacco-field blistering, mixed in with a dose of manure shovelling doldrums.
Actually, we love our job. No, really! We just hate Mondays.
And to succinctly express our Monday state of mind we sometimes sport Getting Nauti’s popular “Feeling Craby” upper-body wear. Available as a hoodie, t-shirt, loop-back tank top, sleeveless V-neck, or baseball jersey, “Crabby” the blue crab gives warning to co-workers that they’d best tread lightly. Which, in a perfect world, would go without saying in all workplaces every Monday.
But what of poor “Crabby?” How is it that this crusty crustacean (and actually, a crab is a “decapod crustacean”) became the signature creature for denoting irritable, ill-natured grouchiness?
Well, given our unbridled curiosity about all things related to the sea, we can tell you how the crab became, well, “crabby,” and tell you a lot of other trivia about the crustacean, as well.
We’d say that being an animal species prone to being captured, steamed, crushed and picked apart by humans might be just cause for being irritable and grouchy. However, being that lobsters and other sea creatures are subject to a similar fate, and that we don’t say “feeling lobster” when irritable, kind of negates that notion. According to the experts at “Word Detective,” you can pretty much give up looking for a specific person who coined the term, not to mention a specific first person described as “crabby,” and just assume that over the centuries it was used by enough people to describe other people’s ill-nature that the usage became standard.
The English word “crab” is derived from a Germanic root meaning to “scratch or claw,” with “crabbed” reportedly being the equivalent of “crabby” back in the 14th Century. With both “crabby” and “crabbed” the metaphoric link would be based on a crab’s “tendency to painfully nip with its claws,” along with its “tendency to walk backwards and sideways,” which would be consistent with attributes of “a difficult and uncooperative person.” While the use of “crabby” has remained consistent, “crabbed” has evolved to primarily mean “crooked, knotted, complex, twisted” descriptions of indecipherable handwriting or awkward prose.
Bottom line is there is no evidence to suggest that crabs are naturally irritable, ill-natured or grouchy. If you had claws you would likely use them if stepped on or otherwise “attacked,” and would also scurry backwards or sideways to evade potential threats. Nevertheless, the meaning of “crabby” is not going to change. Likewise, there is little reason to expect that crabs are going to change, given that the 850 or so species around the world have changed little since the Jurassic period.
That’s right, roughly 850 species for you to consider—whether that first consideration is how it might feel should one pinch your foot with its claw, or how one might taste should you steam it and then pull the flesh from its crushed shell. Crabs are found in all the world’s oceans, as well as in fresh water and on land. They range in size from the apt-named pea-sized “pea crab” to the scary looking 16-inch wide Japanese spider crab that has a record-holding 18-foot leg span, and can weigh more than 40 pounds.
|Pea Crab in an oyster shell|
|Japanese Spider Crab|
It goes without saying that lobsters are not members of the crab family. Neither are hermit crabs, king crabs, porcelain crabs, horseshoe crabs, and crab lice, the latter of which, we would add, have nothing to do with the sea and we don’t want to have anything to do with them.
Humans eat about 1.5 million tons of crabs every year. And while you are probably most familiar with the blue crab, as claimed by Maryland and common along the mid-atlantic states, its cousin, the Japanese blue crab, has the distinction of being the most eaten. Of course, it lives in the waters off of China, Japan and Korea, where about a billion more hungry people might eat it than the 330 million Americans vying for some of that tasty Maryland blue crab.
Given that our favorite crab dish is soft-shelled, we suppose an explanation of that phenomenon is needed. Pretty simple really. Because the crab’s shell does not grow, it needs to periodically molt, in order to shed the old shell so that a bigger new shell can grow in its place. The molting process is dictated by hormones that cause the old shell to soften and start eroding away, while a new shell begins to form underneath. At the time of the actual molt, the crab keeps sucking in water in an effort to expand and crack open the old shell at a line of weakness on the carapace. Once the shell is cracked, the crab then must extract all of itself—legs, mouthparts, eye-stalks, and other important bits and pieces—from the old shell. Not only does this process take hours, but if the crab fails to emerge from the old shell it will die. And once out, it still has to worry about dying because that new soft shell is not going to protect it from predators, so it needs to go into hiding.
What a life, eh?
Given the above, we guess the crab has every right to be irritable, ill-natured and very cranky! And “Feeling Crabby” takes on even more meaning, don’t you think?
The Word Detective: http://www.word-detective.com/2007/06/crabby/