Appalachian Dialect Folklore

Grandaddy or Daddy Long Legs?

Granddaddy on wall

granddaddy noun
2 (also granddaddy grey-beard) The daddy long-legs spider.
1957 Combs Lg Sthn High: Word List 46 granddaddy grey-beard, harvest-man = an arachnid of the Phalangida family. If a boy, sent out into the woods to hunt the cow, gets down on his knees near this sage little creature and asks, “Gran’-daddy-grey-beard, which way has the cow gone?” it immediately lifts one of its elongated feelers and points in the direction of the cow. 1999 Montgomery Coll: granddaddy (know to Cardwell).

—Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English


I’ve always called the spider in the photo a granddaddy. I’ve heard other folks call it a daddy long legs, but have never heard it called granddaddy grey beard.

I came across the folklore of asking a granddaddy to help find the cows several years ago in the Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore. At the time I asked Pap if he’d ever heard of asking a granddaddy for help. After he quit laughing he said no he must have missed that one.

What do you call it?


A big thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post about taking the rag off the bush. Nice to know the phrase is still alive and well in some areas although it seems to most often be used in a different manner than in relation to taking a nap. In case you missed it, Lana Stuart shared a link about the unique phrase, you can see it here.

Tipper

Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like

31 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary W.
    September 25, 2021 at 6:06 am

    Here in NY we call them daddy longlegs.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    September 24, 2021 at 5:47 am

    I always heard them called “granddadies”….sometimes “Granddady Longlegs” and remember my neighbor Mary telling they could find lost cows..

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    September 23, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    We always called them granddaddy longlegs, but whatever you call them, I’ve noticed quite an abundance of them this year. They were everywhere and in all different sizes.
    Making it’s usual fall appearance right on schedule is the spiney backed spider. They can build a web in a matter of hours that will span a trail, and when you unsuspectingly walk through it, tearing it down, they’ll have another waiting for you the next day. Real industrious, they are, but they can also deliver a painful bite. Be careful.

  • Reply
    Sara B
    September 23, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    Up here in Canada we call them daddy longlegs!

  • Reply
    Yecedrah Beth Higman
    September 23, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    In Arkan.sas we called them daddy longlegs

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    September 23, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    Where I grew up at Flat Creek they were granddaddy spiders. I have never seen one with a red body like the one in the picture. I did not know they could tell you what direction the milk cow went. I did know that if a garden spider (writing spider) wrote your name in it’s web that meant you were going to die!

  • Reply
    Joanne
    September 23, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    My family always calls them granddaddies. They have a distinctive odor when mashed or disturbed. My brothers used to grab them by the legs and chase me with them. I am deathly afraid of any spider. I’ve only read in books about granddaddies being consulted on where to find the cows. Next time ours go missing I will tell hubby to go ask a granddaddy. They hang out under our house. This is also the first time I’ve ever heard them called a granddaddy grey beard. The only grey beard I know about is a tree or bush called Grancy Greybeard that grows all in the south. It blooms in the spring with long white flowers . It’s sometimes called old man’s beard. We have 4 or 5 of them in our yard. They grow wild here. I thought they were so pretty, my husband dug them up out of the woods and transplanted them in our yard a number or years ago. Here’s a link that shows the tree. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/216876538286813109/

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 23, 2021 at 11:21 am

    In Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico it’s Daddy Longlegs.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    September 23, 2021 at 10:04 am

    In southwestern Virginia’s coalfields, we called them grand daddy long legs. My cousins and I always caught them and asked them where the cow was. We owned half a milk cow with my aunt Hazel . She kept it at her place around the mountain from us. …and sure enough, that grand daddy usually pointed that way! I know that grand daddies don’t bite or sting , but I think they are creepy anyway.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      September 23, 2021 at 11:32 am

      Kat,
      Here’s an interesting article that is a rebuttal to the myth that they are venomous, but does state that a certain type does bite. We referred to them as both granddaddy and granddaddy long-legs. Never heard them called Gray Beard, that I remember.

      Are daddy longlegs really the most venomous spiders in the …
      Search domain livescience.comhttps://www.livescience.com/33625-daddy-longlegs-spiders-poisonous.html
      A widespread myth holds that daddy longlegs, also known as granddaddy longlegs or harvestmen, are the most venomous spiders in the world. We’re only safe from their bite, we are told, because their …

  • Reply
    Randy
    September 23, 2021 at 9:49 am

    I also live in SC and have always called the spider a grandaddy spider. How many saw the article about scientist trying to tweak the genes of this spider to make their legs shorter? You can google to find this article but it is on CNET.
    Com. What difference does it make? It seems to me, it would be a lot better to spend this time and money on trying to find a solution to other true problems in the world.

  • Reply
    Emily from Austin
    September 23, 2021 at 9:46 am

    Grandaddy long-legs here! Never heard Gray Beard.
    I love seeing a whole cluster of them bounce up
    and down in unison when disturbed.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    September 23, 2021 at 9:09 am

    Grand daddy long legs here in southern WV. I looked up taking a rag off the bush and I too kept thinking it means if that doesn’t beat all or take the cake which is what it means. Usually in relation to snoring we say he snores so hard he rattled the windows and peeled the paint right off the walls or he woke the dead. Have a good day all!

  • Reply
    harry adams
    September 23, 2021 at 8:52 am

    In SC we called the spider a granddaddy long legs or just Granddaddy. a Granddaddy grey beard was what we called a flowering shrub that I have found out is known as Grancy Grey beard. It has long whitish flowers and is very fragrant.

  • Reply
    dee
    September 23, 2021 at 8:45 am

    I’ve always called them Granddaddy Long Legs and that is what I remember my parents and grandparents calling them. I do know I was told to leave them alone, because any other spider would be squashed by me. I love your description of asking Pap if he had ever heard of asking Granddaddy Long Legs for help – “after he quit laughing.” I could just see him laughing over that question. I giggled over it too.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    September 23, 2021 at 8:35 am

    Granddaddy Long Legs, totally harmless….

  • Reply
    Melissa Dana
    September 23, 2021 at 8:34 am

    I grew up in middle Tennessee and we always called them Granddaddy Longlegs. My Granny and Papa said they’re called that because they are as wise and harmless as a sweet old grandpa. I think of my Papa everytime I see one.

  • Reply
    Jeremiah Houser
    September 23, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Granddaddy

  • Reply
    Sallie, the apple doll lady
    September 23, 2021 at 8:12 am

    I’ve asked a Grandaddy Long Legs which way the cows were by gently holding down one of his/it’s “feet”. It would then lift another leg indicating the direction the cows were. Usually it was the leg opposite the one I was holding so I never tested where the cows really were. It was just fun to do especially when trying to show others not to be afraid of them. They can tickle when crawling across your skin, especially in the middle of the night!

  • Reply
    Rick Shepherd
    September 23, 2021 at 8:05 am

    Finally “Got It” in relation to the Rag On The Bush….That one had me going….Haha….Thanks Tipper

    • Reply
      Gigi
      September 27, 2021 at 10:12 am

      We always call them granddaddy’s. I have never heard of asking them for directions. I love that. Very interesting.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 23, 2021 at 8:01 am

    We always called them granddaddys to just like you. I was probably a teenager before I heard the folklore about getting directions for finding the cows. Can’t vouch for granddaddy knowing where the cows were or for accurately pointing out their direction. But it is true that if you ask them they will “point”.

    I once did a foolish thing and crawled headfirst into a dark.hole under a rock. Once under there, I felt something or things crawling on my neck, bo idea what except that it wasn’t a snake. I squirmed around until I could light a candle stub I had to discover the whole underside of that rock was covered with granddaddys. I crawled back out and left it with ’em.

    I have heard it said they eat chiggers. Don’t know if true but if I catch one in the house I just put it back outside.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    September 23, 2021 at 7:51 am

    Around here we call them daddy long legs!

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    September 23, 2021 at 7:37 am

    I just call them granddaddy, have heard them called granddaddy long legs but never grey beard.
    As a boy I tried to locate the cows with a granddaddy. Every time I tried, the leg I was holding would break off and granddaddy would race off on his 7 other legs. My wife said she tried to locate her mamaw’s cows with a granddaddy and they would often send her in the wrong direction. Neither one of us believed that granddaddies could locate the cows but it was a fun thing to try. As far as I know this was common in E.KY.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    September 23, 2021 at 6:50 am

    I’ve always called them granddaddy long-legs. My father had a saying about someone whose hair was unkempt. Their hair looks like a stump full of granddaddy long-legs!

    • Reply
      AWGRIFF
      September 23, 2021 at 10:09 am

      Larry, never heard that one and it made me laugh. I’m going to use it.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      September 23, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      Larry,
      I always heard that expression in Upper Northeast TN, in addition to; “Their hair looks like they combed it with an egg beater”.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 23, 2021 at 6:47 am

    Tipper, I checked out you link on taking the rag off the bush and…right there in your house you hav a pro at taking the rag off the bush! The Deer Hunter will get it every time!
    I call that creepy spider a Grandaddy Spider. I have also heard it called a daddy long legs but I don’t ever recall hearing of calling it for help.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    September 23, 2021 at 6:14 am

    Granddaddy long legs is actually the only name I have ever heard them called

  • Reply
    Dolores Caracci
    September 23, 2021 at 6:09 am

    Daddy Long Legs is what I’ve always called it

  • Reply
    Sue W.
    September 23, 2021 at 5:37 am

    Always called them daddy long legs.
    I do know that when one gets on the porch through the floorboards, the cats go CrAzY trying to catch them! If I see it, I will catch it and turn it loose outside.

  • Leave a Reply