Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Miller = Moth

miller = moth

miller noun  A small moth having powdery scales on its wings and often attracted to light.
1883 Zeigler and Grosscup Heart of Alleghanies 115 Here, in the still waters under a bridging log, or in some hole amid the exposed water-sunk roots of the rhododendron, lie the king trout, during the middle of the day, on the watch for stray worms, or sill gnats, and millers which flit above, then drop in the waters, with as much wisdom and facility as they hover around and burn up in the candle flame. c1950 (in 2000 Oakley Roamin Man 74) I have a phebby bird that bilt its nest on the porch and my garden is near so the bird ketches all the bugs and millers that lay eggs on the garden stuff. 1986 Pederson et al. LAGS 12 of 42 (28.6%) of LAGS speakers using term were from E. Tenn. 1998 Montgomery Coll. (known to eight consultants). [so called from the resemblance of the powedery scales on the wings to the dust that accumulates at a ghrinding mll; OED miller1 2 1681 ->]

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

——————

I grew up using the word miller to describe a moth. I don’t think I ever heard Granny or Pap say anything but miller. It was only after I was an adult that I realized most folks say moth instead of miller.

One time I heard somebody say they had a miller fly up their nose and one of The Deer Hunter’s friends said a miller flew in his ear and about drove him crazy fluttering around till he got to the doctor and let him pull it out.

Tipper

You Might Also Like

28 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael L Jewell
    September 15, 2019 at 11:35 am

    I’m from Michigan and that was what my parents called them. Apparently, the term has been around for a long time. I note that the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary quotes:

    MILLER, n. from mill. One whose occupation is to attend a grist-mill.
    1. An insect whose wings appear as if covered with white dust or powder, like a miller’s clothes.

  • Reply
    Paulette Tonielli
    April 8, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    We always called them millers in rural Illinois too.

  • Reply
    Vernon Kimsey
    May 8, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    My mother called them millers. She also called them drunkards. I’m assuming from the crazy staggery way the flew around the light and often ended up in your drink.

  • Reply
    Kipper
    March 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Same name here in Pacific Northwest.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 9, 2017 at 6:16 am

    Tipper,
    I have been have “millers” around lately…We purchased a large sack of dog food and I think it was one of the stores oldest bags…I think the “miller” larvae were in there already. We notice a “miller” or three around where we stored the dry dog food. When it warmed up I think they morphed into their flying stage. The better half took the rest of the bag of dog food out to the enclosed shed. I shore didn’t want those mill “millers” getting in other foods in my pantry like noodles, etc. We live in the country and hard as we may, it seems that in the spring we will see a miller or two. I try to throw away any dry food storage…since it is just the two of us sometimes it don’t all get used by the “miller” date! HA
    My grandfather ground meal…and “millers” could be bothersome…but somehow he kept them in check by sweeping up and cleaning well…
    We can get some giant moths and miller moths out here some years!
    Love this post Tipper,

  • Reply
    Jack
    March 8, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Never heard miller used except in reference to fly fishing. We called them moths or ” candle flies”.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    March 8, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Mama and Daddy always called them millers and on occasion I find myself using the same term. Moths seems too elegant of a word to use for them when they slip into the house on a summer night.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes Moreno
    March 8, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Millet was used all my life. Since I moved to Texas I have not heard anyone say it but me.

  • Reply
    Ken
    March 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Tipper,
    That’s what I call ’em too, Millers. I use to make Flyhooks, but my brother was better at it than I was.
    Harold use to tie the flies while I held the hooks for him. He could make ’em look just like the real thing we would see flying on Nantahala. A new hatch came off about every two or three weeks so we had to change our design.
    I still have our Fly Tying Kit way back when Kennedy was President with a poke full of Feathers we pulled from those ole Domineckers. Maybe my oldest daughter will find the time to try her hand at it when she comes out. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 8, 2017 at 11:54 am

    I call the little ugly ones millers. The big butterfly looking ones are moths (pronounced m-awe-th.) I used to think the moths were a different insect because I saw them only during the day.
    We have a 70% chance of snow for Saturday night and Sunday morning. I’m trying to head it off in your direction.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 8, 2017 at 11:54 am

    I call the little ugly ones millers. The big butterfly looking ones are moths (pronounced m-awe-th.) I used to think the moths were a different insect because I saw them only during the day.
    We have a 70% chance of snow for Saturday night and Sunday morning. I’m trying to head it off in your direction.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    March 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Yes, I have always called the moth in your picture a miller. We call those millers (some say “miller moth”), and other moths we call moths — such as the clothes moths that eat woolen clothing or luna moths or hawk moths. In New Mexico we sometimes have infestations of millers, but this doesn’t happen every year.

  • Reply
    libby rouse
    March 8, 2017 at 10:10 am

    It has always been a miller to me, never ever say moth!

  • Reply
    Howland
    March 8, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Hm. The term isn’t limited to just Appalachia; I heard my grandmother call moths ‘Millers’ when I was a little kid back in the 40s. She was a Canadian immigrant who came to Rochester, NY about 1902.
    I was lyin’ on the bed one night, reading a book under the ceiling light and a bug (don’t know if it was a miller or not) fell into my ear. It made such a racket walking on my eardrum that I thought I would go insane; it was really late and the nearest hospital was about 50 miles away. In spite of the noise and distraction, I thought “Maybe if I put a little oil in there it’ll leave. I had some baby oil, poured a little bit of it in and sure ’nuff, out s/he came. I never, before or since, had such a feeling of relief as I did when that noise stopped.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    March 8, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I use “miller” for those pesky critters that hatch from the wigglies that get in the flour, corn meal, oatmeal and such. As a child, I loved to read and one book was about a miller who had too many cats but the jolly, round fellow in the illustrations looked more like Santa Claus than those pesky millers in our pantry. I finally reasoned it out that the bugs were so called because they hung around where grains were milled and probably came to our house via the flour, etc. we purchased. Moths I thought to be similar but often larger with more of a fuzzy texture than a powdery texture on their wings. Until I moved to Central Texas, I always thought moths were outside critters that usually flew at night and had a death wish around porch lights. Here, I discovered that millions of those little “millers” appear when the live oak trees drop their acorns.
    Have you ever tried to see how many different kinds of moths you could find? Hang up a white cloth under a porch light and see what happens.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    March 8, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I am from east Tennessee and I have always used miller and still do. We just talk a lot more interesting than most people. I thought it was great that the lady from Finland thought your voices were sooo beautiful. I hope Granny had the best birthday.

  • Reply
    David Wilson
    March 8, 2017 at 9:16 am

    dw

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 8, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I call all of them millers except for the big ones like the luna moth. My wife is a biology teacher and corrected me on that, although she does call the small ones millers.
    I once seen a black snake eat a luna moth caterpillar. It took it several minutes to swallow it.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 8, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I call all of them millers except for the big ones like the luna moth. My wife is a biology teacher and corrected me on that, although she does call the small ones millers.
    I once seen a black snake eat a luna moth caterpillar. It took it several minutes to swallow it.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 8, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I call all of them millers except for the big ones like the luna moth. My wife is a biology teacher and corrected me on that, although she does call the small ones millers.
    I once seen a black snake eat a luna moth caterpillar. It took it several minutes to swallow it.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 8, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I call all of them millers except for the big ones like the luna moth. My wife is a biology teacher and corrected me on that, although she does call the small ones millers.
    I once seen a black snake eat a luna moth caterpillar. It took it several minutes to swallow it.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 8, 2017 at 8:54 am

    It’s was known as a miller when I was young and still is. Ewee, a moth in my nose would be bad enough, but one in my ear would require a 911 call.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    March 8, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Wow! This post just opened a flood gate of memories! Growing up, I always heard and said “miller.” But, over the years, I have not only stopped saying it but I haven’t heard anyone at home say it either.
    There are a lot of words and expressions I have let go because people had no idea what I was talking about. It makes me a little sad. But, that is the great thing about this blog–it grounds me as it reminds me.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 8, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Like you, I heard ‘miller’ growing up. I don’t know when I first heard ‘moth’. Sometimes I heard ‘miller bug’ in that way we sometimes double up.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 8, 2017 at 7:56 am

    I have never heard this before

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 8, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Tipper–I think the use of miller goes (or at least once went) beyond the hills and hollows of Appalachia. There are several trout flies with miller as part of their name, and I’m fairly sure most if not all of them originated elsewhere (yes, I know this is an offbeat way of looking at etymology, but any other readers who happen to be fly fishermen will know where I’m coming from).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Tracey Green
    March 8, 2017 at 7:27 am

    I always heard and said miller growing up, too. I occasionally heard somebody say moth but thought they were different until I got much older.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 8, 2017 at 6:01 am

    Yep, a miller is what those little things flying around are. Heard it all my life. It’s interesting to read the last sentence in the Smoky Mountain English Dictionary above and see it’s origin….so called from the resemblance of the powedery scales on the wings to the dust that accumulates at a ghrinding mill.

  • Leave a Reply