A pissant, also seen as piss ant or piss-ant, refers to a specific type of ant. The word is also used as a pejorative noun or adjective, indicating insignificance. It has its origin in the word pismire, a 14th-century term for ant.
The original pissant is any of a certain group of large ant species, commonly called wood ants, that make mounded nests in forests throughout most of Europe. The name pissant arises from the urine-like odour produced by their nesting material—needles and straw from pine trees—and the formic acid that constitutes their venom. Formica rufa is one such ant, but there are others with similar characteristics. Forelius and Iridomyrmex are two genera of piss ants. In the United States, the word pissant can refer to any small ant that infests a home.
Pissant is an epithet for an inconsequential, irrelevant, or worthless person, especially one who is irritating or contemptible out of proportion to his or her perceived significance. A Virginia politician is said to have silenced a heckler by saying, "I'm a big dog on a big hunt and I don't have time for a piss-ant on a melon stalk."
The term piss-ant can also be used as an adjective, usually as a pejorative, to mean insignificant and annoying. In conversations with his advisors during the Vietnam War, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson referred to Vietnam as "a piddling piss-ant little country".
Pissant can also be used positively. Ron Ault of the AFL-CIO said, in describing the relationship of his union to the Pentagon, "Our job is to be the irritant piss ant stinging them on their ankles at every opportunity."
After being defeated 4–0 in an Australian semi-final football match against Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United coach Aurelio Vidmar's post-match press conference became infamous when he described Adelaide as a "pissant town", with the Adelaide media perceived to be working against him and the club. The rant gained nationwide publicity in Australia.
- Pissant, Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- "The Mavens' Word of the Day". Randomhouse.com. 1999-03-31. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- "1350–1400; ME pissemyre, equiv. to pisse to urinate + obs. mire ant, perh. < Scand (cf. Dan myre, Sw myra), c. D mier; pejorative name from stench of formic acid proper to ants" Dictionary.com
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