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.
A character in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle had a specific definition of a pissant as type of person: “A pissant is somebody who thinks he’s so damn smart, he can never keep his mouth shut. No matter what anybody says, he’s got to argue with it. You say you like something, and, by God, he’ll tell you why you’re wrong to like it. A pissant does his best to make you feel like a boob all the time. No matter what you say, he knows better.”
- Pissant, Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- "The Mavens' Word of the Day". Randomhouse.com. 1999-03-31. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2015-02-16.
- "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
- "Formica polyctena (European Red Wood Ant)". Iucnredlist.org. 1996-08-01. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- "Take Our Word For It Issue 102". Takeourword.com. 2000-09-25. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Kris M. Havstad, Structure and Function of a Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystem, Oxford University Press US, 2006, p. 256.
- "Pissant, Piss Ants, Small Ant Pests, Sugar Ants". Pestproducts.com. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Epps, Garrett (January 1, 1980). "The Fourth Court of Appeals is losing a star". Style Weekly. Richmond, Virginia.
- Record, Jeffrey (1998). The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-699-X. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Barr, Stephen (2004-08-20). "Blunt Talk on Union Web Site Spotlights Frustration Over Labor Relations Changes". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Lynch, Michael; Hogan, Jesse (2009-02-15). "Adelaide feels wrath of Vidmar - Soccer - Sport". Melbourne: Theage.com.au. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Pissant quote at Goodreads.com