For a word person, a worm, a leech and a fly have something unusual in common: Each is a creature whose name is also something it can do.
"To worm" is to progress "in a winding, creeping or devious manner," which is how worms move, except for the devious part. However, people have been known to worm their way into situations and worm information out of each other by devious means.
Such activities may open a "can of worms," an informal term for "a complex, usually unpleasant problem."
That might lead to calling someone a worm, meaning "an abject, wretched or contemptible person."
In another allusion to a worm's perceived lowly status, there's "worm's-eye view," which is "an outlook from very close range, but from an inferior or menial position."
We also have the use of "worm" figuratively as "something that gnaws or distresses one inwardly," as in "worm of conscience"; the adjectives "wormy" for "debased; groveling" and "worm-eaten" for "worn-out, out-of-date, etc."; and the noun "wormwood," a group of plants capable of producing strong smells and bitter oils. That last one also can be used for a particularly unpleasant experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, literally or figuratively.
A computer worm is a type of unauthorized program that disrupts a system by making copies and eating up memory. Apparently it isn't the same as a computer virus, but I won't pretend to know the difference.
Worm terms are not all about dirt and erosion, however. On Earth, a "wormhole" is evidence that a creature has been dining there. Out in the great beyond of our universe, a wormhole is "a hypothetical space-time tunnel or channel connecting a black hole with another universe, a white hole, etc." I'm not going to pretend I understand that stuff, either, but it certainly sounds like a cut above crawling through the mud.
In fact, you might say "the worm has turned" in that case. Today, we tend to use this wonderful phrase to indicate a significant change in some situation. Originally, it was intended as a warning to bullies that eventually even the meekest among us will eventually say enough is enough and fight back.
It comes from an old proverb, stated as "Tread on a worm and it will turn" or "Even a worm will turn."
As for the leech, "to leech" is "to act as a parasite." Leeches have been used in medicine to bleed patients, but most of the time they suck our blood when we don't want them to.
"Leech" used to be a synonym for physician, but these days it's an uncomplimentary term for "a person who clings to another to gain some personal advantage."
Finally, flies can fly, but they do lots of disgusting and harmful things, too.
This is reflected in the phrase "fly in the ointment," which can apply to "anything, especially a little thing, that reduces or destroys the value or usefulness of something else."
Most other fly terms are related to moving through the air rather than to the insect. One interesting exception is, "I'd like to be a fly on the wall at that meeting."
The idea is to be able to eavesdrop with no risk of being caught. Of course, you would still be a fly, so even if you could understand what was going on, what could you do with it?
Why not just bug the room?
Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.