A friend once told me that her aunt never cleaned cobwebs because she didn’t want to disturb the spider. The aunt respected the spider’s right to life, even in the house. My friend told her she’s crazy. By the time you see the cobwebs, the spiders had already abandoned the web. Cobwebs pick up dust and become useless. But her aunt didn’t believe her. I can imagine what the house looked like inside. Well, no I can’t.
Cobwebs. Where do they come from? I see them…and clean them away…all the time. They are not elegant in their construction like the beautiful orb-like spiderwebs you see all the time. Cobwebs tend towards corners and ceilings. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had to sweep cobwebs off the ceiling, wipe them out of corners, and wash them off walls.
The Old English word for spider is attercoppe (attercoppe: ator, poison + copp, head) and was eventually shortened to just coppe by the Middle English period. Initially, then, cobweb was synonymous with spiderweb but as always with language, the word evolved so that it came to define only the dust-covered filaments left behind.
Cobwebs are not usually associated with webs built to capture insects. They can be drag lines from jumping spiders or perhaps left-behind filaments when a newly-hatched spider launches itself from its egg sac to be carried away on air currents. Common house spiders create loose web strands as they commute through the house as do the long-legged cellar spider. (More commonly known as daddy long legs…at least in my household.)
I always wondered if cobwebs were functional webs used to capture prey. They aren’t. So if I ever meet up with someone who doesn’t clean away cobwebs because they don’t want to disturb the spider, I can now tell them they’re crazy.