white ant

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See also: white-ant

English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

From white + ant, reflecting a superficial resemblance to the ant.

Noun[edit]

white ant (plural white ants)

  1. (informal) A termite.
    • 1885 October, Henry Drummond, The White Ant: A Theory, Popular Science Monthly, page 741,
      The most important point in the work of the white ant remains to be noted. I have already said that the white ant is never seen.
    • 1971 June 3, Technology Review: Spoiling the termite′s dinner, New Scientist, page 573,
      The most voracious cable-muncher in the tropical and sub-tropical parts of Australia is the termite, or white ant, which eats through both lead and polythene sheathings.
    • 1990 December 13, Kenya National Assembly Official Record (Hansard), page D.3,
      Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am happy to hear that the hon. Member appreciates the fact that white ants cause a lot [of] destruction in his area. There is very little we can do about white ants.
    • 1995, Bill Sheat, Gerald Schofield, Complete Gardening in Southern Africa, page 424,
      White ants destroy living plants by removing the epidermal layers, effectively ‘ringbarking’ the subject.
    • 2010, David Livingstone, 15: Conversations on Rain-Making, Roy Richard Grinker, Stephen C. Lubkemann, Christopher B. Steiner (editors), Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History and Representation, page 246,
      Our house was built on a hard ferruginous conglomerate, in order to be out of the way of the white ant, but they came in despite the precaution; [] .

Usage notes[edit]

The term has the potential to mislead. A white ant is not an ant, although its form and behaviour appear to suggest a relationship. The term termite is generally preferred, especially in scientific contexts.