We all know that a praying mantis is said to be praying because it raises its forelegs in what appears to be a penitent position, but why is it called a mantis? The first attestation of the word in the English language was in Thomas Browne’s 1646 work Pseudodoxia Epidemica (which I recognize as also being the book that veterinarian was coined in), when it had the same definition as today. That was taken from Modern Latin, which in turn borrowed mantis in 1604 from Greek, where the word was still used to denote the insect but had a more literal meaning of “prophet”, again in reference to the religious-seeming posture (so saying “praying mantis” is somewhat redundant). The root in Greek mantis is menos, meaning “passion” or “spirit”, and that finally derives from the Proto-Indo-European root men, meaning “think”.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.