(3 syl.). In 1867 the women of Europe and America, from the thrones to the maid-servants, adopted the fashion of wearing a pad made of false hair behind their head, utterly destroying its natural proportions. The microscope showed that the hair employed for these “uglies” abounded in a pediculous insect called a gregarine (or little herding animal), from the Latin grex (a herd). The nests on the filaments of hair resemble those of spiders and silkworms, and the “object” used to form one of the exhibits in microscopical soirées.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894