One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A weasel-like Eurasian mammal with mainly dark brown fur and a darker mask across the eyes, noted for its fetid smell.
Genus Mustela, family Mustelidae: three species, in particular the European polecat (M. putorius), which is the probable ancestor of the domestic ferret
- ‘Adult and juvenile gerbils of both sexes give alarm calls and footdrum in the presence of an assortment of terrestrial predators: snakes, monitor lizards, foxes, polecats, weasels, humans and large ungulates.’
- ‘Martin, from Wilmslow, is particularly fond of the polecat - the mammal from which ferrets evolved - and over two years he has rescued 10 injured polecats and then sent them back into their habitat to breed.’
- ‘At heart, though, the ferret is a denizen of the countryside, a weasel closely related to the European polecat and the mink.’
- ‘Domestic ferrets are generally believed to be descended from the European polecat; and they were originally used as hunting animals to catch rabbits and rodents.’
- ‘He said the smell was caused by polecats, which have a natural pungent odour, and the dead bird had stunned itself the previous day when it escaped and flew into a window.’
- 1.1North American another term for skunk
Middle English: perhaps from Old French pole ‘chicken’ + cat.
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