or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, July 31, 2006

Little Stinkers

The other day I was writing about animal family words such as "mimid" and "hominid", which called to mind my favourite such word: "mustelid". The family Mustelidae contains such animals as ferrets, polecats, weasels, minks, and otters, and one of the things that connects them is the fact that they all have active anal scent glands which they use for marking territory or whatnot. (For this reason, the skunk was thought to be a mustelid, too, but as I noted last time, they're different enough from Mustelidae that they've been placed into another family, Mephitidae, of which they're the only member.)

Now, "mephitid" is related to Latin "mephitis", "stench", which is pretty obviously why skunks got their family name. And based on that, I so wanted "mustelid" to be related to "musty". After all, the mustelids are a fairly stinky bunch, as anyone who's ever been around a ferret cage knows.

But alas, it isn't so. "Mustelid" simply comes from "mustela", the Latin word for "weasel". "Musty", on the other hand, is etymologically related to "moist", from the dampness that leads to that distinctive odour.

Skunks, by the way, may have a bad reputation, but I've been informed that (once you have the scent glands surgically removed) they make very nice pets, if you can live with their nocturnal habits, as anyone who's ever had a cat probably can. And they're just as pretty as all get-out. We had 'em living around a place in Saint John and you can take it from me that they don't particularly want to spray anything or anyone: they just want to eat your garbage in peace. Fine by me.


Blogger Frank said...

My cousin had a pair of skunks as pets when I was little. They were very cute and nice, as I remember.

Monday, July 31, 2006 9:40:00 PM  

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