polecat vs skunk

csicska

Senior Member
hungarian
Hello. Wiktionary has a definition for polecat as a dialectal synonym for skunk. Is that true (can they be interchangeable) or is a polecat a different animal?

Thank you.



Noun
polecat (plural polecats)

  1. (US, dialect) A skunk.
 
  • See Wiki
    There are several types, and regional variants for naming. To my AE ear, 'polecat' sounds rural or southern US; and looks like a skunk.

    Polecat - Wikipedia


    Polecat is the common name for mammals in the order Carnivora and subfamily Mustelinae. Polecats do not form a single taxonomic rank; the name is applied to several species broadly similar to European polecats, the only species native to the British Isles.


    European polecat - Wikipedia
    European polecat - Wikipedia

    --
     

    Trochfa

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Polecats in Britain:
    The polecat (Mustela putorius) is of considerable conservation significance in Britain.

    This is particularly so because of its current recolonisation of many areas of lowland Britain from which it was trapped to extinction at the end of the 19th century.


    Today, polecats have spread out from their historical stronghold in mid Wales and have recolonised much of southern and central England and have recently reached parts of south-west England and East Anglia. There are also polecats present in north-west England and parts of Scotland originating from reintroductions.
    Polecat | The Vincent Wildlife Trust




    Hermione, are you thinking of the similar but larger Pine Marten, which certainly has its stronghold in Scotland?
    https://www.vwt.org.uk/species/pine-marten/
     
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    Don't worry Benny, a polecat doesn't look like a skunk to this BE person either. :D
    Does your polecat spray nasty stuff at attackers [or those perceived as such]? There are varieties of skunk here without the two white stripes.

    Also, if you call someone a polecat, is that nasty? In the south here{ US}, it means they are nasty, evil, sneaky, conniving, untrustworthy, etc. 'Skunk' is not so common, but it does outside the south suggest evil or outlaw.
     
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    Any BE experts familiar with this usage:

    A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English


    BY JOHN S. FARMER

    AND W. E. HENLEY

    LONDON George Routledge & Sons, Limited

    Pole-cat. A harlot : also a general reproach (1596)
    ====
    Merry Wives of Windsor?
    ====

    Is the pole-cat (two or four legs) noted for amorousness?
     

    Trochfa

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I've never heard that before Benny. Others may be more familiar with it.

    However, your question:
    Does your polecat spray nasty stuff at attackers [or those perceived as such]? There are varieties of skunk here without the two white stripes.
    made me think of a very old proverb or saying we have here about something or someone 'smelling/stinking like a polecat'. I then did a bit of research.

    "To stink like a polecat" appears in Hensleigh Wedgwood's "A Dictionary of English Etymology" published in three volumes between 1859-1865.
    A Dictionary of English Etymology

    However, Hensleigh's entry shows it as being listed in "Ray's Proverbs", that is John Ray's "A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs" published in 1670. But to appear in it presumably, the proverb would have had to have been in use before that time.
    John Ray - Wikiquote

    Anyway, here's the connection between the skunk and the polecat:
    Polecats have scent glands either side of their nether regions which they use to make a pungent and impressively repellent scent. And the beast uses this singular gift to engage in bouts of acrobatic chemical warfare. If alarmed the polecat can execute a hand-stand and from this position, elaborately squirt the scent backwards, into the face of would-be assailants.
    Read more at: On the scent of elusive polecat

    Therefore those in the southern states were presumably aware that's what a polecat did and so when they encountered a skunk they believed it was simply another type of polecat.

    Also, if you call someone a polecat, is that nasty? In the south here{ US}, it means they are nasty, evil, sneaky, conniving, untrustworthy, etc. 'Skunk' is not so common, but it does outside the south suggest evil or outlaw.
    In BE it would probably just mean that someone was very smelly or stinky and therefore a "stinker" and perhaps that's why bad people were called polecats in the US.

    stinker
    noun
    informal
    • 1 A person or thing that smells very bad.
    1.1 A contemptible or very unpleasant person or thing.
    ‘have those little stinkers been bullying you?’
    stinker | Definition of stinker in English by Oxford Dictionaries
     
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