Thinking of springtime recently has naturally got me on to thinking about flora and fauna, and somehow it was the squirrel that sprung (!) into mind!


This is a word that has come a long way, but has for a long time been used to refer to the specific animal. Its story starts in English in the early 14th century, where it appears in the Anglo-French form esquirel, on its way to eventually replacing the Old English word acweorna.


The form esquirel came from Old French escurueil, still meaning “squirrel”. It is not far removed from the Modern French version; écureuil. This can in turn be traced back to the Vulgar Latin form *scuriolus, which was simply a diminutive form of *scurius, an alternative form of the Latin sciurus.


Latin adopted this form from Greek σκίουρος (skiouros). The interesting part here is what this word is comprised of. There are two elements; σκιά (skia) and ουρά (oura). The first element, σκιά, means “shadow, shade”, while ουρά means “tail”. Thus, squirrel is “shadow-tail”, possibly because it casts a shadow with its bushy tail. This is still the word used today in Modern Greek.


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