• urchin •
Pronunciation: êr-chin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A brat, a scamp, a guttersnipe, a mischievous youngster. 2. A raggedly dressed child. 3. A sea hedgehog.
Notes: Generally speaking, urchin is a lexical orphan, though an appropriately derived adjective urchinly has been tried in the past. Urchiness "female urchin" has been used at least once, but since abandoned for good reason. Urchinness "the quality of urchins" is permitted by English grammar, but few have had the nerve to use it. It has been used only on the Web so far as we know.
In Play: The first sense of urchin is "brat", a mischievous youngster: "The little urchins at my daughter Juanita's birthday party thought my swag lamp was a piñata and beat it to smithereens." The second sense is a dirty child, perhaps in raggedy clothing. An expectable response from any mother at seeing her children come in the house dirty would be, "How did you little urchins get so filthy?"
Word History: In Middle English today's Good Word was urchone "hedgehog" from Old French herichon (Modern French hérisson). Classical Latin ericius "hedgehog" came to be herichon in Old French from unattested Vulgar (Street) Latin erecio(n), derived from Classical Latin ericius + -on, a diminutive suffix. Horror comes from Latin horrere "to bristle or tremble with fear", and Latin hirsutus "rough, shaggy, bristly" was borrowed as English hirsute "hairy". Both Latin words were derived from the same PIE root as ericius. Hircine "pertaining to goats" is another word from the same source, borrowed from Latin hircinus, an adjective based on hircus "billy goat", probably because goats are shaggy. (We thank Rob Towart now for recommending today's prickly Good Word.)