• squirrel •
Pronunciation: skwêr-rêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A arboreal rodent with a long, bushy tail, common in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Notes: A squirrelly squirrel squirrelling nuts awayToday's Good Word refers to an animal so common that it has acquired an entourage of relatives. Squirrelly started out meaning "like a squirrel", but quickly slid into "crazy, jumpy, nervous". (That is the nickname by which my son the architect calls his older daughter.) This word also was "verbed", as Calvin of the "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon strip once put it. To squirrel something away is to hide it like squirrels store nuts for the winter, either burying them in the ground or putting them away in their nests.
In Play: Squirrels can be pests in many ways. Here is one way: "The squirrels bury their nuts in my flower bed, and in the spring I must spend all day pulling up walnut sprouts." They can drive you squirrelly if they get into the attic of your house: "Toots Sweet has squirrels in his attic and bats in his belfry."
Word History: Squirrel came to us from Anglo-French esquirel (Modern French écureuil) from Vulgar (street) Latin scuriolus, diminutive of a presumed noun scurius "squirrel". (We have no written evidence of it.) Scurius is a rearrangement of classical Latin sciurus "squirrel", borrowed from Greek skiouros with the same meaning. The Greek word presumably was originally a compound noun made up of skia "shade, shadow" + oura "tail". Squirrels were apparently so named for their habit of standing on their hind legs with their tail curled over their heads. (We are happy that Lynn Flake did not squirrel away today's Good Word, but rather submitted it to our series.)