• varmint •
vahr-mint • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: (Slang) 1. An animal considered obnoxious or troublesome. 2. A troublesome person, especially a mischievous child.
Notes: This word is almost always used humorously today. Use it in a conversation in which you would feel comfortable saying scalawag, rapscallion, and critter. One adjective has been proposed, varminty, meaning "having the appearance of a varmint". It could be used in the sense of "full of varmints".
In Play: We are usually safe using this word in reference to pesky animals: "The varmints are taking over my yard: the deer are eating the shrubbery, moles are tearing up the lawn, and bagworms are ruining my evergreens." Don't forget today's Good Word may be used in reference to noisome people, too: "Some varmint stole my desk while I was away on vacation."
Word History: We tend to associate this word with the Wild West, the frontier, where people were free to molest the language any way they pleased. However, this particular mispronunciation of vermin has been around at least since 1539, though seldom used until 1825. The meaning of vermin has expanded since it left Latin. It is a derivation from Latin vermis "worm". The derivation, vermina meant "belly pains", presumably caused by worms. By Old French it had changed to "parasites". In English it set out referring to insects and small animals, it then moved on to larger animals. Varmint, as mentioned before, includes humans. Vermin comes from the same root that gave English, a Germanic language, worm. (We are grateful to Ralph Mowery, who doesn't let varmints get him down and interfere with his sending in very Good Words like today's.)
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