16 January, 2007

The Ermine

The Ermine and Erminette, who only attack children and who wear the white robe, symbolise the hypocritical professors of false morals named M. Rodin, M. Tartufe [sic], Dom Basile [an early Carthusian, fl. 1170], who assume robes of chastity and innocence so as to weasel their way into families and pervert youth. The blackness of the ermine's schemes is betrayed by the colour of the brush of hair worn at the end of its tail. We note, finally, that law professors and most doctors of the civilised sciences, who are good only for the corruption of youth, show themselves to be very fond of ermine finery.


Stoat is generally preferred to ermine for the English name of the creature, but the latter is perfectly acceptable, and better matches the French. From the OED's extensive discussion of the word's etymology:
A different hypothesis (favoured by Littré, Paul Meyer, and others) is that the Romanic words represent L. Armenius Armenian. The mus Ponticus, 'Pontic rat', mentioned by Pliny as a fur-bearing animal, is commonly supposed, though without actual proof, to be the ermine; and as Pontus and Armenia were conterminous, it has been suggested that an alternative name for the animal may have been mus Armenius. That some animal was known by this designation in the second century is rendered probable by a passage in Julius Pollux (c A.D. 180), who (Onomast. VII. 60) gives μυωτός as the name of an Armenian garment, and, amongst other conjectures as to the origin of the word, suggests that this article of dress may have been so named because made of the skins of 'the mice (or rats) of that country'.
For more: Toussenel on the Mole-Rat, and on the Bat.


Pretzel Bender said...

Cool. Apparently there's a whole literary tradition of wicked vermin that I've somehow missed. With illustrations and everything. It's too bad the sci fi book Catch Fire that I recalled had a giant killer mole/weasel type being didn't have illustrations.

A Little Thought said...

Stoat. Yuk.

Ermine. Lovely! Da Vinci's Lady With a Stoat just doesn't have the same referential grace, does it?

And I do believe that painting hangs in a museum in Poland - I wonder if our friend Gawain has ever managed to see The Bestoated Lady in person!

But the big question is - are there any ermines in Armenia? And why does that last line read as the first line in a children's song?

Conrad H. Roth said...

"Are there any ermines in Armenia?"

I think the onus is now on you, ALT, to write that song. The question is, what to rhyme it with? "Seein' ya", "teenier" (ie. the comparative of "teeny"), "premier" (pronounced to rhyme for humorous effect), etc.

Hans said...

I came here in a roundabout way. I was looking up the translation for Armiño, a spanish word for Arminus mus. Arminus became first Armino and then Armiño in Spanish. I suspect that the french Hermine and Ermine came from the latin as well.

The Ermine is actually from Russia and Scandinavia. The word got to Spanish via latin, and appears in the verses of the Poem of the Mio Cid. So, how does a northern latitude animal comes to be known as Armenian (Arminus)? Apparently via the trade fur. The furs would come to the Mediterranean via middle eastern traders. At the time, Armenia was the best known country from the middle east among Europeans, which then gave rise to Arminus.

Conrad H. Roth said...

You might be right, assuming that the ermine really was only found in northern latitudes at this time.