Why Are Skunks Called Polecats?

Have you heard this Southern colloquialism? Although it’s not very common anymore, some people in the Southeast (especially older folks) will refer to this animal as a “polecat.” My grandmother always used the term not just for skunks, but anyone and anything that she found malodorous!

So where does this term come from? In reality, a polecat isn’t a skunk, but a wild ferret native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Polecats emit a musky odor when threatened, though it’s not quite as strong as they of a skunk.

Because skunks don’t live in Europe, the first English speakers in the Southeast didn’t know what they were and mistook them for polecats. The term persists, particularly in rural areas.

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