Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Vulpine


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is vulpine. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Vulpine is a formal word that means “of, relating to, or similar to a fox.” It is also used figuratively to mean “shrewd or crafty.”

// The makeup artist did an incredible job creating realistic vulpine features to complement my fox costume.

VULPINE in Context

“I was reading in peace when a shocking noise came through the window: the sound of a person shrieking in distress. … A spurt of hasty Googling revealed that I was hearing ‘vixen screeches’—the mating calls of local red foxes. … Breeding season in Massachusetts, where I’m currently located, is approaching its conclusion. Silence will soon return. But a part of me will miss the adrenaline spikes caused by these haunting vulpine screams.” — Molly Young, The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2022

Did You Know?

In Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau described foxes crying out as they hunted through the winter forest, and he wrote, “Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated.” Thoreau’s was far from the first use of vulpine to describe our sly friends; English writers have been applying that adjective to the foxlike as well as the shrewd and crafty since at least the 15th century, and the Latin parent of our term, vulpinus (from the Latin word vulpes, meaning “fox”), was around long before that. Incidentally, the scientific name of the red fox, one of two possible North American fox species to have cussed out Thoreau, is Vulpes vulpes.

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