June 6, 2013

Case File #013.06.06: URCHIN

The noun urchin has prickly and ugly roots. It evolved from the Middle English urchoun (sometimes spelled yrchoun), meaning “hedgehog,” which itself ultimately traces back to the Latin ericius (also meaning “hedgehog”) by way of the Old Northern French herichon. Not long after the English spelling changed to urchin circa 1528, the word also took on additional meanings and was applied to anything regarded in those days to be as ugly as a hedgehog, specifically hunchbacks, goblins and elves, ill-tempered old women, and, of course, mischievous and raggedy youngsters. During the early seventeenth century, however, the word lost all senses but that of “an impish and unkempt child,” though an allusion to the original sense of “hedgehog” has been retained in the open compound sea urchin.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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