What's in a Word | All Blogs

Built-in umbrellas

By Debra Dobbins

On a trip a few years ago to Valley of Fire, a Nevada state park about 60 miles from Las Vegas, I was quite amused by the antics of the antelope ground squirrels romping close to the park's visitor center.

Seemingly in constant motion, they appeared oblivious to the sun's intense rays as they darted from one shrub to another or briskly dug holes.

These squirrels are known for their bushy white tails, which they bring up over their backs to serve as built-in umbrellas against the sun.

It was not much of a surprise, then, to learn the origin of “squirrel” this morning. According to Webster's, it came into Middle English from an Old French word that went back to a Latin word that was borrowed from the Greeks' skiouros. That word came from two Greek words: skia, meaning shadow, and oura, meaning tail.


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