The word ferret was used in the English language in a 1398 translation by scribe John Trevisa because he couldn't find a word to stand in for Old French furet, with the same definition. This term, which competed with ferretto be the proper spelling of the word for a while, comes from Vulgar Latin furittum, a diminutive of fur, meaning "thief". The term was applied to the polecat in allusion to Roman perceptions of clever and sneaky attributes to the animal. Through Proto-Italic for, likely still with the same denotation, fūrtraces to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction bher, meaning "to carry". According to Google NGrams, usage of ferret in literature over time peaked in the year 2000, but Google Trends has shown a promising uptick in 2018.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.