Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- POLECAT

Do you know what a POLECAT is? If you look in the Merrriam-Webster dictionary it says,

Definition of POLECAT

 1. ANY OF SEVERAL CARNIVOROUS MAMMALS (AS OF THE GENERA Mustela or Vormela) of the weasel family; especially: a brown to black European mammal (M. putorius) from which the domesticated ferret is derived.


Back home in Harlan, KY, the old-timers referred to a skunk as a POLECAT. I don't think we ever saw a ferret in the mountains. At least, nobody ever talked about it.

POLECATS have two major characteristics that make them stand out among all other creatures that roam the mountains of Appalachia.

First, they are black and white striped with bushy tails.

Second, under that bushy tail is a scent gland that, if they are agitated or feel threatened, can provide a spray of noxious stink that will make your eyes and respiratory system burn so bad that you cough up phlegm and cry until snot flows out of your nostrils. The odor is similar to liquid tar, only worse. Much worse.
POLECAT with a tail that means business

Dogs and children are especially drawn to the cute little critters -- until they get too close and it's too late to retreat. Some say tomato juice can remove the stench of a POLECAT spray. Others claim borscht will do the trick. Thankfully, I've never had to put either to the test.

Unfortunately, POLECATS aren't very smart. They tend to attempt to cross the road without looking both ways first. You always know if there's a flattened POLECAT nearby as you drive. That scent can travel for what seems like miles on a foggy morning. In the summer heat and humidity, the stink seems to intensify even more.

Many a time I have traveled a mountain road when everyone in the car breaks into a rendition of, "Oh there's a dead skunk in the middle of the road..." and yes, a POLECAT definitely stinks to high heaven.

Now that I live further south, I don't smell too many POLECATS as I drive. Here we have an occasional raccoon or possum, but rarely a POLECAT. The most often seen critter here is the armadillo. No matter which critter it is, none of them has mastered the trick to crossing a road without becoming roadkill. Thankfully, most of them only stink after they've been lying there squashed for a couple of days.

POLECAT is a strange name for a skunk. It didn't come from a cat on a pole. At least we didn't call it the same thing my college roommate from Lakehurst, NJ called them -- WOODS PUSSY!

So, what did you call a POLECAT where you grew up? Have any funny or disgusting stories about them? I'd love to hear your story.


Appalachian Word of the Week -- POLECAT (Click to tweet)

POLECATS stink to high heaven (Click to tweet)

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