Ancient word of the day: hedgehog

Ancient word of the day: Hedgehog

The ancient word for today is hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus. In the Middle Ages, writers didn’t make reference to hedgehogs, but to urchins. A term still favoured in some English dialects. It’s also associated with the sea urchin, which is literally a sea hedgehog.

The word urchin came over to England with the Norman invasion and was derived from the Latin word ericius. Before the Norman conquest, the animal was known by the Anglo-Saxon name Igl.

Ancient word of the day: hedgehog

Other names

Furze-pig – Devon

Hotchi-witchi – Romani

Hodmedods – Norfolk

Ouriço cacheiro – crafty pig
or porco espinho’ – spiky pig in Portuguese

Detail of a miniature of hedgehogs sticking fallen fruit to their quills and carrying it back to their burrow; from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, f. 45r.

”Thorns shall grow in their palaces, nettles & thistles in their strongholds … there shall the hedgehog build, dig, be there at home and bring forth his young ones.” Taverner’s Isiah 34, 1539.

Ancient word of the day: hedgehog
Detail of a miniature of the hedgehog reproaching the goat for his vanity; from Ulrich von Pottenstein, Spiegel der Weisheit, Austria (Salzburg), c. 1430, Egerton MS 1121, f. 44v.

The hedgehog was a symbol of Christian humility

The Speculum sapientiae, or Mirror of Wisdom is an ancient tale of beasts in Latin. In one tale, a passing goat sees its reflection in a pond and declares himself very handsome indeed. A hedgehog trundles along afterwards and reproaches the goat telling him that profound humility, not vain boasting are what makes animals truly noble.

Detail of a miniature of a hedgehog; from Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre, vol. 1, Netherlands (Bruges), 1471-1483, Royal MS 15 E. iv, f. 180r.

Read more: The British Library Digitised Manusripts

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