The Collective Noun for Ferrets

A number of ferret people know that if they own two or more furkids, the group is usually referred to as a “business” or “busyness” of ferrets.

However, during my travels around the Internet, I have come across different spellings of the same term.

  • a Besynys of fferettys
  • a Besynes of ferettis
  • a Besynesse of ferettes
  • a Besynes of ferettes
  • a Besenes of ferrets
  • a Besenes of firets

I would assume they would be from the Middle Ages but haven’t been able to track down exact dates.

Another collective name for them is fesnyng – a very strange word and I’ve heard that it came from misreading the word fesynes in Middle English and that word does, in fact, mean busy-ness!

I had an email from a reader called Robert who very kindly shared this fascinating little snippet of information …

You are right in preferring “busy-ness” as the collective noun for ferrets. It is the modern form of the word “besynes” which appeared in the “Book of St Albans” of 1486 as the “proper term” for ferrets, i.e. a word which describes the characteristics of ferrets.

Over the centuries misunderstandings about what these proper terms were led to their all being regarded as collective nouns even where, as with a “singular” of boars it was patently obvious that the term could not possibly be a collective noun.

In the case of ferrets the word “fesynes” arose through a transcription error in 1801 when the list in Joseph Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes” failed to copy correctly earlierlists.

The matter was investigated thoroughly by the scholar John Hodgkin in the early years of the twentieth century and published in the paper ‘Proper Terms: An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of Phrases in “The Book of St Albans,” 1486, entitled “The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys” and similar lists.’, Transactions of the Philological Society 1907-1910 Part III, pp 1 – 187, Kegan, Paul, Trench & Trübner & Co, Ltd, London, 1909.

The Collective Nouns

A post from 1996 about the word “fesnyng” which might be of interest to some, however I did disagree with the poster’s statement …

“Here, though, is the problem. Ferrets are fiercely solitary animals. They are no more likely to get together in a fesnyng than you or I are. So how, or why, does this word exist? How can you label something which does not ever happen?”

Solitary animals? Maybe he had different ferrets to all the ones I’ve had – all my guys have been totally gregarious and, although some are a bit more territorial than others, they will always accept a newcomer to their group!

Ah well, it was a while ago so maybe this poster has changed his opinion



Comments

The Collective Noun for Ferrets — 2 Comments

  1. Whoever said ferrets are fiercely solitary animals couldn’t be more wrong, my lot are very social. At the moment there is one pile of 4 sleeping ferrets another pile of 2 sleeping ferrets and 2 ferrets playing on the floor. If thats fiercely solitary I’d love to see what they would be like if they were social animals …

  2. I hear ya, Dominic! LOL! 😀 I think the person who said ferrets were fiercely solitary animals was either talking about a full male (they do get very stinky when in rut and can be very aggressive towards other ferrets, usually males, so would be kept separate from the “business”) or he really didn’t know what he was talking about! 😉

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