AskDefine | Define weasel

The Collaborative Dictionary

Weasel \Wea"sel\, n. [OE. wesele, AS. wesle; akin to D. wezel, G. wiesel, OHG. wisala, Icel. hreyiv[imac]sla, Dan. v[aum]sel, Sw. vessla; of uncertain origin; cf. Gr. ?, ?, cat, weasel.] (Zool.) Any one of various species of small carnivores belonging to the genus Putorius, as the ermine and ferret. They have a slender, elongated body, and are noted for the quickness of their movements and for their bloodthirsty habit in destroying poultry, rats, etc. The ermine and some other species are brown in summer, and turn white in winter; others are brown at all seasons. [1913 Webster] Malacca weasel, the rasse. Weasel coot, a female or young male of the smew; -- so called from the resemblance of the head to that of a weasel. Called also weasel duck. Weasel lemur, a short-tailed lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus). It is reddish brown above, grayish brown below, with the throat white. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

weasel n : small carnivorous mammal with short legs and elongated body and neck

Moby Thesaurus

Argus, Cape polecat, Skimobile, Sno-Cat, ape, avoid, back and fill, bar, bear, blade, blench, blink, cat, cavy, chimp, chimpanzee, coon, cringe, dodge, draw back, duck, eagle, equivocate, evade, fade, fall back, ferret, flinch, foumart, glutton, groundhog, guinea pig, hang back, hawk, hedge, hedgehog, hem and haw, hum and haw, jib, lynx, mince the truth, mince words, monk, monkey, mousehound, opossum, palter, parry, polecat, porcupine, possum, prairie dog, prevaricate, pull back, pussyfoot, quail, quill pig, raccoon, recoil, reel back, retreat, runner, sheer off, shrink, shrink back, shuffle, shy, sidestep, skunk, sled, sleigh, slink, sneaker, snowmobile, start aside, start back, swerve, tergiversate, turn aside, waffle, weasel out, whistle-pig, wince, wolverine, woodchuck, zoril



The word weasel is the direct descendant of wesule, wesle, weosule, a weak feminine noun that has cognates in other Germanic languages (Dutch wezel, German Wiesel), but has no known cognates in other Indo-European languages.


  • /'wiːzəl/


  1. The least weasel, (Mustela nivalis)
  2. Any of the carnivorous mammals of the genus Mustela, having a slender body, a long tail and usually a light brown upper coat and light-coloured belly.
  3. The taxonomic family Mustelidae is also called the weasel family.


Mustela nivalis
  • Czech: lasice
  • Danish: brud
  • Dutch: wezel
  • Estonian: nirk
  • Finnish: lumikko
  • Greek: νυφίτσα (nifítsa)
  • Japanese: (イタチ, itachi)
  • Latvian: zebiekste
  • Polish: łasica
  • Russian: ласка
  • West Frisian: wezeling
any mammal of the genus Mustela
any mammal of the family Mustelidae


  1. To benefit by clever or devious means, esp. to escape a commitment (from the supposed cunningness of the weasel).
To weasel out of doing something
To weasel something out of somebody

Usage notes

  • Weaseling and weaseled are more common in the US. Weaselling and weaselled are more common in the UK.


to weasel out of doing something
to weasel something out of somebody

Derived terms

Weasels are mammals in the genus Mustela of the Mustelidae family. Originally, the name "weasel" was applied to one species of the genus, the European form of the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). Early literary references to weasels, for example their common appearances in fables, refer to this species rather than to the genus as a whole, reflecting what is still the common usage in the United Kingdom. In technical discourse, however, as in American usage, the term "weasel" can refer to any member of the genus, or to the genus as a whole. Of the 16 extant species currently classified in the genus Mustela, ten have "weasel" in their common name. Among those that do not are the stoat or ermine, the two species of mink, and the polecats or ferrets.
Weasels vary in length from fifteen to thirty-five centimeters (six to fourteen inches), and usually have a light brown upper coat, white belly and black fur at the tip of the tail; in many species, populations living at high latitudes moult to a white coat with black fur at the tip of the tail in winter. They have long slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails are typically almost as long as the rest of their bodies. As is typical of small carnivores, weasels have a reputation for cleverness and guile. They also have tails that can be anywhere from 22-33 cm long and they use these to defend the food they get and to claim territory from other weasels.
Weasels feed on small mammals, and in former times were considered vermin since some species took poultry from farms, or rabbits from commercial warrens. Certain species of weasel and ferrets, have been reported to perform the mesmerizing weasel war dance, after fighting other creatures, or acquiring food from competing creatures. In folklore at least, this dance is particularly associated with the stoat.
Collective nouns for a group of weasels include boogle, gang, pack, and confusion.
Weasels are found all across the world except for Australia and neighbouring islands.


The following information is according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, and IUCN 2006 for the extinct Mustela macrodon. 1 Europe & Northern Asia division excludes China.

Popular culture references

In English-language popular culture in particular, the term "weasel" is associated with devious characters.
Jaques: I thank it. More! I pr'ythee more. I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs. More! I pr'ythee, more. (As You Like It, William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 5, Lines 9-13)
God bless you, sir!
Polonius: My lord, the queen would speak with you, and presently.
Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud, that 's almost in the shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and 't is like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks, it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or, like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.
Hamlet: Then will I come to my mother by-and-by. — They fool me to the top of my bent. — I will come by-and-by.
Polonius: I will say so.
Hamlet: By-and-by is easily said. — Leave me, friends. (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 374-388)
Many of these references tend to treat weasels as a species rather than a genus; for example, in Brian Jacques' Redwall series, weasels are one of many villainous races, along with rats and ferrets — although ferrets, biologically speaking, are a species of weasel. In the Dilbert cartoons, some of the most devious characters are portrayed as weasels or with weasel-like features. In reference to the weasel's reputation for skullduggery, the phrase "weasel words" means insincere or devious speech.
One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words’. When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a ‘weasel word’ after another, there is nothing left of the other. (Theodore Roosevelt, speech in St Louis, 31 May 1916)
Elements of the American media described the declaration by France, Germany, and Belgium against the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "The Axis Of Weasel", a pun on the "Axis of Evil". A popular cynical office poster states, "Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines," meaning that office workers who stay low and act in their own self-interest may be less likely to rise in the organization but are also less likely to be destroyed as a result of office politics.
British popular-culture references to weasels are generally specifically to the Least Weasel. For example, Alan Lloyd's novel Kine, about a fictional war in the English countryside between weasels and the invasive species mink, depicts the latter as sadistic, voracious invaders, giants in comparison to the weasels; in American usage, both species would be kinds of weasel. Similarly, in Kenneth Grahame's popular story The Wind in the Willows the villains are the weasels and the stoats, again two species of weasel in American usage. Here everyday usage reflects the original European use of the word weasel for a single species.
A kamaitachi is, according to Japanese myth, a malevolent, weasel-like wind spirit, wielding a sharp sickle. They are nearly always depicted in groups of three individuals, and the three act together in their attacks; the first one hits the victim so that he/she falls to the ground, the second slashes with the sickle, and the third partially heals the wound. Also in Japanese mythology, weasels represent bad luck and death.
A cartoon shown on Cartoon Network is entitled I Am Weasel, whose main character is a weasel.
Two Pokémon are based on the weasel, Buizel and Floatzel.
In the television series of Watership Down, a weasel was a sole antagonist to the rabbits of Watership Down in the second and ninth episode of the first season. Other weasels appear later in the third season of the series.
Music parodist Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song entitled Weasel Stomping Day, which was later made into a short video shown in an episode of Robot Chicken. It depicts weasels being stomped to death.
A section of Weird Al Yankovic's song "Albuquerque" details his encounter with a box of "one dozen starving crazed weasels" acquired from a donut shop.
Weasels Ripped My Flesh is the title of a 1970 album by Frank Zappa, wherein the musicians "employ frenetic and chaotic improvisation characteristic of avant-garde free jazz" reminiscent of the weasel war dance
The owner of the specialist East London sauna, 'Chariots', is Steven 'The Weasel' Burns.


  • Nowak, Ronald M., and Ernest P. Walker. Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 0801880335, ISBN 0801880327.
weasel in Arabic: ابن عرس
weasel in Aragonese: Mustela
weasel in Catalan: Mustela
weasel in Czech: Mustela
weasel in German: Mustela
weasel in Spanish: Mustela
weasel in Esperanto: Musteloj
weasel in Persian: راسو
weasel in French: Mustela
weasel in Korean: 족제비속
weasel in Italian: Mustela
weasel in Hebrew: חמוס
weasel in Lithuanian: Šeškai
weasel in Dutch: Mustela
weasel in Japanese: イタチ
weasel in Polish: Łasica
weasel in Portuguese: Mustela
weasel in Russian: Хорьки
weasel in Simple English: Weasel
weasel in Finnish: Mustela
weasel in Swedish: Mustela
weasel in Vietnamese: Chi Chồn
weasel in Turkish: Gelincik (hayvan)
weasel in Chinese: 鼬属
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