fer-ret / fĕr-ĭt
1. a domesticated variety of polecat, Mustela putorius, raised for hunting purposes
Here and there they rushed with wild screams and curses, diving under the sail, crouching behind booms, huddling into corners like rabbits when the ferrets are upon them, as helpless and as hopeless.
From “The White Company” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859 – 1930
2. a small rodent, Mustela nigripes, found in North America, closely related to a weasel; also known as a black-footed ferret
If you will rear young ferrets and weasels you must not expect your poultry to be safe.
From “The Man-Wolf and Other Tales” by Emile Erckmann, 1822 – 1899, and Alexandre Chatrian, 1826 – 1890
3. something that searches diligently or continuously
One new type of Ferret had the very specialized job of detecting and destroying Japanese aircraft that carried radar.
From “United States Army in World War II: The Technical Services, The Signal Corps: The Outcome” by George Raynor Thompson and Dixie R. Harris
4. a narrow binding tape or ribbon used to trim fabric; also known as ferreting
His department, we suppose, was writing notes, or at all events folding them, tying on red tape or green ferret according to the most approved etiquette.
From “Palmerston Policy” ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ October 1836
1. to hunt using a domesticated polecat known as a ferret
Rangers at the Formby National Trust site were alerted to a group of men with what were described as hunting dogs walking around the sheep fields on trust land – with fears that they may have been ferreting for rabbits.
Ollie Cowan, “Poachers chased off Trust land after ferreting for rabbits” ‘Champion’ https://www.champnews.com/story.asp?ID=GN4_ART_346609, October 2016
2. to drive out of hiding; to expel
Wherever you may seek solitude, men will ferret you out and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows.
Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862
3. to discover by intensive searching
Take advantage of the natural lull after hard times when you’re pulling together the pieces to sort through the events and ferret out the lessons.
Jean Fleming, 1941 –
4. to search thoroughly
I leave you to hunt in the drawing-rooms, while I ferret in the kitchen.
From “Japhet, In Search Of A Father” by Frederick Marryat, 1792 – 1848
5. to tenaciously and relentlessly pursue; to torment or harass
The captain, in his zeal for the health and cleanliness of his ship, would make sweeping visitations to the “lubber nests” of the unlucky “voyageurs” and their companions in misery, ferret them out of their berths, make them air and wash themselves and their accoutrements, and oblige them to stir about briskly and take exercise.
From “Astoria or Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains” by Washington Irving, 1783 – 1859
ultimately from the Latin noun fur, furis (thief) via the Old French noun fuiret, furet
Thank you to Allen Ward for providing this etymology.