ur·​chin ˈər-chən How to pronounce urchin (audio)
archaic : hedgehog sense 1a
: a mischievous and often poor and raggedly clothed youngster
street urchins

Examples of urchin in a Sentence

we could never resist the little urchin's pleas for candy
Recent Examples on the Web Anemones, sea stars, urchins, barnacles, periwinkles and other marine creatures inhabit the park’s tide pools — some of the best in Southern California. Cnn.com, The Mercury News, 26 Feb. 2024 Unfortunately, local kelp forests have declined by more than 80% in size over the past decade due to warmer waters and unchecked predation by urchins. Cecilia Rodriguez, Forbes, 27 Feb. 2024 Since urchins eat kelp, otters’ predation also plays a role in helping kelp forests grow. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 2 Feb. 2024 What many pious folks may not have known, however, is that Mary is great behind the reins of a moving vehicle, and the combo of her skills plus some local preadolescent urchins leaves Clarence coming in second. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 12 Jan. 2024 But Willy — whose mother (Sally Hawkins) is British — speaks with an American accent, as does the evil chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key) and Willy’s lovable urchin sidekick, Noodle (Calah Lane). Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2023 His two hundred or so paintings consist of a strict diet of burgomasters, brewers, pipe smokers, regents, street urchins, people holding various things in their hands (donkey’s jawbone, stretched pig’s bladder), and hundreds of Dutch heads plattered on flat linen collars and millstone ruffs. Zachary Fine, The New Yorker, 3 Nov. 2023 In its original script, the three street urchins are female characters who sing in the background throughout the musical, typically wearing skirts or dresses. Praveena Somasundaram, Washington Post, 10 Nov. 2023 Typically, the urchins eat algae, which competes with coral and grows all over it, blocking sunlight. Carolyn Hagler, Smithsonian Magazine, 8 May 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'urchin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English yrchoun, urcheoun, hirichoun "hedgehog, sea urchin," borrowed from Anglo-French heriçon, hirçun, irechon, going back to Vulgar Latin *ērīciōn-, *ērīciō, derivative (with the Latin suffix -ōn-, -ō, usually of persons) of Latin ērīcius "hedgehog, kind of military obstacle," from *ēr "hedgehog" + -īcius (or -icius), adjective suffix; *ēr, if earlier *hēr, probably going back to a root noun from the Indo-European verbal base her-s- "bristle, become stiff," whence also Greek chḗr "hedgehog" (attested only by the grammarian Hesychius) — more at horror entry 1

Note: The word urchin in its original sense has been largely replaced by hedgehog in standard British and North American English. Despite this recession, the Survey of English Dialects showed that urchin in various phonetic manifestations, with variants such as prickly-urchin, was still in dialect use in the west Midlands and north of England in the 1950's (see Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar, Routledge, 1994). The application of urchin in a more or less pejorative way to a child, much more rarely to a young woman, began in the sixteenth century; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, first edition, it became more common after ca. 1780. — The Anglo-French borrowing evidenced in Middle English clearly reflects a northern French form with a hushing consonant; compare modern Walloon urechon, irchon (Mons), Picard iršõ. Trésor de la langue française follows Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch in treating Old French heriçon, etc., as a derivative of a putative simplex *eriz (matching Old Occitan aritz, Italian riccio, Spanish erizo, etc.) joined to the diminutive suffix -on (see aileron). Both references allude to an article by Albert Stimming that analyzes the fall of inherited vowels in French in medial syllables (Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 36. Band [1913], pp. 466-71); according to Stimming, the medial vowel in hypothetical *ericionem should regularly have dropped, yielding *erçon, which is not attested—hence the formation evident in heriçon must be a later development. However, Pierre Fouché regarded heriçon and a few other words with similar structure—sénecon "groundsel," soupçon, Old French sospeçon "suspicion," hameçon "hook"—as exceptions in which in the affricate terminating the syllable acted in the same way as a geminate in preserving the preceding vowel (Phonétique historique du français, vol. 2, Paris, 1969 [1958], pp. 487, 489-90). — The word *ēr is attested in classical Latin only as an accusative form irim in Plautus; both this vocalism and the loss of h are taken as dialectal, or, as Ernout and Meillet put it, "country words" ("mots de campagne"). An accusative erem was used by the Late Latin poet Nemesianus (3rd century A.D.). The formation with the suffix -īcius (or -icius—vowel length is uncertain) is anomalous, as neither suffix is otherwise appended to animal names; Manu Leumann suggests that the formation may have originated in soldiers' speech, with ērīcius/ēricius alluding originally not to a literal hedgehog, but rather an obstacle with sharpened ends used in fortifications.

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of urchin was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near urchin

Cite this Entry

“Urchin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/urchin. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ur·​chin ˈər-chən How to pronounce urchin (audio)
: a mischievous child

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