vul·​pine ˈvəl-ˌpīn How to pronounce vulpine (audio)
: of, relating to, or resembling a fox
: foxy, crafty
a vulpine smile
vulpine charms

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Vulpine and Henry David Thoreau

In Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau described foxes crying out as they hunted through the winter forest, and he wrote, “Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated.” Thoreau’s was far from the first use of vulpine to describe our sly friends; English writers have been applying that adjective to the foxlike as well as the shrewd and crafty since at least the 15th century, and the Latin parent of our term, vulpinus (from the Latin word vulpes, meaning “fox”), was around long before that. Incidentally, the scientific name of the red fox, one of two possible North American fox species to have cussed out Thoreau, is Vulpes vulpes.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin vulpinus, from vulpes fox; perhaps akin to Greek alōpēx fox — more at alopecia

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vulpine was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near vulpine

Cite this Entry

“Vulpine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

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