Tennessee Mountain Stories

Civet Cats

Spotted Skunk.jpg

Sometimes we use words on the mountain that seem so common we just assume everyone everywhere would know them; other sayin's we know for sure aren’t used anywhere else.  Well as a child I heard of Civvy Cats and having never heard that on TV or read it in a book I guess that was one of those things that I assumed was uniquely ours.  So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a whole article about them in the Tennessee Wildlife Magazine.

Okay, the authors didn’t actually call the critters Civvy Cats but I deciphered what they were talking about well enough that I can share it with you here.

First of all, what is definitely uniquely ours is pronunciation.  This species of skunk is spelled Civet.  But given that we add the long “e” sound to the end of lots of words (namely any name ending in “a” as in Gold-y or Marth-y) then it didn’t seem like much of a stretch that this French word would get the “e” in our vernacular. 

Next, what is the thing?  Well according to Brian E. Flock and Roger D. Applegate writing for the magazine of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, there are two species of skunks that call Tennessee home.  The striped skunk that we are all so familiar with and a spotted variety as well.  That spotted skunk is also known as a Civet.  And since skunks do resemble kitty cats we just call them Civvy Cats – I guess.  You know I’m always trying to figure the origins of these words.

So my mountain education told me that the particularly strong and annoying skunks were maybe Civvy Cats (as oppossed to the Pole Cat variety that was plenty stinky enough).  And according to Mr. Flock and Mr. Applegate, these Civets are very reclusive and even rare.  They prefer woodlands to fields and stay away from buildings.  In fact, I didn’t hear Civvy Cats mentioned very often.  Turns out Mr. Applegate is looking for the little spotted Civvy Cats – if you have pictures of them or know where some are holed up, please email him at: Roger.Applegate@tn.gov.

Isn’t it validating to see some of our language in for-real print?