The preschoolers are learning about farm animal families. Horse families have stallions, mares, and colts, for example.
At the same time, my middle son has questions about his Bohemian ancestry. Our family is traced back to a person referred to as The Unknown Liska. "Liska," I told my son, means vixen. "Vixen" means foxy lady to males of a certain demographic. It took some effort to clarify that a female fox is called a vixen in the same way a female horse is called a mare. ... hen; ewe; cow; sow.
At least from 1970, "vixen" was slang for an attractive female that might do harm. Earlier and more traditional dictionary sources suggest quarrelsome, malicious, ill-tempered, and shrewish without the attractive connotation.
The Online Etymology Dictionary helped me understand that the "v" spelling used to be "f" until the late 1500s:
O.E. *fyxen (implied in adj. fyxan), fem. of fox (see fox, and cf. M.H.G. vühsinne, Ger. füchsin). Solitary English survival of the Germanic feminine suffix -en, -in (cf. O.E. gyden "goddess;" mynecen "nun," from munuc "monk;" wlyfen "she-wolf").
Thank heaven! Otherwise I would have to explain the Texas expression, "I'm fixin' to go get some sweet tea and chicken salad."
A male fox is sometimes called a dog-fox. Fox young are called pups, cubs, or kits by different sources. In Paul Galdone's version of Henny Penny, Foxy Loxy's family includes Mrs. Foxy Loxy and the little foxes in order to circumvent the entire vexing problem.
I'll have to read Patricia McKissacks wonderful book, Flossie & the Fox, to the children soon. F or V, M or F, "a fox be just a fox. That aine so scary."
© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder