What are spraints?

Word count: 230 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Building your vocabulary is always a good idea. It  benefits your reading and it also helps you be more specific and precise in your writing. Here is my word of the week.

I learned a new word this week: spraints.

If it’s new to you as well, see if you can guess its meaning by reading this sentence from the book The London Train by Tessa Hadley.

“She showed them a dusty depression on the bank that might be where the otters slept by day, and their spraints nearby, blackish messes of fish scales and fagments of bone, probably eel bones.”

I figured “spraints” meant scat or droppings and asked my husband, who has a degree in zoology, if he was familiar with the word. “It sounds like a hillbilly term,” he said. “You know, ‘I spraint my ankle’.”

Putting my husband’s questionable humour aside, I consulted a dictionary and learned it meant otter’s dung, which seemed a bizarrely specific term. Why is otter poop so venerated it earns its own name? If anyone can explain the reason why, please let me know.

Meanwhile, I can tell you the word comes from the Medieval French verb espreindre, meaning  to press out. Which also seems a tad more than I want to know.

Photo courtesy Peter Kaminksi, Flickr Creative Commons

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