After repeatedly threatening to contest every seat that is up for election because he was deeply unsatisfied with Brexit plan proposed by Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexit party Nigel Farage suddenly announced that his party would not contest any of the 317 seats currently held by the Conservatives for fear of splitting the Brexit vote and opening a window for the Remain supporting Liberal Democrats to win the seat. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says that Farage is merely following the orders of his US patron Donald Trump.
I was intrigued by a British commentator referring to Farage’s sudden move as a ‘reverse ferret’. Never having heard this term before, I looked it up and found that while originating in the UK, it has been used in the US media at least once.
Reverse ferret is a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organisation’s editorial or political line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position.
The term originates from Kelvin MacKenzie’s time at The Sun. His preferred description of the role of journalists when it came to public figures was to “stick a ferret up their trousers”. This meant making their lives uncomfortable, and was based on the supposed northern stunt of ferret-legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). However, when it became clear that the tide of public opinion had turned against the paper’s line, MacKenzie would burst from his office shouting “Reverse ferret!”
In 2014, the Mayor of New York performed a literal reverse ferret when he repealed a ban on owning domesticated ferrets within the city.
Republican leaders’ reaffirmation of support for 2016 presidential nominee Donald Trump in October was described as a reverse ferret by The New York Times.
Although it appears to be widely known in the UK, it is not very catchy and I am not sure if it will become common in the US. Or maybe it already is and it missed me, since I am not exactly the most aware of new catchphrases.