Have you ever been tricked by someone? Of course you have! Who hasn’t? Some people are just good at pulling the wool over others’ eyes. Sometimes you may hear people say such tricksters are “sly as a fox.”
But what exactly does that mean? Are foxes really sly? And, if so, how did people find out? Were they tricked by foxes?
“Sly as a fox” has been a traditional saying for hundreds of years. It means that someone is particularly crafty or tricky. If you’re as sly as a fox, you are experienced and cunning and can usually get whatever you want, sometimes by underhanded means.
Long ago, fables, such as Aesop’s The Fox and the Crow, portrayed the fox as a creature that was very crafty and cunning as a hunter. Although there are plenty of other animals that are cunning hunters, the fox became associated with trickery.
For example, many medieval stories feature a character called Reynard the Fox. Reynard the Fox is a red fox who acts like a human. He is the central character of many fables from France, England and Germany. Reynard is known as a trickster who always gets into trouble, yet can always talk his way out of it!
Most fables featuring Reynard the Fox include other animals that also act like humans. Reynard is often portrayed as being captured or killed, only to trick the other animals in the end. He usually gets his revenge in a cunning and crafty way.
How common is the image of the sly fox? Very common! For example, the sly fox is referred to over and over again in many of Shakespeare’s plays.
This view of the fox has found its way into other words, too. Have you ever heard of a vixen? A vixen is a mean or argumentative woman. Where did the word come from? A vixen is also the official term for a female fox!