Many of the widely different breeds of terrier may be found as clues in our crosswords. They were mostly developed in Britain and Ireland to control rats, rabbits and foxes. The name terrier comes from the Latin word terra ‘earth’ because they dig into the earth after their prey. It’s no coincidence that the current French word for ‘to burrow’ is terrier.
Today they are popular pets, and come in a great variety. A typical terrier is small, wiry, very active and fearless. The largest of the terriers is the Airedale, that originated from the valley (dale) of the River Aire in Yorkshire, England. It is traditionally called the ‘King of Terriers’ because of its size. It is well-known, along with the Kerry Blue, for tackling rats and otters in deep water.
The Kerry Blue, as you might guess, comes from Kerry in Ireland and has a blue (bluey-grey) coat. Legend goes that a blue dog swam ashore from a shipwreck off the Kerry coast. His blue curly coat attracted all the female Wheaten Terriers in Kerry, hence producing the Kerry Blue.
The Jack Russell terrier was named after Rev Jack Russell, a vicar in Devon who bought a small white fox-hunting terrier (named Trump) which became the foundation of the line of terriers so-named.
The Yorkshire Terrier or Yorkie, is a small dog developed during the 19th century to catch rats in clothing mills – in Yorkshire naturally. The Cairn Terriers were used to hunt and chase quarry between the cairns in the Scottish Highlands.
The terrier is used in similes to indicate tenacity. A line from Sherlock Holmes: “He looks up like a terrier waiting for a biscuit.”
The terrier also has a mind of its own, as seen in this line from Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men: “Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again.”
I’m sure some of our readers have one or two of these feisty pets– I would love to hear from you about your terrific terriers!