from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of several small omnivorous mammals of the Americas belonging to the family Mephitidae, having a bushy tail and black fur with white markings and ejecting a foul-smelling oily liquid from glands near the anus when threatened.
  • noun The glossy black and white fur of any of these mammals.
  • noun Slang A person regarded as obnoxious or despicable.
  • noun Slang Marijuana.
  • transitive verb To spray with the foul-smelling liquid of a skunk.
  • transitive verb To defeat overwhelmingly, especially by keeping from scoring.
  • transitive verb To cause to have no success trying to catch fish. Used in the passive.
  • transitive verb To cheat (someone).
  • transitive verb To fail to pay (an amount due).

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To beat (a player) in a game, as cards or billiards, completely, so that the loser fails to score.
  • To cause disease in or of; sicken; scale, or deprive of scales: said of fish in the live-well of a fishing-smack.
  • noun A fetid animal of the American genus Mephitis, M. mephitica.
  • noun By extension Any species of one of the American genera Mephitis, Spilogale, and Conepatus, and some others of the family Mustelidæ, as the African zorille, Asiatic teledu or stinkard, etc. See these words.
  • noun A base fellow: a vulgar term of reproach.
  • noun A complete defeat, as in some game in which not a point is scored by the beaten party.
  • noun Including the little striped skunks, at least twelve species have been recognized. After being changed back and forth by various revisers the name Mephitis is retained for the larger species and Spilogale for the smaller.
  • In an election, to defeat (an opponent) completely, so that the latter gets no votes at all.
  • To leave without paying one's bills.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Zoöl.) Any one of several species of American musteline carnivores of the genus Mephitis and allied genera. They have two glands near the anus, secreting an extremely fetid liquid, which the animal ejects at pleasure as a means of defense.
  • noun (Zoöl.) the bobolink; -- so called because the male, in the breeding season, is black and white, like a skunk.
  • noun (Bot.) an American aroid herb (Symplocarpus fœtidus) having a reddish hornlike spathe in earliest spring, followed by a cluster of large cabbagelike leaves. It exhales a disagreeable odor. Also called swamp cabbage.
  • noun (Zoöl.) See under Porpoise.
  • transitive verb Colloq. U. S. In games of chance and skill: To defeat (an opponent) (as in cards) so that he fails to gain a point, or (in checkers) to get a king.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Any of various small mammals, of the family Mephitidae, native to North and Central America, having a glossy black with a white coat and two musk glands at the base of the tail for emitting a noxious smell as a defensive measure.
  • noun slang A despicable person.
  • noun slang Short for skunkweed (marijuana).
  • noun slang A walkover victory in sports or board games, as when the opposing side is unable to score. Compare shutout.
  • noun cribbage A win by 30 or more points.
  • verb To defeat so badly as to prevent any opposing points.
  • verb cribbage To win by 30 or more points.
  • verb intransitive (of beer) to go bad, to spoil

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun American musteline mammal typically ejecting an intensely malodorous fluid when startled; in some classifications put in a separate subfamily Mephitinae
  • verb defeat by a lurch
  • noun a defeat in a game where one side fails to score
  • noun a person who is deemed to be despicable or contemptible
  • noun street names for marijuana


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Of Massachusett origin, ultimately from Proto-Algonquian *šeka·kwa : *šek-, urine + *-a·kw, fox, bushy-tailed animal.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

At first spelt squunck, from the Abenaki name for the animals, segôgw, segonku ("he who squirts / urinates"), from Proto-Algonquian *šeka:kwa, from *šek- (“to urinate”) (Abenaki seg-) + *-a:kw (“fox”) (Abenaki (w)ôkw(ses)).


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word skunk.


  • What I think we need more with NASA and with the Pentagon is less of this micro-managing, which adds hugely to costs, and have a fundamental reform of contracting where you say what your goals are with a vehicle or a weapons system, and then put it in what they call skunk works, where you say get the job done, we're not going to micro - manage you.

    CNN Transcript Jan 26, 2000 2000

  • I couldn't help but laugh when they were showing that clip of Bruha talking away and the poor skunk is walking around in circles STILL with that jar on its head.

    The Skunk Whisperer 2009

  • I also like the way the skunk is walking around in the background with the jar stuck on it's head as they interview the whisperer.

    The Skunk Whisperer 2009

  • I also like the way the skunk is walking around in the background with the jar stuck on it's head as they interview the whisperer.

    The Skunk Whisperer » E-Mail 2009

  • "The mean, crawlin 'skunk!" the pocket-miner gritted in his blankets.

    CHAPTER 11 2010

  • I couldn't help but laugh when they were showing that clip of Bruha talking away and the poor skunk is walking around in circles STILL with that jar on its head.

    The Skunk Whisperer » E-Mail 2009

  • McCain smells like a rose, and Obama stinks, or, it's all Obama's fault, or, somehow, the skunk, an unnamed reptile, and Obama have had a freindship in the past and the skunk is Wildlife's gift to terrorism.

    Politico on Press Bias - Swampland - 2008

  • Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: Cannabis, particularly skunk, is finally being recognised as having potentially devastating effects on the developing brains of some young people.

    UK Drug Abuse is ‘Worst in Europe’ | Impact Lab 2007

  • The little guy was hungry, so they called the skunk whisperer, I guess.

    CNN Transcript Oct 13, 2009 2009

  • How was I gonna evict a skunk from the bedroom 12 hours before flight time?

    A Tranquil Life At Casa Buena Vista 2006


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • From Jerry W. Dragoo, Ph.D., Mephitologist, and Research Assistant Professor, Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico.:

    (We wrote Dr. Dragoo asking him if he was aware of the practice of intoxicating skunks with liquor in order to capture them. We received his reply after last week's issue was published.)

    I received a call yesterday (13 Oct) from a British reporter asking the same question. He was doing a story on intoxication. He said the phrase was common in England as well. This is interesting because skunks do not occur in England. There was an article in (I think) New Scientist titled "Drunk as a Skunk". However, it was about the affects of alcohol and the word skunk never appeared in the text.

    My understanding has always been that the phrase was common because of the rhyme. I can not think of anything in a skunk's behavior that would indicate the appearance of intoxication, with the possible exception of a disease. A diseased animal (any animal) may stagger or become immobile. However, when I observe an animal acting peculiar, I think diseased not drunk.

    Hog-nosed skunks occur throughout South America. The phrase is not known in Bolivia (at least not by my Bolivian colleague). Is it possible that the phrase originated in the 19th c. and the "idea" was adopted by the Brazilians?

    As for the etymology of the word skunk, E. T. Seton 1929 in Lives of game animals, Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. has common names for skunk in several languages. He states the word 'skunk' is traced to the Huron word Scangaresse, and the Abenaki word Seganku. He also says that the Cree, Ojibway, and Sauteaux have a word, Shee-gawk, which is the origin of the word Chicago and means "skunk land". F. Gabriel Sagard-Theodat's "Histoire du Canada" took a different approach and referred to skunks as "les enfants du diable" - children of the devil.

    According to the British reporter, this practice of using liquor to intoxicate an animal and then catch it has been used on foxes.

    Thanks, Dr. Dragoo, for your informative response. We agree that the English and the Brazilians probably picked up drunk as a skunk from America. By the way, Dr. Dragoo mentions that skunks do not occur in England, and they don't occur outside of the Americas. This is why the animal has a name of Native American derivation.

    April 23, 2008

  • “‘If the president calls, you have to accept,’ said Kevin Johnson, a former guard for the Phoenix Suns who was elected last year as mayor of Sacramento and has talked about sports and politics with Mr. Obama. What would he say if the president invited him to a game? ‘That would be his first mistake in office. I’d have to skunk him.’�?

    The New York Times, Rule No. 1: Do Not Call Him ‘Ball Hog in Chief’, by Jeff Zeleny, January 9, 2009

    January 11, 2009

  • break-dancing spotted skunk

    October 16, 2009

  • "To cause disease in or of; sicken; scale, or deprive of scales: said of fish in the live-well of a fishing-smack." --Cent. Dict.

    June 6, 2012