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The shrew was popularly believed to be dangerous, and especially venomous. The name is recorded in Old English (in form scrēawa, scrǣwa, of Germanic origin); related words in Germanic languages have senses such as ‘dwarf’, ‘devil’, or ‘fox’.

From the Middle English period, shrew, with regard to the animal's reputation, was used to designate a malignant or vexatious person, and from this developed the particular sense of a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman.

Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.

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