Reverse ferret

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In British media, a reverse ferret is 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.[1]

The term originates in the United Kingdom, 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 the term was based on the Northern England stunt of ferret-legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). 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!"[1][2][3] The phrase moved into general usage after it became a catchphrase in Private Eye magazine, initially in its 'Street of Shame' section but which quickly spread throughout its more satirical pages.

Republican leaders' affirmation of support for Donald Trump—hitherto derided by Republicans competing with him for nomination as Republican presidential candidate—in October 2016 was described as a reverse ferret by The New York Times.[4] The phrase was used in the UK Parliament at about 17:15 on 28 March 2019 by Mary Creagh in a debate relating to the Government's last-ditch defence of the UK's withdrawal deal with the EU, which had stalled in Parliament through lack of support.[5]

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg used the phrase on Twitter in November 2019, when describing the action of Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, in standing down all the party's potential candidates in the December 2019 UK General Election who were to contest seats won by Conservatives in the 2017 UK General Election.[6]

Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, used the phrase in an interview in February 2021, when discussing the easing of England's third national lockdown. He used it while explaining that any steps taken must be taken carefully to avoid a "reverse ferret", suggesting the return of those measures.[7]


  1. ^ a b White, Roland. "Tabloid week: the reverse ferret". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  2. ^ Chenoweth, Neil (1 November 2002). Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media Wizard. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0609610381.
  3. ^ "MacKenzie performs a BBC reverse ferret". Broadcast. 29 March 2006. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  4. ^ Walsh, Declan (15 October 2016). "Donald Trump and the G.O.P.: The Party of Lincoln, Reagan and, Perhaps, Extinction". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  5. ^ "Brexit: MPs asked to vote on withdrawal agreement only". BBC News. 28 March 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  6. ^ Kuenssberg, Laura [@bbclaurak] (11 November 2019). "Farage mid reverse ferret underway..." (Tweet). Retrieved 14 September 2023 – via Twitter.
  7. ^ Blackall, Molly (13 February 2021). "Boris Johnson 'optimistic' about easing some England lockdown measures". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2023.