Reverse ferret

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Reverse ferret is a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe 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 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 was based on the supposed northern stunt of ferret-legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). However, 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]

In 2014, the Mayor of New York performed a literal reverse ferret when he repealed a ban on owning domesticated ferrets within the city.[4]

Republican leaders' reaffirmation of support for 2016 presidential nominee Donald Trump in October was described as a reverse ferret by The New York Times.[5]

The phrase was used in the UK Parliament at c. 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.[6]

BBC Political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, used the phrase on Twitter when describing Nigel Farage ahead of his imminent press conference on 11th November 2019 for The Brexit Party in standing down all potential candidates in the December 2019 UK General Election that were due to contest the seats of Conservatives who had won the 2017 UK General Election.[7]


  1. ^ a b White, Roland (6 July 2008). "Tabloid week: the reverse ferret". The Sunday Times.
  2. ^ Neil Chenoweth – Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media WizardISBN 978-0-609-61038-1 - excerpt: Archived 4 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ MacKenzie performs a BBC reverse ferret
  4. ^ Tim Walker (29 May 2014). "Reverse ferret: Mayor of New York set to repeal ban". The Independent. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  5. ^ Declan Walsh (15 October 2016). "Donald Trump and the G.O.P.: The Party of Lincoln, Reagan and, Perhaps, Extinction". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Kuenssberg, Laura (11 November 2019). "Farage mid reverse ferret underway..." @bbclaurak. Retrieved 11 November 2019.