I Spy an Unblemished Mole

“So, you want me to go undercover?” I asked C.J. as his Leaf blew out of In-N-Out.

“I’d like to see you under the –“ He paused as he slipped into traffic. “I’d like to see what you can uncover.”

“About the Boss Lady? When you look at me do you see a mole?”

He glanced in my direction. “No, you look unblemished.”

“You’re cute.”

“Okay, Lexie. Obviously a mole like you who digs underground to slip undetected into an enemy organization and paw around in their secrets is named for the little burrowing mammal.”

I nodded.

“Is that word related to the skin blemish? They both can be small, round and fuzzy.”

“I hope you’re not referring to me. And you know the going rate for a private etymological search.”

“I told you I’d make it worth your while. We can discuss it when we get to your place.”

I paused as long as a kid does in front of a dripping ice cream cone before my nails were clicking against my phone. I’m a sucker for wavy brown hair – and etymology.

“The spotty kind of mole goes back to Old English maal or mal, which referred to a discolored spot on cloth. In 13th century medical writings it showed up in the sense of a skin blemish.

‘The burrowing critter doesn’t show up in English until the Middle English period, when it takes various forms – mooll, mulle, mowl, moal – similar to the word in other Germanic languages. The OED goes on about the etymology: “perhaps related to the similar word for a lizard: Old Saxon mol…German Molch newt, salamander.” That seems a bit far fetched to me.’

“How long has mole meant ‘spy’?”

‘Well, John le Carré’s  Cold War novels; like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy from 1974; popularized the term, but it was used occasionally in the 1920s and even in Francis Bacon’s 1622 Historie of the raigne of King Henry the seuenth you find: “Hee had such Moles perpetually working and casting to undermine him.”’

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