I’ve previously mentioned the use of “hedge-” as a derogatory prefix, as for instance in the adjective “hedge-born” which means “of low birth” or “born under a hedge”. In past centuries, poor people might seek medical help from a “hedge-doctor”, Irish Catholic culture (and the Gaelic language) were preserved during the period of the repressive Penal Laws by “hedge-priests” teaching at hedge schools. Richard Jefferies also talked of the common people as “the people of the hedges”.
Anyhow, I’ve always tended to assume that hedgehogs are so named because they live in hedges. Of course this clearly isn’t exactly true as they can also be found in any area of low scrubby vegetation and don’t necessarily need a hedge to live in. But I hadn’t thought through any alternative theory.
But the other day it occurred to me that one of the uses of hedgehogs for poor people in centuries past was as a cheap source of meat. Traditionally they were baked in clay, and the soft underbelly could then be eaten while the clay held on to the prickles.
I wonder if “hedge-hog” was derived from their role as a downmarket substitute for pork rather than just referring to the environment in which they lived. The fact that the cooking method I’ve mentioned was often associated with gypsies and travellers would only have helped to make it a dish that became seen as “only for the poor man’s table.”