I was reading a book and I saw the word "stains" in a sentence. Here is the sentence:

Out of the shed came a long, low, yellow-and-brown animal. There were red, wet stains around its mouth and neck.

Source: "Tooth and Claw".

I looked up the defintion of it but I can't decide which one is used in this sentence. Here are the definitions:

  1. a discoloration produced by foreign matter having penetrated into or chemically reacted with a material; a spot not easily removed.
  2. a natural spot or patch of color different from that of the basic color, as on the body of an animal.
  3. a cause of reproach; stigma; blemish:

Which one could it be?


  • Definition #2 as it says ...*on the body of an animal*
    – Maulik V
    Apr 8, 2016 at 12:14
  • 3
    red, wet stains sounds to me like the animal has been in a fight or has eaten something rather messily, and it is stained with blood. This would be definition 1, with the foreign matter being blood. We often use the expression bloodstains, but this is normally only used about things, for example clothes, and not for animals.
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 8, 2016 at 12:22
  • You should edit your answer to say which dictionary gives these definitions and provide a link to the dictionary if it is online. Some dictionaries are better than others, and some include example sentences. Apr 8, 2016 at 14:16
  • A "stain" does not have to "penetrate" or "reach chemically" with the material, though often it does. Sometimes we get a stain "out". Sometimes we get it "off". google.com/…
    – TimR
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


The story is here. It is strongly implied that the aunt was killed or horribly wounded by the ferret. So the "red, wet stains around its mouth and neck" are stains of the blood of the aunt. So they are indeed "blood stains."

In this sense, definition 1 works, since the foreign matter is the aunt's blood. However, the blood has probably not had time to "penetrate into" into the ferret's skin or fur. Some dictionaries have better definitions than others, and many times they give overlapping or even redundant definitions.


The description of the stains as "wet" indicates that this is something like meaning 1; but it is not literally that definition, because this is not a discolouration that has become embedded permanently into some material, but some coloured matter that is visible on the surface. Since the matter is clearly blood, there is a hint of meaning 3 here as well.

This use does not correspond precisely to any of the definitions, even in the Oxford English Dictionary - it is somewhat allusive, a bit of a metaphor.


red, wet stains around its mouth and neck.

As a reader, I would interpret that as if the animal has hunted or fought, and those stains are that of blood, or might have tried to drink some liquid which has a red colouration.

As the mouth and neck are stained red, it might well be a hunt or a very bad fight.

The second interpretation is because blood isn't generally described by the wet adjective, or it is very rarely done.

So, it should be your first guess, which is:

a discoloration produced by foreign matter having penetrated into or chemically reacted with a material; a spot not easily removed.


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