What a month it has been for the fox. From the decline and fall of a cabinet minister (Dr Liam Fox) to the release of the unfortunately christened Foxy Knoxy (Amanda Knox), the humble fox has littered our headlines. (Talking of headlines, let's not forget Fox News, that fine source of calm, unbiased information in a turbulent world.)

In the case of the minister, the name added a layer of intrigue to a cheery Scot in an overlarge Whitehall office. Were we foxed by Fox? Or was Fox foxed by Adam Werritty? To be foxed, in this sense, is to be confused, but in Knox's case it was a reference, naturally, to her attractiveness. Sinister, perhaps, but you can't deny a headline writer a good rhyme.

My favourite is the silver fox - that glamorous man of a certain age who swans around at parties, running his hand through greying hair while regaling a crowd with long anecdotes about Buenos Aires nightlife in the Seventies. You know the type: intelligent, suave, a little too groomed. Think A C Grayling, Michael Heseltine, Michael Douglas. Twinkly, but not in a way that makes you feel safe.

That "fox" and "foxed" should mean such different things suits the animal from which they descend, famed for its cunning. The fox is named after its tail and the word descends from the Germanic fukhs. In French, it is the wonderful renard, born of Reginhard, the name of the fox in old northern European fables, meaning "strong in council" and "wily" - hence the fox's reputation for scheming and tricks. (Imagine being the one fox out there with no agenda, no cunning, no side, just a good-hearted fox going about your business. You'd feel so misunderstood.)

But the fox has never quite managed to shed its image as an untrustworthy sort, which is why Roald Dahl - I know, I'm leaping around - deserves a mention here for writing Fantastic Mr Fox, a lyrical paean to a fox who uses his wiles to good ends, outwitting the nasty farmers coming after him and his family. Every time I see a fox skulking (fact: the collective noun for foxes is a skulk - it's almost too good to be true) around a London street, disappearing into the night, I want to cheer: "Go for it, Foxy! Outfox them all."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 24 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The art of lying