The idiom ferret out has two main definitions: (1) to drive from (a place), and (2) to search out, investigate, or bring to light. Both refer to the old hunting practices involving the use of ferrets to search for rabbits and rodents and to drive them out of their holes. The hunting practices are now rarely used, but the phrasal verb lives on in its figurative senses.
Ferret is also embedded in several other phrasal verbs. There are ferret about and ferret up, which mean the same as ferret out in its second sense; and there are ferret away and ferret forth, which are roughly the same as ferret out in its first sense. But ferret out is more common than the others in today’s English.
In its inflected forms, the verb ferret keeps the single t—ferreted and ferreting.
No need to hire a private detective, Freddy thinks smugly, when a guy as smart as he is can ferret out the evidence. [Toronto Star]
Welcome to a complicated new world of smart, well-funded entrepreneurs doing what smart capitalists have always done: ferreting out an underserved market and serving it. [Wired]
Finally, the panel desired a formal statement from Friday confirming the university’s commitment to anticommunism and willingness to carefully monitor the campuses to ferret out potential subversives. [Communists on Campus, William J. Billingsley]
It emphatically lays out what steps schools must follow during test administration and warns that state investigators will ferret out cheaters. [USA Today]
The researcher must rely on intuition, experience, and intelligence to ferret outa client’s true needs and expectations. [Building Research Tools With Google for Dummies]
They could not ferret out words to do justice to the greatest sprinting mare in the world. [The Australian]