Week of November 20, 2022

Prey for Them

Among the many everyday terms originating from the ancient practice of falconry:


The leash by which a falconer holds onto his bird is called a “jess,” and when the handler’s thumb pins down the jess to hold it secure, the bird is “under his thumb.”


Likewise, the jess can be wrapped around a little finger to secure the bird, the origin of this other term for full control.


“Haggard” describes a mature wild-caught hawk, which are also often thin and scruffy when caught at the end of a migration.


When a falconing bird is tethered and restrained, it is “bated,” so “waiting with bated breath” refers to holding your breath in anticipation.


A leather “hat” or hood is sometimes put over the eyes of the bird to calm them. From this we get “hoodwinked,” since wink means to close the eyes quickly, for deceiving or tricking someone.


“Ruser,” from the Old French, describes when a hawk shakes its tail feathers. From this comes “rouse,” which means to awaken yourself or someone else.


References to a “hawkeye” as having sharp vision are not kidding. Hawks can see five times better than people, spot small prey miles away, have a visual range of 280 degrees (people only have 200 degrees), and can see sharper colors and even ultraviolet light.