Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ancient Words, Modern Meanings

I hope some of you saw the blogs Harlequin posted on the peregrine falcon family that nested within sight of the office windows in Toronto. The falcons, who mate for life by the way, had a baby bird and Harlequin staff named it Harlequin, or “Harlie,” for short. (Here’s a peak at the saga: http://harlequinblog.com/2011/06/harlequin-peregrine-cam/)
It’s a perfect romance.
I wish this camera had been in place when I was writing my last book, because the heroine of HIS BORDER BRIDE was an avid falconer who also raised a baby bird and trained it to hunt. This was not done during medieval time and still not recommended by many experts because the bird becomes too “imprinted” upon humans, potentially losing its natural hunting instincts.
As I studied the ancient sport of training raptors (birds like falcons and eagles) to hunt prey on command, I also learned some of the specialized terminology of the sport. I was surprised to find how many words from falconry are used today in a totally different context. Here’s a sample of ones I suspect most people use without knowing their origin:
Fledgling: A fledgling is a young falcon that has just grown it’s “flight feathers.” (To “fledge” is to take the first flight.) Today, a fledgling is a newbie. It is also used as an adjective, e.g. a fledgling novelist.
Codger: Originally “cadger.” This was a person who carried the cadge, a portable perch which could carry several birds, into the field for the hunt. Usually, the cadger was an old falconer. Hence, codger now means an old person.
Hoodwinked: We use it to say someone was fooled, but originally, it literally meant putting a hood over the falcon’s head. This made the bird think it was night and calmed it. This was done to prevent the bird from being disturbed or, for example, so the hunter could take the prey away without the bird knowing.
Gorge: This was originally the bird’s crop, a sort of sack in the bird’s throat in which food is stored before swallowing. Hence, to gorge, or overeat.
Mews: This was originally housing for falcons. Later, it became attached to the place where horses were kept, and then to a small of houses converted from stables, or made to look like stables.
Boozing: A bird drinking water, sometimes to excess, was said to be “bowsing.” Hence, drinking…other things…to excess.
Haggard: A haggard was a bird caught in the wild as an adult, older than a fledgling. The word evolved to indicate something or someone who looks well-worn.
Are any of these new to you? Or do you have words to contribute, from falconry or not, that have dramatically changed in meaning through the years?

P.S. The picture was taken at the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey, when I was doing research for the book. This falcon is (dare I say it?) hoodwinked.

Blythe Gifford


1 comment:

Lucy Ausprey said...

Thanks for the great post! I'm a sucker for etymology. I just started following your blog, and I love it! I found you after Nicola Cornick dropped by my brand-new blog, Lewd History.I think I'm going to discover some great books here!