10 Modern Sayings That Came From the World of Falconry

March 10, 2015

falcon1In case you didn’t know it, falconry is hunting using a bird of prey such as a hawk or a falcon, for example.  Many of the sayings we commonly use today can be traced back to this form of hunting.

Falconry is an ancient practice, dating back to 4000 to 6000 B.C.  It uses a bird of prey to hunt wild game, and many of the words and phrases used in the practice are still in use today.  Here are some of them that you might have used recently and never knew they came from hunting with a bird.

Fed Up
We’ve all been fed up with someone or something at one point in our lives, but this term had its origins with a hawk who had eaten its fill of food.  The hawk was “fed up” and unwilling to fly or hunt anymore for the falconer.  We are often “fed up” when something bothers us, we don’t want to do something anymore, or we’re just not interested, e.g. “I’m fed up with my job.”

raptor 341774 640Under Your Thumb
A falconer had to maintain a tight control of their bird, and this happen when they would hold the leash of the bird tightly under one thumb while the bird was perched on their hand.  Today it means having control over someone in some way, and usually not a good way, e.g. “I have him right under my thumb.”

Wrapped Around Your Little Finger
A falconer may have had the leash of the bird under their thumb, but to provide a little extra security, they would wrap the remaining strands around their little finger.  This way if the bird somehow broke free, they would still be tethered to the falconer and would have been able to be brought under control.  Today it’s used to mean that someone has complete control over someone else and can get them to do their bidding in some way, e.g. “I have my Dad wrapped around my little finger.”  And no, it didn’t derive from the Police song Wrapped Around Your Finger, but now we know where it came from.

A falcon or hawk was kept calm by using a small hood that covered his eyes before a hunt or during transport.  It was almost as if the hawk was getting tricked into calming themselves.  The modern use is just that – getting tricked or fooled into doing something, or being scammed in some way, e.g. “I just got hoodwinked.”

peasant 482727 640Haggard
A haggard is a falcon that is caught in the wild as an adult. Since this type of bird was more difficult to train than one caught while young or taken directly from the nest, haggard came to mean wild or hard to tame. In modern terms haggard morphed in meaning to describe someone who looks worn out and rough, e.g. “That guy on the corner looks haggard.”

Waiting With Bated Breath
With bated breath was first used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, but its origins are from falconry.  When falcons want to “bate from the block”, or fly away, they try to take off but are held near their perch on their leash.  They get short of breath doing so, but have to wait for the falconer to release them, hence the term “bated breath”.  Today its used to mean listening while holding your breath, waiting for something to happen, e.g. “He awaited her response with bated breath.”  Sweet, isn’t it?

kestrel 184570 640End Of My Tether
This saying goes along with “bated breath” actually.  It usually occurred from the actions of a young, untrained falcon who had bated from their perch and was being secured by the tether.  Not knowing what they were supposed to be doing, the young falcon might struggle against the tether.  Of course, today it means that your frustration level has peaked, and you can’t take it anymore.  It’s possible that, “at the end of my rope”, or “at the end of my leash” also derived from this saying since tether and these words mean the same thing, e.g. “My kids have me at the end of my tether (rope,leash)”

alcohol 428392 640A Boozer
The term for when a bird of prey drinks is called bowsing.  A bird that drinks a lot is called a “boozer”.  Of course the modern take on this term is someone who drinks a heavy amount of alcoholic drinks, e.g. “That guy is quite a boozer.”

falconry2Codger and Caddy
Falcons are carried on a portable square perch called a cadge.  The birds were carried on the cadge since multiple birds were used for the hunt.  Think of it like a bench where the birds waited to get in the game.  The word “Codger” derived from the word “cadger”, the people that carried the cadge.  Cadgers were usually older falconers who carried the birds on the cadge.  Today it means an older person, usually someone that is eccentric or feisty, e.g. “His uncle is a feisty codger.”  To take this term further, the word “caddy” may also have derived from this term.  Since the cadger gave certain falcons to the falconer based on what was needed, a caddy gives golf clubs to the golfer in a similar manner.

Other Word Origin Stories You Might Like

Who or What is the “Cliff” in Cliffs Notes

What the ZIP in ZIP Code Really Means

7 Sayings That Originated From the Good ‘Ole Mississippi River

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

Follow the Stew

  • This is awesome!! But as a falconer, I just want to point out that you got the origin of “old hag” wrong. A falcon trapped on its first migration is a passage bird. An adult at any time of the year is a haggard. The tend to be set in their ways, cantankerous, and difficult to train. Hence… an old hag.

  • This morming, a friend mentioned that there were a number of terms in the UK language that were related to falconry and I am amazed to see the ten phrases you have published. Very interesting and I am now a wizer man – thanks.

  • The first time I heard where these three of these sayings originate from, ‘hoodwinked’, ‘under your thumb ‘ and wrapped around your little finger, is on the history channel on the show “going medieval”. Then curious more on this subject, I looked it up and found your article. There were more sayings on your article, very interesting. thank you.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}