29 December 2015

Top 10 Tweets 2015

Well, it’s been a grand old year for HaggardHawks. First, there was the fact book (stay tuned US followers, your edition is on its way...). Then there was the 10K milestone. And now, at the tail end of 2015, we’re well on course to tweet our 10,000th tweet and welcome our 15,000th follower early in 2016. 

Along the way, we’ve learnt what to call a flock of flamingos, why you would never want to sit next to a Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas, what happens when a ship sinks and the ship’s cat survives (still my personal favourite fact—ever), and why you might spot a lady-with-the-twelve-flounces on your bird table. But as great as all those tidbits of trivia are, not one of them made this year’s top 10. Nor did the best Latin palindrome you’ll probably ever come across, nor that fantastic old Scots expression that serves as a warning to daydreamers. 

So, brace yourselves arithmomaniacs, and get ready to dactylonomize—from 10 down to 1, here are @HaggardHawk’s Top 10 Tweets of 2015…


Moble your mufflements, people, it’s cold outside. When a word not only sounds great but has the potential to prove eminently useful, it’s onto a winner. 


You can also use that one for the act of falling asleep generally. And the very moment you fall asleep? That’s the overgoing.


You can provide your own example...


Jettatores unite—while you’re meeting the cat, feel free to also call bad luck wanhap, miscasualty, or unfortunacy


Probably the best tweet combining racehorses, root vegetables, and a terrible pun that you’ll see this (or indeed any) year.


Everyone loves a good etymological story, and it doesn’t come much better than one about two-faced Roman gods. One face was said to look back at the year just gone, and the other forward to the year that was ahead, in case you were wondering…


Best. Word. Ever. 


As well as having 50 words for snow, it appears the Inuit (or the Inuktitut, to be entirely accurate here) seemingly have a word for everything else. Bonus fact: the Sami people have 1000 words for reindeer


If you’ve been following @HaggardHawks for a while, you’ll likely have worked out by now that Scots dialect dictionaries contain their fair share of linguistic gems—of which jachelt (derived from dackle, an even earlier dialect word meaning “to impede”) is just one.


The clear winner by far. And with a picture like that, who could resist? As well as being this year’s top tweet, the explanation of just how this fantastic word came about has also rounded out the year as one of HaggardHawks’s most popular blog posts—you can read more about that here, or else just enjoy that brilliant picture in all its glory.

And that’s that—except, of course, that it isn’t. There’s a lot more to come in 2016, so keep an eye on the Twitter page for some big developments coming soon. Until then all that’s left to say is thank you, everyone, for following, commenting, favouriting, RTing, and just generally helping make @HaggardHawks what it is. It really is very much appreciated.

And a very Happy New Year!

10 December 2015

2 Year Anniversary Quiz!

Ah, sunrise, sunset... It seems like only yesterday that HaggardHawks fluttered into life over on Twitter on 10 December 2013, but two years, 9,000 tweets, 14,000 followers and one factbook later, here we are—good old Ethan the Hawk turns 2 years old today. As always, thanks everyone for continuing to follow, comment, RT, and just generally support @HaggardHawks. It really is appreciated. There’s a lot more to come in our third year online of course, but before all that, how about pitting your wits against another of our mind-bending quizzes? 

This time, things are a bit different. Click PLAY in the box below, and you’ll be shown a list of 20 English words, some of which you’ll know, and some of them you won’t. Above them will be a HaggardHawks fact. All you have to do is click the word that matches the fact—so if you were asked what the only English word containing eight letter Is was, you’d click indivisibilities. If you were asked to pick a word borrowed from the Aztecs, you’d click avocado. A word invented by Dickens? You’d pick boredom, and so on. Sound tricky? Well, yes it is. Oh, and you’ve only got 4 minutes in which to correctly match all 20. Good luck!

8 December 2015


Christmas is almost upon us again, which means bouning your home, preparing your Yule-hole, and misportioning yourself silly. And brandy sauce. Lots of brandy sauce. Brandy sauce with everything. Otherwise YOU’RE JUST NOT DOING CHRISTMAS RIGHT.

But Christmas is also the season for kissing under the mistletoe—which means it’s also the season for any etymologists you might have invited round for a turkey sandwich to have a quick smoosk to themselves, and then regale you with one of the best etymological stories on offer. (And like all the best etymological stories, it involves poop.)

So. First things first. The modern English word mistletoe comes from the Old English name misteltan. Tan just means “twig” or “branch” (and lives on in teanel, a dialect word for a wicker basket), while mistel was both a shorter Old English name for mistletoe, as well as another name for birdlime, an adhesive paste made by mashing up mistletoe berries that was then smeared onto branches to catch birds.

In turn, mistel is thought to derive from one of two even earlier words: one theory claims that it’s related to masc, the Old English word for the mixture or “mash” of water and malt used to start brewing a batch of ale. But another more likely theory suggests that it’s related to the Old English word mix—it’s just that mix hasn’t always meant what it means today.

Mix or meox in Old English meant—well, excrement. Crap. Poop. Dung. Bescumberment. That’s why dunghills are sometimes called mixhills, why heaps of compost or fertiliser are called mixens, and why the water that drains from piles of muck or farm waste is called mig. The word mistel ultimately might have started life as a diminutive form of mix, in which case it probably originally meant something like “little splatter of poop”. So that mistletoe you’ll be kissing under this Christmas? Yep, that’s literally a “poop-twig”. But how on Earth did that happen?

Well, if you’re horticulturally minded, you might know that the mistletoe plant is essentially a parasite: it doesn’t have true roots of its own, but rather attaches itself to a tree or a plant that’s already growing, forces itself through the bark or the stem, and thereby leeches all the nutrients it needs directly from it. And because it doesn’t rely on a system of roots pushed deep underground, mistletoe can often be found growing high up in the tops of trees, nowhere near the soil—and there’s really only one way that it can get up there.

Ironically, as well as being used to make birdlime, mistletoe berries are something of a delicacy for thrushes and other similar-sized birds. The seeds the berries contain, however, aren’t quite as digestible as the fleshy pulp around them, so when the birds poop them out—often while perched in the very tops of the trees—they’re not only deposited perfectly unscathed, but coated in their own personalized layer of guano. Or, to put it in the considerably more eloquent terms of the Tudor English herbalist William Turner:
[The thrush] shiteth out the miscel berries well prepared in her bodye and layeth them upon the tre[e.] the berries grow into a bushe and the bushe bringeth furth berries, and of the berries the fouler maketh byrde lyme
And on that note, Happy Christmas to all!

24 November 2015


The good old @HaggardHawks Twitter feed quietly crept past the 14,000 mark this weekend, which can only mean one thing—thinking-caps on (and a pen and paper at the ready for question 17), it’s time for another Haggard Hawks quiz...

17 November 2015


An intriguing word cropped up on @HaggardHawks the other day:

Which raised this equally intriguing question:

And that equally intriguing question has an equally intriguing answer.

Etymologically, the hyper– of hyperborean is the Greek word for “above” or “over”, as in words like hyperbole, hyperglycaemia and hyperventilate. The borean part simply means “northern” (as in aurora borealis), and it derives from the name of Boreas, the god of the north wind in Greek mythology.

To the Ancient Greeks, consequently, the adjective hyperborean referred to anyone or anything who lived or came from the land “beyond the north wind”—but we can be even more specific than that.

According to Homer’s Iliad, the god Boreas inhabited Thrace, a region in the far northeast of Greece on the Black Sea that today also covers parts of modern-day Bulgaria and Turkey. And beyond Thrace supposedly lay a legendary utopian land known to the Greeks as Hyperborea. There, there was no disease nor famine, and no one ever aged or fell ill. It was a land of utmost perfection, where the sun shone perpetually, twenty-four hours a day. (And where, presumably, everyone had very thick curtains.)

The fact that Hyperborea was a land of perpetual sunlight has led some classicists to believe that it might have been at least in part inspired by stories of the Arctic summer, but it is just as likely that it was a purely fictional invention and nothing more. The Greek poet Pindar, for instance, once wrote that Hyperborea could be reached “neither by ship nor by foot”.

Whether based on a real place or not, it was this mythical land that was the original “extreme north”: the adjective hyperborean originally referred to anyone who dwelt in or came from Hyperborea, and hence came from “above” or “beyond” Thrace. Over time, however, the use of the word became less restrictive and more figurative, and since the early 1600s writers in English have been using it more loosely to refer to anything or anyone of the far north.

12 November 2015


A pretty perfect P-word popped up on Haggard Hawks the other day:
Which raised this perceptively prompt post-script:
Actually, it’s the other way around. According to the OED (which labels this an “obsolete nonse-word”) the poet Robert Southey coined the word peripateticate in 1793, basing it on the much earlier fifteenth century adjective peripatetic

Nowadays of course you’re most likely to come across the word peripatetic in reference to itinerant or part-time jobs (and in particularly teaching positions) that involve moving from one location to another. But originally it was a noun: spelled with a capital P, a Peripatetic is a follower or advocate of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. So how the devil are these two meanings connected?

Etymologically, peripatetic brings together two Greek roots: peri, meaning “around” or “about” (as in perimeter and periphery), and pateo, a Greek verb meaning “to walk”, “tread”, or “trample” (which is a distant relative of the word path). So peripatetic literally means “walking around,” and hence peripateticate means “to walk about on foot”.

As for Aristotle, well, if there’s one thing he liked it was a good old cogitate. And what better to do while you’re quietly cogitating to yourself than to wander around a beautiful classical Greek garden, like that at Aristotle’s Lyceum?

The Lyceum: Good for cogitating, less good if it rains
At The Lyceum—the sports-ground-cum-scholarly-gymnasium used as a meeting point and debating area—Aristotle reportedly had a habit of horbgorbling his way around the porticos, corridors, and gardens while he taught his lessons and debated with students, which earned him and his followers the nickname Peripatetikos (literally “given to walking about”). And so when the word Peripatetic first appeared in English in the mid-1400s, it referred exclusively to Aristotelian beliefs and techniques.

Later writers—Southey included—eventually commandeered this word, and used it in more literal senses to mean “a person who wanders”, “an itinerant peddler”, and ultimately “someone who works in various locations”. Not only that, but the plural peripatetics can been used to mean “movements”, “journeys”, or “wanderings”, and Charles Dickens being Charles Dickens, he of course had to go one better and use it in a figurative sense to mean “rambling” or “long-winded”, as he did in Our Mutual Friend in 1865.

But now it’s time to participate in a prompt peripatetication of my own. Aristotle would be pleased as punch.