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!