It’s time for another installment of my series on avoiding words and phrases that derive from a technology that’s not present in the story you’re writing.
Have you ever been captivated by a story set in a Medieval world when suddenly someone lets fly with a scene-stopping anachronism like, “Let’s go to the tavern and blow off some steam”? You don’t have to be Sheldon Cooper to recognize “blowing off steam” as a railroad term that is way out of place. A writer who goes off the rails like that, sabotaging his story and letting his readers get sidetracked by his literary tunnel vision, will never make the grade.
Well, actually, maybe he will… but wouldn’t you like to avoid faux pas like that in your storytelling adventures? Let’s say you’re writing a tale in a world that never knew a tamed bird of prey. Let me show you some words and phrases that you may not realize owe their origin to the kingly sport of falconry.
bated as in with bated breath — tethered, unable to fly free. Thus, “with bated breath” means that one’s breathing is restrained in expectation.
fed up — describing a hawk with its crop full, therefore not wanting to hunt. We often use “fed up” to mean angry about something, but it originally mean simply no longer interested from having had enough.
hawk it up — mimicking the sound of a hawk coughing up food bits he cannot digest. Disgusting, I know, but when we use this term to for clearing phlegm from the throat, we’re invoking the proud tradition of falconry.
haggard — a hawk in poor health, typically when caught as an adult. Thus the figurative meaning of looking “exhausted and unwell.”
lure — a device, often a cluster of feather, used to recall a hawk; young hawks were trained to associate the lure with food. Now, we use this almost exclusively in the sense of something that tempts one to a bad end.
pounce — a hawk’s claws, later used as a verb to refer to catching prey with the claws. Now, ironically, we tend to associate the word with cats.
rouse — shake one’s feathers. By imitation and extension, we now use it to mean to stir or awaken.
turn tail — fly away. Now used generically to mean turn and run away.
under one’s thumb — describing the hawk’s leash when held tight between the thumb and base knuckle of the pointer finger. Thus, the figurative meaning of keeping someone tightly under control.
wrapped round one’s little finger — describing the hawk’s leash when lashed around the fist with the end wound around the pinky to secure it. Thus, the figurative meaning similar to “under one’s thumb” above.