Wordwatch Towers

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Posts Tagged ‘watching someone like a hawk

Eyes like a hawk

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Immature Northern Goshawk with fresh kill
Image via Wikipedia

During Wimbledon fortnight, Hawk-Eye’s acute computerised vision is in frequent demand as the final arbiter when players challenge a linesperson’s call.

Someone who has ‘eyes like a hawk’ misses nothing. Here’s a typical example from The Independent online:

With eyes like a hawk, he ducked and swayed out of the way of the short ball while England’s five quick bowlers took it in turns to try to bully him.

But what about the slightly different expression ‘to watch someone like a hawk’? This means ‘to watch vigilantly, especially to prevent wrongdoing’. But who is doing the watching?

The writer T H White documented his attempts to train a bird of prey in his book The Goshawk (1951), described on the NYRB (New York Review Books) website as: one of modern literature’s most memorable and surprising encounters with the wilderness—as it exists both within us and without.

White used a training method described in Bert’s Treatise of Hawks and Hawking, published in 1619. Here’s an extract from White’s beautifully written book:

Any cruelty, being immediately resented, was worse than useless, because the bird would never bend or break to it. He possessed the last inviolable sanctuary of death. The mishandled raptor chose to die.

So the old hawk-masters had invented a means of taming them which offered no visible cruelty, and whose secret cruelty had to be borne by the trainer as well as by the bird. They kept the bird awake. Not by nudging it, or by any mechanical means, but by walking about with their pupil on the fist and staying awake themselves. The hawk was ‘watched’, was deprived of sleep by a sleepless man, day and night for a space of two, three or as much as nine nights together.

And so the definition of ‘watching someone like a hawk’ becomes clearer: it is not the hawk doing the watching, but the hawk being watched with unceasing vigilance by its would-be master.

Another interesting falconry word: ‘seel’. Find out more at Logophilius.

What is the origin of the saying ‘lick into shape’?

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