Is There A Linguistic Legacy From Falconry?

(Illustration from the Falconry Book of Frederick II, c. 1240s, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Vatican Library)


Falconry, a complex form of sport and hunting, is thought to have existed long before the earliest eras of recorded history. The art of falconry, sometimes called hawking, is estimated to have been developed around the third millennium BCE. Some of the earliest depictions of falconers can be found on Hittite stelae dating back to the 13th century BCE, though some people believe falconry may even be depicted in cave paintings from far older times. While falconry seemed to have always been popular among cultures in the Middle East and the central Asian steppes, Europeans were introduced to the sport at a much later time. Centuries of crusades, beginning in 1096 CE, exposed the method of hunting to armies of crusaders and Christian nobles, who brought the sport back home with them to Europe. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (thankfully shortened to UNESCO) formally included falconry in their list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity on November 16, 2010.

Falconry has declined in popularity since ancient and medieval times, but falconry clubs and organizations still exist, and many countries provide access to falconry licenses. Another interesting legacy left behind by falconry is a list of everyday English sayings that are thought to have been derived from the sport. The phrase, “fed up,” supposedly originated from the behavior of falcons that had eaten and were content on a full stomach—therefore; the lethargic birds disobeyed orders and ignored their falconers. Having somebody “wrapped around your finger” allegedly referenced the act of a falconer wrapping the string or cord attached to a falcon around his finger, thereby giving the hunter more control over the bird. Similarly, having somebody “under your thumb” is thought to reference a falconer keeping the cord of a bird under his thumb, preventing it from flying away. So, even if you have never witnessed or even heard of falconry, the sport has likely had more of an impact on your life than you may know.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.



  1. All I can add is that European made tiny brass” Hawk Bells” were an instant hit when the Frenchman Jacques Cartier traded with the Native People of Eastern Canada in the early 1530s ..

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