• hackle •
Pronunciation: hæk-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. One of the erectile hairs along the neck and back of some animals that rise when alarmed. 2. A feather in the head and neck plumage of birds, particularly domestic fowl. 3. A feather used in the creation of a fishing fly. 4. A spray of colored feathers that are part of any military or other formal uniform.
Notes: This word is most commonly used in an idiomatic expression, 'to raise someone's hackles' meaning "to alarm or anger someone". However, the toolbox of fishermen who tie their own flies must contain a pair of hackle pliers.
In Play: The first sense is the most often encountered in the English-speaking community: "The president raises everyone's hackles by her brash disregard of the protocols of that office." However, let's not forget the others: "The field marshal came out in all his glory: full dress uniform, chest crossed with a broad red silk ribbon caked with medals he had given himself, and a hackle as black as his heart sprouting from his helmet."
Word History: While you might raise some hackles by heckling someone, we cannot definitively connect these two words. Rather, the most likely source seems to be a word long since lost among the Old Germanic languages: Old English hacele "coat, cloak", Gothic hakuls "cloak", Old Icelandic hokull "priest's cape", Old Norse hekla "hooded frock", and Middle High German hachel "cloak". The sense of "bird plumage" was first recorded in the early 15th century. It has also been suggested that the underlying Germanic base is related to Russian koža "fur, skin", derived from koza "nanny-goat", itself of uncertain origin.