Word of the Week (117): OSTREGER (probability 6136), by David Sutton

An OSTREGER (or ASTRINGER or AUSTRINGER) is a falconer who keeps goshawks. The word is Old French in origin, falconry being a favourite sport of Norman nobles, and in the middle ages a very high profile affair. According to the Book of St Albans, first printed in 1498, there were strict rules about which social ranks were entitled to fly which birds: for example, only an Emperor might fly a golden eagle, and only a King a gerfalcon. An earl might fly a peregrine falcon, an esquire a lanneret, and so on down to a servant or knave who was permitted a kestrel. I am a little sceptical about all this - who really wants to go about all day with a golden eagle on one's arm, and one can't help wondering if there did not from time to time appear, in the small ads section of 'The Falconer's Gazette', notices on the lines of 'golden eagle for sale, flown only once, will swop for nice tame kestrel'. Just like those modern day celebrities who feel obliged for appearance's sake to drive about in those ridiculous Porsches and Ferraris while secretly yearning for a nice little Skoda...

There is a fine book by T.H.White (best known as author of 'The Sword In The Stone'), about the training of a goshawk, called simply 'The Goshawk'.

Falconry gives us quite a few other words worth knowing. A CREANCE, for example, is the cord which secures the hawk in training. A BRAIL is a leather strap used to bind a hawk's wing, and to BRAIL is to apply such a strap. A JESS or JESSE is another kind of strap which is attached to the talons of a hawk, by which it is held on the fist; again this gives a verb, to JESS.

A NYAS (or EYAS) is a young hawk taken from the nest for training. SORAGE is the first year of a hawk's life, or a hawk in its first year. A BRANCHER is a young hawk or other bird when it leaves the nest and begins to take to the branches. A RIFLER is a hawk that grasps only feathers in striking at the quarry. The verb to SEEL means to stitch up a hawk's eyes; this is done to keep it calm during its early training, until it is time to UNSEEL it.

Hawks were kept in MEWS, so to confine a hawk to mews was to IMMEW or ENMEW it, and to release it from its mews was to UNMEW it.

Finally, when a hawk made a turn upon the wing to recover itself after missing its aim in the stoop it was said to CANCELEER (or CANCELIER).


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