I’m now using 85¢ stamps in a recent Birds of Prey series — northern goshawk, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, osprey and northern harrier — to mail from the U.S. to Canada. In an unfortunately small-pixel image (the best I’ve been able to find):

The bird that caught my eye was the Northern Harrier (row by row, # 5, 3, 1, 4), so I wondered how harrier came to be used for a bird, a dog, and a cross-country runner.

From NOAD2, the compact story:

harrier 1: a person who engages in persistent attacks on others or incursions into their land

harrier 2: [a] a hound of a breed used for hunting hares; [b] a cross-country runner

harrier 3: a long-winged, slender-bodied bird of prey with low quartering flight [Genus Circus, family Accipitridae: several species.]

harrier 1 is a derived agent-noun from the verb harry:

persistently carry out attacks on (an enemy or an enemy’s territory).

• persistently harass: he bought the house for Jenny, whom he harries into marriage.

ORIGIN Old English herian, hergian, of Germanic origin, probably influenced by Old French harier, in the same sense.

From this we get the proper name Harrier:

The Harrier, informally referred to as the Jump Jet, is a family of military jet aircraft capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) operations. Historically the Harrier was developed in Britain to operate from ad-hoc facilities such as car parks or forest clearings, avoiding the need for large air bases vulnerable to tactical nuclear weapons. Later the design was adapted for use from aircraft carriers. (link)

Then the hound, harrier 2[a]:

ORIGIN late Middle English hayrer, from hare + -er1. The spelling change was due to association with harrier1.

So, another word originally, with some interference (at least orthographic) from the first.

From Wikipedia:

The Harrier is a small to medium sized dog breed of the hound class, used for hunting hares by trailing them. It resembles an English Foxhound but is smaller, though not as small as a Beagle.

Then harrier 2[b], a metaphorical extension of this, used in sports writing, as here:

Mustang Harriers Win O’Neal Invitational

O’Neal hosted the O’Neal Healy Invitational boys’ and girls’ cross country meet Thursday at Sandhills Community College. (link)

Finally, my hawk, harrier 3:

ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (as harrower): from harrow harry, rob (variant of harry). The spelling change in the 17th cent. was due to association with harrier1.

A third source, closely related to the first, with spelling adjusted to it. Harrier hawks harry (earlier, harrow) their prey.

Feeling harried by etymology?



5 Responses to “harriers”

  1. the ridger Says:

    Here’s a nice image of one row, anyway. http://10000birds.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/birds-of-prey.jpg

  2. the ridger Says:

    ps – I always thought they were all the same origin – this is cool. Thanks.

  3. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    I’ve assumed (and still do) that Harrier-the-jet is named for harrier-the-bird, in particular recognition of its hovering-while-hunting behavior.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: