Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Hackles


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is hackles. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Hackles are hairs along the neck and back of an animal (especially a dog) that are capable of being raised to a stiff, upright position (as when a dog is frightened or angry). The plural noun hackles is often used figuratively with raise or rise to describe a person’s response to something that causes anger or annoyance; thus, hackles can also mean “temper” or “dander” (as in “don’t get your temper/dander up”).

// A number of the issues discussed in the political debate raised some hackles among members of the opposing party.

HACKLES in Context

“If you want to raise someone’s hackles, tell them how to spend, donate, or invest their money. Sure, we all want guidance, but few of us are open to obeying a total stranger.” — Dana George, The Motley Fool (Alexandria, Virginia), 6 Jan. 2023

Did You Know?

In its earliest uses in the 15th century, hackle referred to either the plumage along a bird’s neck or to a device used to comb out long fibers of flax, hemp, or jute. Things took a turn in the 19th century when English speakers extended the word’s plural use to both dogs and people. Like the bird’s feathers, the hairs on the back of a dog’s neck stand up when the animal is agitated. With humans, use of the word hackles is usually figurative. So, if you heckle someone, you’ll likely raise their hackles in the process, meaning you’ll make them angry or put them on the defensive.

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