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hackle on a fishing lure
A hackle, a tool for threshing flax


From Middle English hakle (compare the compound meshakele), from Old English hæcla, hacele, from Proto-Germanic *hakulǭ, equivalent to hack +‎ -le. Cognate with Dutch hekel, German Hechel.



hackle (plural hackles)

  1. An instrument with steel pins used to comb out flax or hemp. [from 15th c.]
  2. (usually now in the plural) One of the long, narrow feathers on the neck of birds, most noticeable on the rooster. [from 15th c.]
  3. (fishing) A feather used to make a fishing lure or a fishing lure incorporating a feather. [from 17th c.]
  4. (usually now in the plural) By extension (because the hackles of a rooster are lifted when it is angry), the hair on the nape of the neck in dogs and other animals; also used figuratively for humans. [from 19th c.]
    When the dog got angry, his hackles rose and he growled.
  5. A plate with rows of pointed needles used to blend or straighten hair. [from 20th c.]
  6. A feather plume on some soldier's uniforms, especially the hat or helmet.
  7. Any flimsy substance unspun, such as raw silk.

Usage notes[edit]

In everyday speech, primarily used in phrase “to raise someone's hackles”, meaning “to make one angry”, as in “It raises my hackles when you take that condescending tone.”.




hackle (third-person singular simple present hackles, present participle hackling, simple past and past participle hackled)

  1. To dress (flax or hemp) with a hackle; to prepare fibres of flax or hemp for spinning. [from 17th c.]
    • 1891, Mary Noailles Murfree, In the "Stranger People's" Country, Nebraska 2005, p. 155:
      Then, with a smile that seemed to have all the freshness of the matutinal hour in it, she bent again to her work of hackling flax.
  2. (transitive) To separate, as the coarse part of flax or hemp from the fine, by drawing it through the teeth of a hackle or hatchel.
  3. (archaic, transitive) To tear asunder; to break into pieces.
    • Burke
      the other divisions of the kingdom being hackled and torn to pieces