hackle for threshing flax
hackles on a rooster
hackle on a fishing lure
red hackle on a balmoral


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.]
    Synonyms: heckle, hatchel
  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.
    • 1976, Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Kindle edition, OUP Oxford, published 2016, page 101:
      Suppose it happened to be the case that the majority of individuals raised their hackles only when they were truly intending to go on for a very long time in the war of attrition. The obvious counterploy would evolve: individuals would give up immediately when an opponent raised his hackles.
  5. A type of jagged crack extending inwards from the broken surface of a fractured material.
  6. A plate with rows of pointed needles used to blend or straighten hair. [from 20th c.]
  7. A feather plume on some soldier's uniforms, especially the hat or helmet.
    Synonyms: panache, plume
  8. Any flimsy substance unspun, such as raw silk.

Usage notesEdit

In everyday speech, primarily used in phrase to raise someone's hackles (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.


Further readingEdit