Raise one’s hackles and get one’s hackles up

Raise one’s hackles and get one’s hackles up are two versions of an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idioms raise one’s hackles or get one’s hackles up, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To raise one’s hackles and to get one’s hackles up means to become irritated or angry, to become defensive, to prepare to attack. The phrase is often used in the negative, as in: “Don’t get your hackles up.” Hackles are hairs or a ruff of fur on the back of an animal’s neck that raises when the animal is alerted to danger or is preparing to attack. Originally, the word hackle meant the ruff of feathers around a bird’s neck that raise when it is alarmed. The word hackles to mean the ruff of fur on an animal’s neck only came into use in the 1800s, and the idioms raise one’s hackles and get one’s hackles up came into use in the 1880s. Related phrases are raises one’s hackles, raised one’s hackles, raising one’s hackles, gets one’s hackles up, got one’s hackles up, getting one’s hackles up.


Asked what he expected from Cowart, Bundy said, “I would be kind of stupid to tell the judge what I expect of him because it might raise his hackles to the point that he would decide to do it.” (The Associated Press)

Secondly, mention of the University of Southern California raised my hackles because one of my goddaughters had her heart set on attending USC.  (The Times of San Diego)

He’s proud of his resistance to getting his hackles up when provoked, a skill he learned in part from the teachings of the Nation of Islam, to which he’s been an adherent, although an imperfect one, for a half century. (The Independent Weekly)

County Commissioner John Shafer said the size of the fleet “kind of got my hackles up” after he came into office in January.  (The East Oregonian)

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