Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Raven with a Maven: Vocab. #2

Sometimes the word that stumps you isn’t unknown – it’s just used in an unfamiliar way. Thus, when Ms. Hazzard referred to someone ‘ravening,’ I wasn’t certain I knew what she meant.

I know, of course, what a raven is. It’s that big bird that appears in Poe’s poem. But I didn’t know it was possible to raven; I didn’t know ‘raven’ could be a verb.

What does it mean ‘to raven’? (So glad you asked.)

Probably, I thought, something like this: to behave in the manner of ravens. And how do ravens behave? They fly, they nest, they flock, they eat, they scavenge. We don’t see ravens much in the suburban North Shore, but I did have a tribe of them (flock seems too gentle a word) at my north side birdfeeder once and I’ll tell you this: they scared away all the other creatures, not just the littler birds but the squirrels on the ground, too. And they devoured everything they could get their beaks on.

At the risk of distracting you with a wild bird chase, I also considered the possibility that ‘ravening’ meant something like ‘falconry’ or ‘hawking.’ Falconry or hawking involves training and using birds in hunting small game; it was a sport popular among the Anglo-Saxon nobility some centuries back.

So off to the dictionary went I, where my first suspicion was confirmed: 'to raven' is 'to consume greedily, to devour.'

And, while ignoring the likely connotation, I want to say: to raven words ain’t misbehavin’.

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