Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a large bird with a big head and eyes and a small sharp beak

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The word owl was first used in early Old English and is related to similar words in other Germanic languages.


Sometimes it seems that there is a day for everything under the sun. Sunday was International Owl Awareness Day, an opportunity to encourage people to find out more about these fascinating and elusive (because mostly nocturnal) raptors. Owls‘ reputation for wisdom, perhaps due to their forward-facing eyes which gives their gaze a human aspect, goes back at least to classical Greece, where the owl was associated with Athena, goddess of widsom. The simile ‘as wise as an owl‘ reflects this, although owls are also sometimes birds of ill omen and death, due to their nocturnal habits and the unearthly shrieks emitted by some species. Someone who is owlish has large round eyes and is thought to be intelligent. An owlish appearance is not always associated with intelligence, however. In the children’s novels about the fictional public school of Greyfriars, the much-persecuted Billy Bunter is unkindly known as ‘the Owl of the Remove‘ because of his fat round face and round glasses. An owl or night owl is a person who prefers to go to bed late and get up early, in contrast to the larks who do the opposite. An owlet is a baby owl, while owling is (or was) the practice of posing like an owl in an unusual location, a variation on planking.


“Perhaps he does not want to be friends with you until he knows what you are like. With owls, it is never easy-come-easy-go.”
(T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone)

“An owl is mostly air.”
(Ursula Le Guin, Out Here)

Related words

buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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