Hawk or (Mr.) Hawkins is an African-American vernacular term for a cold, biting wind. A discussion based on anecdotal evidence in the Baltimore Sun, late Dec. 1934–Jan. 1935, attempts to discover the origin of the term, which one reader had heard from his cook. Another reader writes that his English wife recalled a cold wind being called Hawkins in Devonshire and South Wales. Unfortunately, hawk or Hawkins with this meaning did not find its way into Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary. The New Partridge apparently dates Hawkins to the discussion in the Sun.
Who the original Hawkins was, or whether hawk came before Hawkins or vice versa, is unknown. One entertainment magazine even attributed it to Fats Waller:
Omaha was so cold that he coined a phrase we use today. Fats equated the wind to the playing of his friend Coleman Hawkins, “Hawkins is blowing!” Now cold weather is known as the ”Hawk.” — Theda Palmer-Head, “Routes’ Roots,”Routes: A Guide to Black Entertainment, June 1978, 46.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if etymologies were always this simple and entertaining? But what tenor sax player would want to be compared to a winter wind?
Etymologist Barry Popik has conveniently assembled all the relevant attestations online, from the Sun to jazz musicians in the 30s and 40s and beyond, but ultimately declared its origin a “mystery.” No available source predates the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the industrial Midwest and Northeast.
Hawk was one of 100 AAVE items chosen in 1972 by psychologist and Black Studies professor Robert Williams to dramatize cultural bias in standardized tests:
In an attempt to demonstrate that such tests were a severe form of discrimination, Dr. Williams devised his own test utilizing language and life situations drawn from black ghettoes. Not surprisingly, blacks scored high on the tests while whites stumbled over questions involving such things as “Hawk” (wind) and “Hog” (Cadillac). — Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA), 16 June 1975.
The Black Intelligence Scale of Cultural Homogeneity (BITCH), was administered to 100 black and 100 white St. Louis high school students with predictable results. The two-year selection process Williams describes (9), would have precluded any regionalisms: the aim was to include broad AAVE terms and situations reflective of Afro-American experience.
The word pops up in a bowling column in the Indianpolis Recorder, an Afro-American newspaper:
The “Hawk” is out, but our bowlers are really in. — Willa Murrell, Marcella Folson, “Bowling News,” Indianapolis Recorder,16 Dec. 1978.
The “Hawk” is out, but it hasn’t stopped the bowling circuit. — ibid., 2 Feb. 1980.
Although the hawk is out, it hasn’t put a damper on our league activities. — ibid., 13 Nov. 1982.
One reason the term is popularly associated with Chicago is its inclusion in a Lou Rawls lyric in “Dead End Street.” And, of course, they don’t call Chicago the “Windy City” for nothing, so there would be ample opportunity to use the word. It also has moved beyond the black community. As Popik cites:
The sun isn't up yet and the “Hawk,” Chicago's cruel wind, lashes down on the thousands of workers huddling at bus stops. — New York Times, 7 Jan. 1973, 159.