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There is a brisk, chill wind blowing in my part of the world, and I was reminded of the saying:

"The hawk is out"

Some people claim it originated in Chicago in black communities, but I have only heard it from people from New Jersey.

What is the origin of this saying?

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    Probably not related, but round these parts of Scandiwegia, a strong wind is sometimes described with the phrase ‘it’s blowing half a pelican’, which is similarly bird-themed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 16 at 23:17
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An initial finding in The News, Frederick, Maryland, 17 Oct 1919 (paywalled),

Frost Due Tonight if Chilly Winds Abate...
  "Hawkins is coming["] over the mountains, and real Fall is here at last.

confirmed that calling a cold wind, or cold weather generally, 'the hawk' or 'Hawkins' was much older than posited at sites such as Wikipedia (1934 in the Baltimore Sun) and DARE (paywalled; citations with additional information at The Big Apple).

An additional finding in "Weather-Lore", by J.H. Evans, originally published in the 1896 Southern Workman, v. 25, p. 16, confirmed that use predated the 20th century among "Afro-Americans" (the article by Evans from Southern Workman is reprinted in the 1983 Strange Ways and Sweet Dreams: Afro-American Folklore from the Hampton Institute). In context, the suggestion is that the use of 'Hawkins is coming' to mean "cold weather is coming" was passed down from the "dark ages of [African-American] slavery".

In the dark ages of slavery, when our foreparents were driven by their owners late, and early, they were taught nothing but hard work, therefore they were not able to read or write. But nature taught them many signs regarding the weather.

Cold Weather Signs
....
If turkeys roost high in a tree, it's a sign of cold weather. You will hear the old folks say, "Look out children, Hawkins is coming."

The original publication date of Evans' "Weather-Lore" was not at first clear from the textual evidence in Strange Ways and Sweet Dreams; the article appeared to have been reprinted from Southern Workman 25, no. 1, January 1896. Evidence in the 1926 Folk beliefs of the southern Negro corroborated that the article is in Southern Workman, v. 25, p. 16: see note 4, page 505 (where the year given, "1895" is an error) and following, e.g., page 511 (where the correct year, "1896", is given), although there the significance of turkeys roosting high has been mysteriously transmuted from cold to rain.

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All the following sources suggest the African-American origin of the term:

Chicago's wind is often called "The Hawk". This term has long been popular in African American Vernacular English. The Baltimore Sun's series of columns in 1934 attempted to examine the origin of the phrase, "Hawkins is coming", for a cold winter.

(Wikipedia)

The following site says it was a term used by jazz singers:

How the Hawk, the name referring to Chicago's cold, harsh winter wind, got its name is "a mystery," linguist Barry Pokin writes.

"But one thing is certain: It didn't originate in Chicago," he said, citing 1934 references to wind in Baltimore as Hawkins and a 1944 Harlem reference to Mr. Hawkins. It was a popular term used by African-American jazz singers, he added.

But 50 years ago, the larger world was introduced to Chicago's Hawk by Lou Rawls through his 1967 hit "Dead End Street," a semiautobiographical tale of growing up on the South Side.

  • I was born in a city they call the Windy City And they call it the Windy City because of the Hawk The Hawk. The almighty Hawk Mr. Wind Takes care of plenty business around winter time.

(www.dnainfo.com)

The Green’s Dictionary of Slang suggests that the term more generally refers to very cold winds of northern US cities:

(US black) chilly winter winds, esp. as experienced in northern cities; usu. as the hawk.

  • 1946 [US] Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 217: Jim why don’t you let up sometime, hawk’s out here with his axe.
  • Erm...I'm wondering if the reference to an "axe" in the last citation was not a mis-interpretation. Musicians that I knew in the 60's and 70's called their guitar "an axe", and as the title is Really the blues ...and hawk (Hawk, or Hawkins) ) could have been the name of a guitar player. Gonna check into it further. – Cascabel Jan 16 at 20:49
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    @Cascabel - the following may be interesting too: "The Hawk" as a name for the wind isn't restricted to Chicago. If anything, this usage is peculiar to black people in general. Colored folk all over the country use "The Hawk" when referring to an uncomfortably cold wind. When I was in grade school (1942-1950) in St. Louis, we used the expression, "The Hawk talks!" to describe what it's like on a cold, windy, winter's day. When the occasion demanded it, we said, "The Hawk is talkin'.'" ....... – user067531 Jan 16 at 20:57
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    ..... By the time that I was in high school, some people said "Hawkins is talkin'," presumably to regain a near-rhyme like that in the original - in my experience - expression. - Wilson Gray listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-February/… – user067531 Jan 16 at 20:58
  • Also the terms hawk and hawkings meaning cold winter wind are present in the African American Slang Dictionary by Maciej Widawski - books.google.it/… – user067531 Jan 16 at 21:06
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    @Cascabel - as it often happens, the expression probably became common also outside the original community. – user067531 Jan 16 at 21:10
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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.

Chicago

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.

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Although being from Chicago, I first heard the term used down South in 1973 by a country boy born in North Carolina in 1947. When cold weather was blowin' in, he'd say, "Better look out. The hawk is swoopin'!

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I learned it in the Army. My black friends would say "The hawk is out," but my Texas white friend would say "It's hauck out."

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