‘Dumb-strike’ in The Goshawk

From The Goshawk, T. H. White’s memorable account of his early experiences with falconry:

There was no progress at all that day, and not to go continuously forward was to go back. How often, and for how long periods, did human life suddenly dumb-strike and confuse itself: becoming as it were curdled or criss-crossed, the surface not coherent and the grain influent. This solitary life was one of almost boundless misdirected energy, but even misdirection was a form of direction. For months at a time I was content with that.

T. H. White - The Goshawk - Penguin Modern Classics book coverThe verb dumb-strike struck me, if not dumb, then certainly as unusual. The OED has no record of it, nor do Mark Davies’ huge language corpora, though Google led me to a handful of unhyphenated examples in informal contexts (Twitter, mailing lists) amidst abundant false positives.

Normally of course we see the separable verb phrase strike dumb – and there’s the familiar adjective dumbstruck. White’s innovation is more economical than “strike itself dumb and confuse itself” would have been, but whether it’s clearer than “strike dumb and confuse itself” is open to debate. It’s more interesting at any rate.

Another line of note in White’s book is the following:

We stood in a field, an object of interest to ten young bullocks who surrounded us.

What interests me here is the use of relative pronoun who with non-human subjects, specifically animals. To earn grammatical who status, rather than that or which, generally requires an “implication of personality” as the OED nicely puts it, but in general usage animals often don’t qualify for it.

Cattle definitely meet that requirement, and in The Goshawk are duly treated that way, but it’s good to see the usage anyway.

4 Responses to ‘Dumb-strike’ in The Goshawk

  1. marc leavitt says:


    Do bullocks
    Say “bollocks!”
    When they’re melancolic,
    Or is such an expletive too vitriolic?

  2. Roger says:

    Re implied personality in animals: Some see a divine spark in dogs,
    magic in cats, prayer in the mantis, wisdom in serpents, sacrality in
    quetzals, maniacal laughter in hyenas, manatees like mermaids,
    all sorts of things in pigs, rats, spiders, scorpions; then there’s
    Bambi, Salar the Salmon, Tarka the Otter, Animal Farm, Lord of the
    Flies, the Glass Menagerie, Winnie ille Pu, Wind in the Willows,
    White Fang, Moby Dick, Romain Gary’s elephants, Joel Chandler
    Harris’s Brers Rabbit and Fox, Bradbury’s Beast from so many
    thousands of fathoms, Cal Watkins’s How to Kill a Dragon,
    Robin Fox and Lionel Tiger’s The Imperial Animal; others seek and
    find Bigfoot while crypto-zoologists would de-extinct the aurochs
    and quagga; and since the 90s we have dinosaur tenure in school
    curricula. A biologist I know recommends Noah Strycker’s The Thing
    with Feathers, everything we didn’t know about birds (it had to be a
    Noah). Just watch out for bugs and worse, animals don’t have
    perfect hygiene. Loch Ness, anyone?

  3. Roger says:

    Better end-lines, anyone?

  4. Stan says:

    When they with vitriol are full,
    They are more apt to just say bull!

    Roger: This paper (PDF) surveys some of the commentary on the use of who with non-human animals, and cautions that it “does not necessarily reflect a positive attitude toward them”. I think it more usually does, though.

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