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The Owl-Knowing One

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image: Wise Owl by Cornelis Bloemaert II

"#1 - All owls must wear graduation caps at all times. Turtles, you can wear the bowlers, that's okay, but the mortarboard is standard-issue gear for the owls."
Tom Kenny on the laws of the cartoon universe

There is a long-running tradition of using owls as a symbol of knowledge. This might be because their eyes resemble Nerd Glasses, because they are silent and mysterious, because their heads appear as round as a bald old sage's, or maybe just because Owls Ask "Who?" Most likely, though, it's because of their importance in various ancient cultures, especially the Greeks, where the owl was the bird of Athena, the goddess of, among other things, wisdom. Ironically, Athena's bird was the owl not because the Greeks themselves saw owls as wise, but because Athena's patron city Athens (and its environs) swarmed with wild little owls.

In any event, owls are usually depicted as wise and honorable and serve as mentors, teachers, and advisors. Be aware, though, that they tend to share traits with the Absent-Minded Professor and the TV Genius, so take their advice with a grain of salt. There is also a tendency for owls to act as narrators/storytellers.


Contrast Ominous Owl, compare and contrast Cute Owl (no reason an owl can’t be smart and cute; in fact that trope often portrays an owl as Adorkable). Compare to Clever Crows. See also Animal Stereotypes and Woodland Creatures.


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  • The mascot for the eyeglass chain America’s Best is an owl who tells people wearing glasses about the company. While he is somewhat snarky, he ultimately means no harm.
  • A short animation from Spainnote  features an owl trying to convince "Las Tres Mellizas" (the title characters of an animated series, also from Spain) why they should go to bed.
  • In a live-action 1970s Esso commercial for their auto service that has a takeoff of The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise makes a pit stop with an owl as his "mechanic."
  • There's a Geico commercial that subverts. A wife asks her husband if he knows that there are some owls that aren't that wise. The scene then cuts to two owls in a tree — another wife and husband pair, and the wife chats about a co-worker of hers, but the husband just keeps asking "Who?"
  • The owl from the classic '70s animated Tootsie Pop commercial, as a subversion. Or possibly not, since he's the only one in those commercials ever willing to just say, "I don't know."
He's also the only one to suggest the application of the scientific method to the question. And then use that suggestion to get free candy.
  • The owl in the ads for the medication Xyzal allergy relief encourages "Be wise all, take new Xyzal."
  • Wise brand potato chips are named after their company's founder, Earl Wise, and feature a stylized owl's eye on their bags as a Visual Pun.
  • Woodsy Owl, the anti-pollution mascot.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Professor Hoot from Happy Happy Clover appears to be one of the more intelligent characters in the series along with Rambler and Hickory. Professor Hoot even owns an entire book shelf of old and new books one containing the story of Santa Claus (Which he only allows for grown ups to read).
  • Kemono Friends: The library is run by a pair of owls, and treated as the main source of information by the characters.
  • Used In-Universe for Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, the Fräulein Eule uses the Owl as their symbol for the connotations of knowledge and science. As a work, however, the frequent images of Owls are a creepy Animal Motif.
  • In Negima!?, Yue (The Smart Girl) transforms into an owl as her suka/dud form.
  • Ash's Noctowl in Pokémon was said to be very intelligent in the episode in which he captured it, but it wasn't really mentioned later.
  • Old Man Owl from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a fairly slick aversion; maybe he was at one point, but emphasis on the fact that he's known as Old Man Owl. The guy's senile as a head of Wensleydale and his vision is so bad even those cokebottles he wears don't do him any good.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Big Good Yoshimura is associated with owls. He serves as a surrogate father figure and wise leader to the other ghouls of the 20th Ward, and is well-respected for his knowledge. He doles out advice and information as need be, while guarding many significant secrets. His child, on the other hand, is the other trope, while his right-hand man is associated with Clever Crows. And all of them are ukaku-users.
    • Turns out that even his child is this trope as well aside from being prominently known as an Ominous Owl, particularly in the sequel, which they provides one of the most critical revelations in the series, namely the same secrets Yoshimura guarded namely the origins of CCG with the involvment of V, are formed by ghouls, especially jarring from the former's reputation as a ghoul investigator while the higher-ups are known to be ghouls themselves such as the Washuus. And this goes downhill from there...
  • The owl of the Forest of Death in Wolf's Rain falls between straight and subversion. The wolves are creeped out by it because it doesn't have a scent (maybe it's a ghost), and its utterances don't seem to make sense. On the other hand, it turns out that they not only do make sense, but eventually lead the wolves and Cheza out of the forest to (temporary) safety.
  • In Yaiba, on their way to the Seven Orbs, Yaiba and the others met a huge, wise-looking owl and asked him for directions. He wanted to be paid. They eventually resorts to bind him and taking him with them.

  • Sandorst from The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw is a complete inversion. He is short-sighted, ignorant, and a terrible judge of character. His daughter Enna is thankfully smarter and more rational.
  • Otero and Liebber in Blacksad, who are both anthropomorphic owl scientists during the cold war.
  • The Owl in Daredevil, a crime lord known for his vast intelligence network. Sometimes he's specifically referred to as "seeing everything", which, of course, is fitting for a recurring enemy to a blind superhero.
  • In many Disney comics, a judge that both Donald and Mickey have dealt with is an owl (not certain if it is meant to be the same person, or if being a judge is just a thing that comes naturally to anthropomorphic owls) — which is obviously meant to be symbolic, as it is rare that the Funny Animals in the comics are easily identifiable as anything but generic "birdpeople" or "dognoses".
  • Owls are reoccurring minor characters in the Swedish comic Hälge. They are, however, not really wiser than any other inhabitant of the forest they live in, but lean more towards being wiseasses prone to making really bad puns.
  • Paulus de Boskabouter: Oehoeboeroe is a very stoic owl, who usually remains solemn and calm at all times, providing words of wisdom and using very old-fashioned language.
  • In Pocket God, Klik's Spirit Advisor, Nox, is shaped like an owl.
  • Howland Owl from Pogo is actually a parody/subversion of the trope, as his idea of intelligence is using big words and spouting Little Known Facts.
  • Harvey Who, an extremely minor character from Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog series is this as a member of the Kingdom of Acorn's Secret Service. However, King Max portrayed him as a Cassandra Truth sayer, ignoring his advice and leading to the downfall of his kingdom note . He sees Max's son, Elias, as a worthy holder of the crown and is working to help him get it back.

    Eastern European Animation 

    Fan Works 
  • In Imaginary Seas, Minerva, Athena's last remnants and terminal, takes the form of an robotic owl that looks half-finished with half its wire frame showing.
  • In Zelda and the Manacle of Cahla, Groo, Zelda's sidekick in the vein of Link's Exposition Fairies, is a talking owl who is something of an Insufferable Genius and makes a good parachute. He's actually a wooden figurine of her village's Guardian Entity brought to life. More specifically, brought to life with her late adoptive mother/aunt figure's spirit.

    Films — Animation 
  • Subverted with Friend Owl in Disney's Bambi, who initially appears to be wise but turns out to be a Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
  • The Fox and the Hound: Big Mama, who functions as a mentor figure to Tod.
  • The Secret of NIMH: The Great Owl. As in the novel, he is both creepy and wise. Being a mouse and thus the natural prey of owls, Mrs. Brisby is understandably nervous about going to consult him.
  • Archimedes from The Sword in the Stone, as per the film being an adaptation of The Once and Future King (see Literature). However, Archimedes' gruff nature from the books is played up here, to make him seem more like a cranky schoolteacher.
  • As depicted in Disney's numerous animated adaptations of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, Owl is a subversion, as some of his advice makes absolutely no sense.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the original version of Clash of the Titans, Athena gives Perseus Bubo, a clockwork duplicate of her own owl companion built by Hephaestus, which becomes Perseus' guide.
  • The owl voiced by Jenna Elfman in the film Dr. Dolittle starring Eddie Murphy.
  • The prologue for Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) shows that Sonic was initially raised by an owl named Longclaw, whom he describes as being like his Obi-Wan Kenobi... and true to form, she's (seemingly) killed by the end of the prologue, after sending Sonic to Earth to protect him from those who wanted to use his power for their own ends.

  • In The Adventures of Caterpillar Jones, the Great Owl is regarded as the creator of the meadow, and is very wise and powerful. It ends up being played with, as while he is wise and powerful, he grew up and learned like a normal owl and attributes Mother Nature with the meadow's creation.
  • Stolas, a demon in the Ars Goetia.
  • In The Belgariad, the philosophical and wise god Aldur has the owl as his totem. The sorceresses he taught, Poledra and Polgara, also favour that shape when they need to transform.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair. The Parliament of the Owls.
  • Subverted in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Sanctuary, by David A. McIntee:
    "[The Doctor] is very much like the owl, I think," said Guy, half to himself.
    "Wise, you mean?" Benny had heard several people comment on such a likeness. Perhaps it was his eyebrows and keen gaze.
    "What has wisdom to do with owls? He is comfortable in the darkness, as they are, and I think he is equally as adept at hunting down prey in cold blood."
  • Mr. Owl the schoolteacher from Franklin.
  • As a story whose main characters are almost all owls, Guardians of Ga'Hoole has varying degrees of this and some aversions—depending on the owl in question.
  • The Hank the Cowdog series has Madame Moonshine, the witchy little owl. She often provides magical assistance to Hank when it suits her, although she does have some odd mannerisms, like referring to him as "Hank the Rabbit."
  • Owls in the Harry Potter Verse seem to be unusually intelligent, at times seeming to almost be able to understand humans, and have the uncanny ability to find anyone in the world, as long as they have something addressed to that person. (Word of God says that wizards in hiding can enchant themselves to be untraceable by owls, though.)
  • Monster of the Month Club: Owl, the September Selection, is based on an owl and is very smart, getting smarter as he eats paper with new knowledge on it. Unfortunately, his ability to process new information is reduced when his glasses are removed.
  • Merlin's owl Archemedes in The Once and Future King.
  • Subverted harshly in the James Thurber fable The Owl Who Was God.
  • Subverted in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which features a pair of minor characters called the Wise Donkey and the Foolish Owl, who are just that.
  • Owlstar from Warrior Cats was a wise and just leader of ThunderClan who is Famed in Story. He isn't actually an owl, but he copied his skills from one, and has an obvious owl theme. It's what made him a badass.
  • Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh stories, where he's an outright Know-Nothing Know-It-All.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Circuit, from Power Rangers Time Force.
  • Referenced on the kids' game show Raven. After all of the remaining series 5, week 3 warriors fail to win the challenge Demon Square on day 3, the titular character can only make this comment:
    Raven: I had hoped my warriors would be as wise as owls. Unfortunately, they are all as feather-brained as cuckoos.
  • Referenced in a Saturday Night Live sketch, with a commercial for The Bible reenacted with birds. The three wise men are depicted as parrots, confusing the boy reading it and upsetting his father when he claims owls would be more logical.

  • Nightwish's The Crow, the Owl and the Dove has the following lines:
    An owl came to me, old and wise
    Pierced right through my youth
    I learned it's ways, envied it's sense
    But needed nothing it had
  • The original trope name ("Wise Old Owl") comes from a nursery rhyme:
    A wise old owl lived in an oak
    The more he saw the less he spoke
    The less he spoke the more he heard.
    Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?
    • This was later appropriated by the U.S. Army to encourage soldiers to keep their mouths shut (loose lips sink ships).
    • It was also written on the walls of the Owl Bar in Baltimore as a code for ordering alcohol during Prohibition—when booze was available, an owl lamp above the bar would blink.

  • Classical Mythology
    • Owls, of course, are the emblem of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. They were also apparently very common in Athens; in several languages, "Carry owls to Athens" means doing something pointless. Though the last part may be referring to Athenian coins stamped with an owl motif — Athena being, as its name implies, Athens' patron goddess — rather than actual birds.
    • The Latin word for owl is "ibis", which is an entirely different species of bird associated with an Egyptian god of wisdom. This probably came about when the Romans, like the Greeks before them, associated aspects of Athena/Minerva with Thoth/Djehuty.
  • Inverted in Finnish mythology, in which owls were seen as stupid animals. While the imported image of owls as a symbol of wisdom is now the more popular one, the Finnish word "pöllö" is still used to describe stupid people.
  • Inverted in Indian mythology, where owls are often portrayed as stupid because of their blank expression. Owls are also considered a symbol of stupidity in Japanese myth for the same reasons.

    New Media 
  • Do a Google search for "smart owl" or some variation thereof and you will find a plethora of pictures of owls in mortarboards.

  • Magic Girl has a white owl watching from the top of the playfield.

    Print Media 
  • OWL magazine, published in Canada, is a digest meant to get kids interested in learning. The name and mascot are owls, obviously playing to the owl's association with knowledge.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Dutch children's show De Fabeltjeskrant—also known as I fablernas värld ("In the world of fables") in Swedish—used an owl called Meneer de Uil (Mr Owl, originally enough) as a narrator.
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: X the Owl from The Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
  • Charlie Owl from New Zoo Revue wore a mortarboard, implying wisdom.
  • Hoots the Owl from Sesame Street, who possessed the skills of saxophone playing and singing the blues.

  • John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme features a sketch about how unfair it is on other animals that owls get stereotyped like this just because they look like they're wearing glasses—when those big eyes are actually taking up most of their heads and leaving little room for brains.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The wisdom-boosting spell in 3rd ed. and later is called "Owl's Wisdom".
    • Giant owls, along with giant eagles à la J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the few "giant animal"-type monsters to have been sapient in all incarnations of D&D. Some editions also feature normal-sized talking owls, a bird which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin; these are wise oracles of the forest that seem to be at least partially related to Fey.
    • Mystara: The hsiao are a Lawful race of giant owls with clerical (which, notably, are Wisdom-based) spellcasting powers.
    • Planescape: The Beast Lord of owls is one of oldest beings on his plane and is a part-time sage of godlike wisdom and knowledge. Noctral are Lawful Good supra-genius barn owls with 20' wingspan collecting (and dispensing to anyone capable of hearing) knowledge.
  • Gamma World: A Dragon article on personality types for mutant animals suggested owl-people weren't any smarter than anyone else, but acted as if they were.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Owls are almost exclusively associated with Blue, the color of knowledge and its application. Even owls meant to be more creepy than wise are still Blue, and have card effects relating to drawing and looking at cards (in flavor, the card deck is meant to represent the player's mind).
    • Aven, the game's Bird People, normally resemble generic humanoid raptors. Many Blue aven, however — and in particular ones associated with magic or wisdom in some form — resemble owls instead.

    Video Games 
  • Blathers, the curator of the Museum in the Animal Crossing games. At the least, he's knowledgeable in most, if not all of the things you donate, and in the early games would blather on about whatever fish, bug, or completed fossil you gave to the museum (his lectures were brought back in New Horizons, but made optional). There is also his sister Celeste, who runs the observatory in Wild World and City Folk and is the authority on all things related to astronomy.
  • From the Bayonetta series, Jeanne had her own version of the titular character's Crow Within technique called Owl Within, in which she transforms into a blood-red owl. It's very fitting for her role in the first game, as throughout the game she not only acts as Bayonetta's rival, but also as her mentor, reminding Bayonetta of the techniques she's forgotten and her role as an Umbra Witch. This could double with an Ominous Owl as well, since for most of the first game Jeanne acts as Bayonetta's enemy.
  • Castlevania: The series as whole sometimes features owls as enemies (including in combination with the Owl Knight), as well as pets/weapons of Maria Renard, familiars for Nathan Graves and Shanoa, and even a magical transformation for Charlotte Aulin. However, these aren't really this trope; they count more as Ominous Owl. What does count here, however, is the presence of Stolas, a large, crowned owl-like creature, in the two Sorrow games. Inspired by the Ars Goetia demon of the same name, Stolas is described in the bestiaries as "An aged, wise owl", and "A wise, old creature said to have considerable intelligence". Both enemies are late-game enemies that summon other powerful monsters, and they also have the highest MP in the game — 9,999 in Aria, and 1,500 (still the most MP of any regular enemy; the next highest ones are at 999) in Dawn. They drop two different soul abilities, depending on the game — one, "God's Wisdom", is an intelligence boost; the other, "Concentration", enables you to sacrifice strength for an intelligence boost.
  • The tarot card for human mage characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition features a flying owl, to reflect both their mystical nature and the fact that they have more formal education than the other five possible backgrounds.
  • The language-learning Edutainment Game Duolingo's mascot is an owl named Duo, likely invoking this trope. Duo even has a nightgown and monocle as a reward.
  • Several of the scholarly or philosophical characters in Eastshade happen to be owlfolk.
  • Peepsta Hoo dream eaters in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance use a fairly sound strategy: scan an enemy for its elemental weakness and then ruthlessly exploit it with high-level magic and tuned attacks. A handy spirit to have in your party, but in nightmaresform...
  • In King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, Cedric the Owl was intended to help guide the player through the game and offer insightful input. In practice he just hung around annoying you, left when anything dangerous might happen, made inane observations ("Graham, watch out! A poisonous snake!") and when he said something that actually could have been a useful warning, it was always too late to avert the catastrophe. The key here is he was designed to give information; he just sucked at it.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • The owl in My World, My Way who gives advice and a few spells to the heroine.
  • The creatively named Owl from NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams serves as the game's Exposition Fairy.
  • Hoothoot and its evolution Noctowl from Pokémon, while not exactly Psychic-type, can still learn a lot of good Psychic-type moves. The Pokedex also states that they're very intelligent—Hoothoot's Platinum entry states that "Some countries consider it to be a wise friend, versed in the world's ways," while Noctowl's Silver entry states that "When it needs to think, it rotates its head 180 degrees to sharpen its intellectual power." The second line of owl Pokémon Pokémon Sun and Moon's grass starter Rowlet has a notable aversion with its evolved form Dartrix. Dartrix is actually called a birdbrain, and is actually a Brainless Beauty obsessed with its appearance and often bungling things and then making them worse trying to fix them.
  • In The Secret World, the hermit witch Cucuvea is popularly known as "The Owl," and has spent many centuries providing wise counsel and magical assistance to the people of Transylvania - and to you, when you finally meet her. For good measure, she's also capable of actually transforming into an owl in order to keep any eye on her enemies.
  • Parodied in Simon the Sorcerer, where Simon meets an owl in a tree labeled "Wise owl" but instead of giving useful advice the owl turns out to suffer from dementia and can't finish a single sentence.
  • The owls found all over the place in ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal serve as Mr. Exposition.

    Web Animation 


    Web Original 
  • The Minerva Alliance uses a barn owl as its mascot to represent knowledge. Their primary mission is To Unmasque the World and let the public know about the anomalies of the world.
  • Mortasheen gives us the Bemzuul, which is essentially an owl with oversized, creepy-looking eyes. While not wise per se, it is capable of telepathy, photographic memory, and even Mind Rape. Bonus points for having a name derived from B.E.M., the acronym for "Bug Eyed Monster."

    Western Animation 
  • Professor Owl in the Adventures in Music Duology.
  • Owl from The Animals of Farthing Wood.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wan Shi Tong, the knowledge spirit who runs the greatest library in the world, is a giant, black barn owl (who crosses over into Ominous Owl territory when he gets mad). His name, 万知堂 (wànzhītáng) even means "He who knows 10,000 things." In the Sequel Series The Legend of Korra however, his self-imposed exile has left him poorly informed when it comes to human technology and he is easily swayed by Unalaq.
  • Olivia Owl in Birdz is the nerdy type.
  • In The Blinkins, Benjamin the Owl is the wisest creature in the forest and often helps the Blinkins if they need it.
  • The owl Zocrates from The Bluffers is not only named after an ancient Greek philosopher, he is even dressed like a stereotypical ancient Greek, complete with laurel wreath on his head.
  • In the Christmas Special Christopher the Christmas Tree, a young owl runs away from home because he's tired of being taunted for not being as smart as the rest of his family (he can't fly or even talk). His smarter brothers are even shown wearing mortarboards, playing into this trope.
  • DuckTales (2017): Zan Owlson, a businesswoman possibly even more level-headed than Scrooge McDuck himself. She later gains the job of preventing Flintheart Glomgold from ruining his company with his inane schemes.
  • In the show Franklin the titular turtle's teacher, Mr. Owl, is a Great Horned Owl.
  • The family of owls from the Looney Tunes short I Love to Singa is a family of classical musicians—except for the youngest, who wants to be a jazz singer.
  • Mr Krbec and his Animals: Kukula the Owl resides in the huge library of the castle Kulikov. She's wise and well-read. She's often the target of Ruprecht's mischief. She's not pleased that Mr Krbec was not informed beforehand about the castle being haunted and warns Mr Krbec about Ruprecht.
  • Owlowiscious (pronounced the same as the even less phonetic Aloysius) in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic becomes the pet of Twilight Sparkle, and for a pet he's extremely competent, helping Twilight out at night when Spike is asleep. Enough so for Spike (a fully sentient dragonling who has been with Twilight for years) feels his position as "number 1 assistant" threatened by the owl.
  • There was a later Noveltoons character, Ollie the Owl, whom appeared in two cartoons in The '60s. He was a Child Prodigy, complete with oversized eyeglasses. In his first appearance, he uses a detective kit to try and outsmart and arrest a bank robber (and he succeeds), and in his second he goes on a children's quiz show and ends up answering all the tough questions correctly, to the dismay of the TV studio (they were hoping the contestant would not be able to answer the questions so the TV studio wouldn't have to give away the prizes and lose all their money... but all Ollie really wanted was a lollipop.)
  • There was an Aloysius Owl in Terrytoons' Possible Possum series. He tried to avert from Possible's more outrageous schemes.
  • One of the teachers on Timmy Time is Osbourne, a kindly and patient owl. His son also attends, and clearly looks up to his father, emulating him whenever possible.
  • Good-guy leader Leoric from Visionaries has a magic staff with the power of Wisdom, manifesting as a talking owl whose advice usually take a scene change to figure out.
  • On Wild Animal Baby Explorers, Izzy the owl knows a lot of things, but isn't always a good sport when he gets something wrong, or has to admit he doesn't know something.

    Real Life 
  • The owl is the unofficial mascot of the high IQ organization Mensa.
  • Although owls are large-brained birds, they seem to be at the lower end of bird intelligence based on behavioral studies of captive birds and mostly failed attempts to train them for use in falconry. Owls in the wild have been observed to make life-threatening blunders not frequently witnessed of other birds - such as failing to avoid traffic on busy roads when hunting prey. This is because owls are an example of Crippling Overspecialization. Their large brains are optimized for extremely acute audio-visual sensory processing and not much else. Thus they're highly effective hunters, but they don't have what humans interpret as "intelligence".
  • The FFA (Future Farmers of America) has the symbol of the owl for the Advisor (a teacher that helps organize FFA activities). To quote, from opening ceremonies:
    Vice President: "The Advisor?"
    Advisor: "Here by the owl".
    Vice President: "Why stationed by the owl?"
    Advisor: "The owl is a time-honored emblem of knowledge and wisdom. Being older than the rest of you, I am asked to advise you from time to time as the need arises. I hope that my advice will always be based on true knowledge, and ripened with wisdom."
  • Purdue University's Online Writing Lab takes advantage of its acronym to draw a connection between its purpose as a knowledge base and research for professional writing and owls, which have been featured in some way either as an emblem or logotype for the writing lab.
  • Language learning site Duolingo has a little green owl for a mascot.

Alternative Title(s): Wise Old Owl


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