Monday, May 07, 2007

A Story for the Birds

The Wordsmith web site gives a Word a Day to those who subscribe. Here is their offering for today, although I have made some slight adaptations to make it flow.

Birds get little respect. We tend to look down at non-human animals in general, but we are particularly unfair when it comes to birds

We call a stupid fellow a "bird brain". Australians call him a galah (a type of cockatoo). Something useless is said to be "for the birds".

We name someone vain and self-conscious a peacock. One who is talkative or a hoarder is labeled a magpie. A cowardly or fearful fellow is a chicken...the list is endless.

We even kill two birds with one stone. I'd rather the idiom be to feed two birds with one grain.

This week we feature five terms coined after birds. Catch as many of these bird words as you can. After all, a word in the head is worth two in the book.

stormy petrel (STOR-mee PE-truhl) noun

1. Any of various small sea birds of the family Hydrobatidae having dark feathers and lighter underparts, also known as Mother Carey's Chicken.

2. One who brings trouble or whose appearance is a sign of coming trouble.

The birds got the name storm petrel or stormy petrel because old-time sailors believed their appearance foreshadowed a storm. It's not certain why the bird is named petrel.

One unsubstantiated theory is that it is named after St Peter who walked on water in the Gospel of Matthew. The petrel's habit of flying low over water with legs extended gives the appearance that it's walking on the water.

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Geoff Pound

Image: Stormy Petrel