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May 7, 2007
This week's theme
Expressions coined after the names of birds

This week's words
stormy petrel
clay pigeon
catbird seat

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with Anu Garg

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 (although we have to look up at them).

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

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

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.]

See more usage examples of stormy petrel in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

"A colourful stormy petrel of the Conservative Party, Anthony Beaumont-Dark frequently found himself at odds with the party line in the Commons, and was well known for expressing his dissent in memorably quotable form."
Obituary: Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark; The Times (London, UK); Apr 4, 2006.


In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be educated. -Margaret Halsey, novelist (1910-1997)

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