Pronounced: trans-MAH-gruh-fie, verb

Notes: I first ran across this word in Calvin and Hobbes, but my understanding from the context was a bit off.

Yesterday’s phrase

The phrase stormy petrel occurs in the Sherlock Holmes story The Naval Treaty – at least, the one I remember: Sherlock Holmes says to Watson “You are the stormy petrel of crime“. I was surprised to see that it also occurs in the story The Reigate Puzzle. The first meaning below is the usage in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but the second definition was a surprise.

  • One who brings trouble or whose appearance is a sign of coming trouble
  • A small sea bird of the family Hydrobatidae having dark feathers and lighter underparts; also known as Mother Carey’s Chicken

The “storm” or “stormy” part of the name of the bird was given because old-time sailors believed that the bird’s appearance foreshadowed a storm. The “petrel” part is unclear; one theory is that is comes from Peter – the disciple of Jesus that walked on the water in the gospel of Matthew. The petrel’s habit of flying low over the water with legs extended gives the appearance that it is walking on the water. The first meaning above is a generalized extension of the idea that the bird foreshadowed a storm.

First usage

The word was used in the mid-1700s

Published by Richard

Christian, lover-of-knowledge, Texan, and other things.

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