EDUCATION PLUS

What is the meaning and origin of `stormy petrel'?

(Sarath S. Pillai, New Delhi)

First, let's deal with the pronunciation of `petrel'. The first syllable is pronounced like the word `pet', and the following `e' is like the `a' in `china'. The word is pronounced `PET-rel' with the stress on the first syllable. This is how native speakers of English pronounce the word `petrol' as well.Stormy petrels are smallsea birds, and according tosailors, they usually make anappearance just before the arrivalof a storm. The birds areseen as an omen of the troubledtimes ahead. Therefore,when you refer to someone asa `stormy petrel', you meanthe individual is a source oftrouble; someone whose appearanceis an indication ofthe bad times ahead.*My superstitious boss regardsRenu as a stormy petrel.Whenever she drops in, wemake sure that our bossdoesn't see her.*Please do not include astormy petrel like Ganpat inthe team.`Petrel' comes from the Italian`Petrello', meaning `littlePeter'. The petrels fly so lowthat they give the impressionthey are literally walking onthe sea. Sailors sometimes referto these birds as `MotherCarey's chickens'.

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