Pound for pound a raptor of rapture. This large word tumbles from primary to second to no stress as its large bird tumbles from empyrean to heron’s distress. We recognize the back two syllables with their rising wings, but the beak reaching down at the front seizes us and turns us and turns us in a widening gyr. But can it hear us? We seldom say it; many of us would give a diphthong twist to the first syllable, but the sound is the beginning of the word gerbil (and mayhap the end of the animal gerbil). The bird seizes without warning, like a spear from the blue or a swung sickle, enduring fall to injure and fell, while the word has a history of stealth and deceit. Where does this gyr come from? Some say spear, some spinner, some lord, some priest; here Latin, there Greek; but more likely it comes from Germanic gîr: greed – and vulture. As to falcon, it has looped around and sneaked behind – though it comes from Latin falco (from falx, sickle), the l was lost, and the English word was faucon until, respelled by etymological inspiration, the l fell in again and caught the tongue.

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