rook

Look carefully; by hook or by crook, this word may fool you. It stares cagily back with two blank eyes, then speaks with a beak of a k. It could pass for a rock in a brook, but it will come out as a castle – or a crow. The trick, if you check, is that it is not one word but several. The raucous Corvus inspired a Germanic name, known in Old English as hróc. Persian rukh, which may have been a chariot or bird, is the foundation of the castle in chess – its upper storeys come from the word’s disguising itself as Italian rocco, meaning castle. A rook may also be a fog or a rookie. Or it may be a verb: a legal move in chess, or a cheating move in life (the sense of swindling comes by way of the bird – as Mr. Cairo found when he was rooked by a falcon). It was once applied also to the person who had been rooked, making a rook a gull. It has but four letters, no more than three phonemes, but trust not the rook on the roof of your castle, or you may get took, and rue it.

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