Daily Archives: February 2, 2009


Ah, there it is again, that rakish k. It seems to bespeak roughness, or some bucolic gameness, or anyway a jaunty and undainty approach. And at the other end of the word there’s the rel that you see in mongrel and doggerel. Surely an unrefined word – how much difference it can make whether you choose orchestral or kestrel! And yet there it is: the same sounds… What else do you hear? Any hints of kiss, of strudel, of quest or question, of kettle? And an echo of pest? Kestrels have not always been looked on very well, but they won’t pick your garbage or eat your crops. They might dine on your hamster, lizard, or cat, however. And you’ll have enough time to be nervous about their doing so: a few storeys up in the air, there will be this brown raptor, hovering. Not circling, no; they point into the breeze and stay in place, watching and waiting, hence their colloquial name windhover. And they use nests built by other birds rather than using their own. Do they begin to sound like some annoying people you know? A few English authors over the centuries have thought so and have used kestrel as a term of abuse for such types. But are they not also stormy? No, that’s the petrel, a seabird that no more resembles a kestrel than a hamster does a cat. And it won’t try to eat either of them, but watch your fish. But it does have one thing in common with the kestrel: it likes to hover, so close to the waves that its feet almost touch them.