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August 29, 2011, 19:02
Words from birds this week, some novel, some familiar.

Notice this rooster’s tail?

rooster tail - a high arching spray (of grit, water, or snow) thrown up behind a fast-moving car (or truck), a motorboat, or a water- or snow-skier
(also, to move so as to create a rooster tail)

In print, the term is most commonly used in the motorboat context. But my guess is that the dominant oral usage is automotive, by the good ol’ boys across the southern U.S., where auto-racing is that extremely popular.

The Apollo 16 moon mission conducted what the team called a “Grand Prix”: racing the Lunar Rover, to test its handling. One astronaut went joy-riding, while the other filmed him and added his running commentary. [Note: “Indy” refers to the site of a very big annual auto race.]
August 30, 2011, 03:49
Robert Arvanitis
No view on the validity of the claim, but some observers say they see proof of a Japanese mini sub in the Pearl Harbor attack, because of the vessel's own "rooster tail."

See for example the picture caption at:

August 30, 2011, 20:15
ocarina – a small wind instrument with finger holes, a mouthpiece, and an elongated ovoid shape
[Italian, from dialectal ucarenna, diminutive of oca, goose (from the fact that its mouthpiece is shaped like a goose's beak), ultimately from Latin avis, bird]
August 31, 2011, 13:11
Very interesting! I have several ocarinas of different shapes, from different cultural groups, and none of them sound like the geese I've heard.

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
August 31, 2011, 19:52
canary in a coal mine – something that, by its vulnerability, gives early warning of a danger
[but often used (as in our example) to mean simply an early-warning indicator, without regard to vulnerability]

In an underground mine, methane and carbon monoxide are particularly dangerous, because they are odorless. Their concentrations can rise to dangerous levels with no warning from the nose. As protection, miners brought canaries with them into the mine. These songsters are especially sensitive to these gases, and as long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. If their singing stopped you knew to take a look and, if the canary was dead or unconscious, to evacuate immediately.

The dictionaries do not seem to have this term, but they do have "mine canary", which is much less commonly used.
September 01, 2011, 19:16
pecking order – a hierarchy based on rank or status
[The term originally described originally described a social behavior, first described in chickens, in which any member of the group can with impunity attack or harass those of lower rank. (Sounds like high school, doesn't it?) Our term is a direct translation from the slightly-earlier German term, Hackordnung.]
September 02, 2011, 05:43
As opposed to a daisy chain's pecker order.
September 02, 2011, 19:48
rara avis – a rare or unique person or thing
[Latin for "rare bird". The technically correct plural is raræ aves.]
The term comes from Juvenal’s sixth Satire, in which he remarks that a perfect wife is a rara avis in terris, a rare bird of the earth. Author Patrick O'Brien, he of the nautical tales, puns on the "earth" aspect:
September 02, 2011, 20:21
I hadn't known that "pecking order theory" is an influential theory (see pdf on "Testing the pecking order theory of capital structure") of corporate leverage. On the other hand, I don't know a lot about corporate leverage either. Roll Eyes
September 03, 2011, 18:43
black swan – an event that is (or whose consequences are) extremely unlikely, unforeseen, and disastrous; a catastrophe that comes as a complete surprise
[examples: 9/11; Krakatoa; or (prior to modern astronomy) an asteroid striking the earth]
[Originally used by Juvenal, in the same passage that we quoted yesterday: rara auis in terris nigroque simillima cycno. A "rare bird" was highly unusual, but a "black swan" was something completely impossible. In 2001 Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb appropriated the term, giving due credit to Juvenal, to denote catastrophic events as above. The term was spread by his much more popular 2007 book, titled The Black Swan.]