R. W. Burchfield

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Jul 12 22:01:43 UTC 2004

The OED online has 5 citations for "windhover" = kestrel, starting with 1674 and not including Hopkins; it has only one citation for "windfucker" = kestrel, and that is Thomas Nashe, from 1599, though it has 4 citations for a second meaning, "a term of opprobrium" when applied to people, all between 1602 and 1616.
So if "windhover" is a euphemism, it doesn't originate with Hopkins.  Despite the fact that Nashe's quotation is about 75 years the earliest, perhaps "windfucker" is an obscenification.  Although, thinking about it, the position that small hovering birds put themselves into when they hover somewhat resembles the position the male bird takes when copulating -- he kneels on the female's back and reaches his lower abdomen past and under her tail until the opening of his cloaca touches the opening of hers, and sometimes he has to move his wings back and forth for balance.  If Nashe had a dirty mind, and he did, the similarity might have suggested the name.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: Wilson Gray <hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET>
Date: Monday, July 12, 2004 3:51 pm
Subject: Re: R. W. Burchfield

> Does this mean that Gerard Manley Hopkins's term, "windhover," is not
> the only synonym for "kestrel"? Or is it a euphemism based on the
> "breathtakingly-vulgar synonym"? On the basis of GAT's hints, I have
> come up with a possible synonym for "kestrel" that is, in the opinion
> of some, "vulgar," but I personally don't find it "breathtakingly" so.
> Perhaps, then, my possible synonym is not what's referred to by the
> Times. Or, perhaps, I've simply become jaded "like a
> motherfucker," as
> we say in the 'hood. In any case, I'll be paying particular attention
> to the letters to the editor.
> -Wilson Gray

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