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[pe-truh l] /ˈpɛ trəl/
any of numerous tube-nosed seabirds of the families Procellariidae, Hydrobatidae, and Pelecanoididae.
Origin of petrel
1670-80; earlier pitteral, of uncertain origin; perhaps altered by association with St. Peter (who attempted to walk on the water of Lake Gennesareth), alluding to the bird's habit of flying close to the ocean surface Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for petrel
Historical Examples
  • The petrel was dancing on one leg, and laughed at me, when I opened my eyes again.

    The Cricket's Friends Virginia W. Johnson
  • I intend to charter the petrel, which has just discharged the cargo she brought here.

    At Aboukir and Acre George Alfred Henty
  • Sandy was at the tiller of the Swan and Martin held the wheel of the petrel.

  • Her decks spouting flame, the petrel raced on to meet the enemy.

    El Diablo Brayton Norton
  • Like all its kindred, the Stormy 255 petrel is a close sitter, remaining in its hole until dragged out.

    British Sea Birds Charles Dixon
  • The fusillade from the petrel was evidently interfering with the enemy's marksmanship.

    El Diablo Brayton Norton
  • He is the lad I told you of who aided in saving all our lives on board the petrel.

  • But he did not volunteer to be one of those to man the petrel on her maiden voyage.

    A Far Country, Complete Winston Churchill
  • By gad, thou art the herald of storm on land as the petrel is at sea.

    The Great Mogul Louis Tracy
  • This designation of the petrel as a "raft" was my first legal quibble.

    A Far Country, Complete Winston Churchill
British Dictionary definitions for petrel


any oceanic bird of the order Procellariiformes, having a hooked bill and tubular nostrils: includes albatrosses, storm petrels, and shearwaters See also storm petrel
Word Origin
C17: variant of earlier pitteral, associated by folk etymology with St Peter, because the bird appears to walk on water
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for petrel

seabird, 1670s, pitteral, modern spelling first recorded 1703 by English explorer William Dampier (1651-1715), who wrote the bird was so called from its way of flying with its feet just skimming the surface of the water, which recalls the apostle's walk on the sea of Galilee (Matt. xiv:28); if so, it likely was formed in English as a diminutive of Peter (Late Latin Petrus). If this is folk etymology, the true source of the name is undiscovered. French pétrel (1760) probably is from English.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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