(n.) commonly, a little grebe or dabchick, a small water bird that dives underwater; also, a name for someone who disappears for a time before bobbing up again
His papers looked organized, from the outside, they weren’t messy, but there were tens of thousands of pages. And photographs? Thousands of them, scattered through which are images of people we have no other images of.
John Jeremiah Sullivan, from The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie
Today’s post brings you a little-known word for a little-known bird, with a little-known literary usage for describing someone who sometimes disappears, like a bird dipping up and down in a pond. And, as it turns out, history is rife with such people: take, for example, this May 2014 Nautilus feature, in which João Magueijo recounts the curious tale of a disappearing physicist and an equally elusive particle. And in a recent New York Times long read, John Jeremiah Sullivan invites readers along for a ride through a labyrinth of blues history, “on the trail of the phantom women who changed American music then vanished without a trace.” Finally, not to forget our word’s avian roots, head over to Smithsonian, where Daniel Lewis explains how birds helped humans to develop a colorful vocabulary.