LOOM, or Loon (Icelandic, Lómr), a name applied to water-birds of three distinct families, remarkable for their clumsy gait on land.[1] The first is the Colymbidae, to which the term diver (q.v.) is usually restricted in books; the second the Podicipedidae, or grebes (q.v.); and the third the Alcidae. The form loon is most commonly used both in the British Islands and in North America for all species of the genus Colymbus, or Eudytes according to some ornithologists, frequently with the prefix sprat, indicating the fish on which they are supposed to prey; though it is the local name of the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) wherever that bird is sufficiently well known to have one; and, as appears from Grew (Mus. Reg. Soc. p. 69), it was formerly given to the little grebe or dabchick (P. fluviatilis or minor). The other form loom seems more confined in its application to the north, and is said by T. Edmonston (Etym. Gloss. Shetl. and Orkn. Dialect, p. 67) to be the proper name in Shetland of Colymbus septentrionalis;[2] but it has come into use among Arctic seamen as the name of the guillemot (Alca arra or bruennichi) which throngs the cliffs of northern lands, from whose “loomeries” they obtain a wholesome food; while the writer believes he has heard the word locally applied to the razorbill (q.v.).  (A. N.) 

  1. The word also takes the form “lumme” (fide Montagu), and, as Professor Skeat observes, is probably connected with lame. The signification of loon, a clumsy fellow, and metaphorically a simpleton, is obvious to any one who has seen the attempt of the birds to which the name is given to walk.
  2. Dunn and Saxby, however, agree in giving “rain-goose” as the name of the species in Scotland.