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magpie (n.)

popular name of a common bird of Europe, Asia, and America, known for its chattering, acquisitiveness, curiosity, and mimicry, c. 1600, earlier simply pie (mid-13c.).

The first element is Mag, nickname for Margaret, long used in proverbial and slang English for qualities associated generally with women, especially in this case "idle chattering" (as in Magge tales "tall tales, nonsense," early 15c.; also compare French margot "magpie," from Margot, pet form of Marguerite). The name Margaret, and its reduced forms Mag, Madge, diminutive Maggie, also has long been familiarly applied to birds. Pies were proverbial since Middle English for chattering (as were jays), hence the application of pie to a prattling gossip or tattler, also "sly person, informer" (late 14c.) and in 15c.-16c. a wily pie (or wyly pye) was "a cunning person."

The second element, pie, is the earlier name of the bird, from Old French pie, from Latin pica "magpie" (source also of Spanish pega), fem. of picus "woodpecker," from PIE root *(s)peik- "woodpecker, magpie" (source also of Umbrian peica "magpie," Sanskrit pikah "Indian cuckoo," Old Norse spætr, German Specht "woodpecker"); possibly from PIE root *pi-, denoting pointedness, of the beak. The application to pies might be because the magpie also has a long, pointed tail.

The birds are proverbial for pilfering and hoarding and for their indiscriminate appetites (see pica (n.2)); they can be taught to speak, and have been regarded since the Middle Ages as ill omens.

Whan pyes chatter vpon a house it is a sygne of ryghte euyll tydynges. [1507]

Divination by numbering magpies is attested from c. 1780 in Lincolnshire; the rhyme varies from place to place, the only consistency being that one is bad, two are good.

The councils which magpies appear to hold together, at particular seasons, commonly called "folkmotes," are associated in the minds of many with superstitious and ominous notions. The innocent objects of terror, while meeting together most probably for the purpose of choosing mates, are supposed to be conspiring and clubbing their wits, for the weal or woe of the inhabitants of the neighbouring village. If they are of an even number and carry on their cheerful, noisy chatter, it is supposed to betoken good to old and young—but if there is an odd magpie perched apart from the rest, silent, and disconsolate, the reverse of this is apprehended, and mischievous consequences are inevitably expected. [The Saturday Magazine, Jan. 23, 1841]
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pie (n.2)

"magpie," mid-13c. (late 12c. as a surname), from Old French pie (13c.), from Latin pica "magpie" (see magpie).

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Mag 

common pet form of the fem. proper name Margaret, attested since Middle English. Compare magpie. Mag's tales "far-fetched stories, nonsense" is from early 15c.

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Picus (n.)

woodpecker genus, from Latin picus "woodpecker," from PIE root *(s)peik- "woodpecker, magpie" (source also of Umbrian peica "magpie," Sanskrit pikah "Indian cuckoo," Old Norse spætr, German Specht "woodpecker"); possibly from PIE root *pi-, denoting the pointedness of the beak. 

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piebald (adj.)

"of two different colors, having spots or patches of white and black or another color," 1580s, formed from pie (n.2) "magpie" + bald in its older sense of "spotted, white;" in reference to the black-and-white plumage of the magpie. Hence, "of mixed character, heterogeneous, mongrel" (1580s). Properly only of black-and-white colorings (compare skewbald).

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pica (n.2)

"pathological craving for substance unfit for food" (such as chalk), 1560s, from Medieval Latin pica "magpie" (see pie (n.2)), probably translating Greek kissa, kitta "magpie, jay," also "false appetite." The connecting notion may be the birds' indiscriminate feeding. Compare geophagy.

As the magpie eats young birds, here is the bird to keep the sparrows' numbers in check, for it will live in towns and close to dwellings—just the localities sparrows frequent. The magpie's appetite is omnivorous, and it is charged with at times killing weakly lambs, and varying its diet by partaking of grain and fruit; but I never at Home heard any complaints of this bird from the farmers, whilst the gamekeepers had not a good word for it. The bird will eat carrion, so if one were disturbed taking a meal from a dead lamb it would probably be blamed for its death, which may have occurred from natural causes. [A. Bathgate, "The Sparrow Plague and its Remedy," in Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 1903]
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Madge 

fem. proper name, an assibilated form of Mag, pet form of Margaret. Also used as the name of a barn-owl and a magpie.

MADGE. The private parts of a woman. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]
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pica (n.1)

"size of printing type of about six lines to the inch" (12 point), 1580s, probably from pica, the name of a book of rules in the Church of England for determining holy days (late 15c. in Anglo-Latin). This is probably from Latin pica "magpie" (see pie (n.2)); the book so called perhaps from the color and the "pied" look of the old type on close-printed pages. The type size was that generally used to print ordinals.

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haggis (n.)

dish of chopped entrails, c. 1400, now chiefly Scottish, but it was common throughout England to c. 1700, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from Old French hacheiz "minced meat," from agace "magpie," on analogy of the odds and ends the bird collects. The other theory [Klein, Watkins, The Middle English Compendium] traces it to Old English haggen "to chop," or directly from Old Norse höggva "to hew, cut, strike, smite" (see hack (v.1)).

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gazette (n.)

"newspaper," c. 1600, from French gazette (16c.), from Italian gazzetta, Venetian dialectal gazeta "newspaper," also the name of a small copper coin, literally "little magpie," from gazza; applied to the monthly newspaper (gazeta de la novità) published in Venice by the government, either from its price or its association with the bird (typical of false chatter), or both. First used in English 1665 for the paper issued at Oxford, whither the court had fled from the plague.

The coin may have been so called for its marking; Gamillscheg writes the word is from French gai (see jay). The general story of the origin of the word is broadly accepted, but there are many variations in the details:

We are indebted to the Italians for the idea of newspapers. The title of their gazettas was, perhaps, derived from gazzera, a magpie or chatterer; or, more probably, from a farthing coin, peculiar to the city of Venice, called gazetta, which was the common price of the newspapers. Another etymologist is for deriving it from the Latin gaza, which would colloquially lengthen into gazetta, and signify a little treasury of news. The Spanish derive it from the Latin gaza, and likewise their gazatero, and our gazetteer, for a writer of the gazette and, what is peculiar to themselves, gazetista, for a lover of the gazette. [Isaac Disraeli, "Curiosities of Literature," 1835]
Gazzetta It., Sp. gazeta, Fr. E. gazette; prop. the name of a Venetian coin (from gaza), so in Old English. Others derive gazette from gazza a magpie, which, it is alleged, was the emblem figured on the paper; but it does not appear on any of the oldest Venetian specimens preserved at Florence. The first newspapers appeared at Venice about the middle of the 16th century during the war with Soliman II, in the form of a written sheet, for the privilege of reading which a gazzetta (= a crazia) was paid. Hence the name was transferred to the news-sheet. [T.C. Donkin, "Etymological Dictionary of the Romance Languages" (based on Diez), 1864]
GAZETTE. A paper of public intelligence and news of divers countries, first printed at Venice, about the year 1620, and so called (some say) because una gazetta, a small piece of Venetian coin, was given to buy or read it. Others derive the name from gazza, Italian for magpie, i.e. chatterer.—Trusler. A gazette was printed in France in 1631; and one in Germany in 1715. [Haydn's "Dictionary of Dates," 1857]
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