also blue-bird, North American warbler-like bird, 1680s, from blue (adj.1) in reference to the chief color of its plumage + bird (n.1). Figurative use in bluebird of happiness is from 1909 play romance "l'Oiseau bleu," literally "The Blue Bird," by Belgian dramatist and poet Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949).
Entries linking to bluebird
"of the color of the clear sky," c. 1300, bleu, blwe, etc., "sky-colored," also "livid, lead-colored," from Old French blo, bleu "pale, pallid, wan, light-colored; blond; discolored; blue, blue-gray," from Frankish *blao or some other Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *blæwaz (source also of Old English blaw, Old Saxon and Old High German blao, Danish blaa, Swedish blå, Old Frisian blau, Middle Dutch bla, Dutch blauw, German blau "blue").
This is from PIE *bhle-was "light-colored, blue, blond, yellow," from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn," also "shining white" and forming words for bright colors. The same PIE root yielded Latin flavus "yellow," Old Spanish blavo "yellowish-gray," Greek phalos "white," Welsh blawr "gray," showing the slipperiness of definition in Indo-European color-words. Many Indo-European languages seem to have had a word to describe the color of the sea, encompassing blue and green and gray; such as Irish glass (from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine,"); Old English hæwen "blue, gray," related to har (see hoar); Serbo-Croatian sinji "gray-blue, sea-green;" Lithuanian šyvas, Russian sivyj "gray."
The present spelling in English is since 16c., common from c. 1700. The sense "lead-colored, blackish-blue, darkened as if by bruising" is perhaps by way of the Old Norse cognate bla "livid, lead-colored." It is the meaning in black and blue, and blue in the face "livid with effort" (1864, earlier black and blue in the face, 1829).
The color of constancy since Chaucer at least, but apparently for no deeper reason than the rhyme in true blue (c. 1500). Figurative meaning "sad, sorrowful, afflicted with low spirits" is from c. 1400, perhaps from the "livid" sense and implying a bruised heart or feelings. Of women, "learned, pedantic," by 1788 (see bluestocking). In some phrases, such as blue murder, it appears to be merely intensive.
Blue pencil as an editor's characteristic tool to mark corrections in copy is from 1885; also as a verb from 1885. The fabulous story of Blue-beard, who kept his murdered wives in a locked room, is from 1798. For blue ribbon see cordon bleu under cordon. Blue whale attested from 1851, so called for its color. Blue cheese is from 1862. Blue water "the open ocean" is from 1822. Blue streak, of something resembling a bolt of lightning (for quickness, intensity, etc.) is from 1830, Kentucky slang. Delaware has been the Blue Hen State at least since 1830, supposedly from a nickname of its regiments in the Revolutionary War.
The exact color to which the Gmc. term applies varies in the older dialects; M.H.G. bla is also 'yellow,' whereas the Scandinavian words may refer esp. to a deep, swarthy black, e.g. O.N. blamaðr, N.Icel. blamaður 'Negro' [Buck]
Few words enter more largely into the composition of slang, and colloquialisms bordering on slang, than does the word BLUE. Expressive alike of the utmost contempt, as of all that men hold dearest and love best, its manifold combinations, in ever varying shades of meaning, greet the philologist at every turn. [John S. Farmer, "Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present," 1890, p.252]
"feathered, warm-blooded vertebrate animal of the class Aves," Old English bird, rare collateral form of bridd, originally "young bird, nestling" (the usual Old English for "bird" being fugol, for which see fowl (n.)), which is of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as "quite inadmissible." Metathesis of -r- and -i- was complete 15c. (compare wright).
Despite its early attestation, bridd is not necessarily the oldest form of bird. It is usually assumed that -ir- from -ri- arose by metathesis, but here, too, the Middle English form may go back to an ancient period. [Liberman]
Still up to c. 1400 it was often used in the specific sense "the young of a bird, fledgling, nestling, chick," and of the young of other animals (bees, fish, snakes) and human children. Compare the usual Balto-Slavic words for "bird" (Lithuanian paukštis, Old Church Slavonic pŭtica, Polish ptak, Russian ptica, etc.), said to be ultimately from the same root as Latin pullus "young of an animal."
The proper designation of the feathered creation is in E. fowl, which in course of time was specially applied to the gallinaceous tribe as the most important kind of bird for domestic use, and it was perhaps this appropriation of the word which led to the adoption of the name of the young animal as the general designation of the race. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
Figurative sense of "secret source of information" is from 1540s. Meaning "man, fellow, person" is from 1799. Bird-watching attested from 1897. Bird's-eye view "the view as seen from above, as if by a bird in flight," is from 1762. For the birds recorded from 1944, supposedly in allusion to birds eating from droppings of horses and cattle. The bird-spider (1800) of the American tropics is a large sort of tarantula that can capture and kill small birds.
A byrde yn honde ys better than three yn the wode. [c. 1530]
The form with bush is attested by 1630s.
updated on June 28, 2017