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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Jan 26, 2022 7:11 pm

• piebald •

Pronunciation: pai-bawld • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Spotted with at least two colors, calico, multicolored, varicolored. 2. (Derogatory) Motley, blotched or composed of incongruous parts.

Notes: No, this word doesn't mean "bald as a pie"; that's another word. It does come with an adverb used only with adjectives, piebaldly, as 'a straw hat, piebaldly decorated with flowers', and a more frequently used noun, piebaldness. Don't confuse this word with skewbald, associated with animals, spotted in colors other than black.


In Play: This word is preeminently used to describe varicolored animals, especially paint horses: "Mildred loved to ride her piebald pony around the estate every morning." However, as the second sense indicates, it may be used to describe a motley mixture of anything: "Harvey Milquetoast exuded a piebald mixture of hesitancy, willingness, and enthusiasm at the invitation to play Bottom in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound comprising pie + bald, a leftover from a time when these two words had different meanings. Pie is the former name of a bird, borrowed from Old French pie, reduced from Latin pica "magpie". (Magpies are black and white.) Latin used PIE (s)peik- "woodpecker, magpie" without the Fickle S, source also of Sanskrit pikah "Indian cuckoo" and German Specht "woodpecker". Bald still refers to a white spot (on an animal's head). This word originates in PIE bhel-/bhol- "to shine, gleam", source also of Russian belyi "white", Latin fulmen "lightning", Lithuanian baltas "white", and English black. (Words occasionally acquire the sense of their antonyms, like scald and cold or the current English slang usage of bad meaning "excellent".) (Let's now congratulate newcomer Christa Hegland for suggesting today's fascinating garden-path Good Word.)
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Re: Piebald

Postby Slava » Wed Jan 26, 2022 10:22 pm

Congratulations and welcome Christa, here's hoping you'll join us in the Agora.
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Re: Piebald

Postby bbeeton » Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:29 pm

Related, no doubt, to "pied", or multicolored, as in "Pied Piper".

Might there also be a connection to "pi", or a mixed up collection of unrelated printing type? (This can also used as a verb, when someone "pies" a tray of type, or causes a composed page of moveable type to spill.)

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Re: Piebald

Postby Debbymoge » Thu Jan 27, 2022 2:34 pm

Before the Boston Globe moved to its large and modern location outside of Boston proper, it was on Pi Alley.
I remember, as a very small child, going with my father to the old Globe. He wanted to speak to a friend who was a printer. The stairs to the cellar where the huge printing machines were pounding and shaking, were narrow, shallow, and steep.
My father went on down. I followed, having to sit, lower my feet to the next step, move my fanny down, lower feet to next step, and repeat. Long before getting all the way to the bottom, I had been bounced away from the wall toward the open side of the stairway. Luckily, my father finished his confab and started back up the stairs before I was bounced off.
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Re: Piebald

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Jan 27, 2022 11:54 pm

In my experience as a printer. the word pi refers to a set of unusual characters to be printed. In that capacity, it is derived from the word Pie as in magpie. The magpie was accustomed to putting items willy-nilly into its nest. As a pastry the name pie comes from those same messy magpies.
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