pah-pin-jay • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A vain, conceited, pompous person, a coxcomb, a fop. 2. A loquacious, talkative person, a blabbermouth.
Notes: This Good and colorful Word originally referred to a parrot, which explains the two rather unrelated meanings "show-off" and "blabbermouth". You may use this word as an adjective meaning "vividly or garishly bright" when referring to colors, as popinjay blue or popinjay green.
In Play: Popinjay began as a metaphor for a brightly multicolored bird and referred to people who were dressed showily. It has since migrated to people who show off in any manner: "August March is such a strutting popinjay, I doubt he would deign even to speak to a general with fewer than four stars." As a result of the association with jays—not to mention the parrot's own talkativeness—the word's meaning today is slipping toward loquacity: "That smarmy popinjay in the front office won't let you get a word in edgewise."
Word History: Today's Good Word started out as Old French papegai "parrot" (perroquet today in French). The French could have gotten the word from any number of European languages: Russian popugai and Spanish papagayo are just two languages that still use it. It had reached Greek as papagas by the Middle Ages, a word which survives as papagalos today. The Europeans appropriated the word from Arabic babaga, probably during the Crusades. Arabic assumed the word from Persian babbagha. The Persian word is probably onomatopoetic, an imitation of parrot babbling. The last syllable changed to -jay in English under the influence of the word for jays, another chatty bird more familiar to our English ancestors.
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