Printable Version
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: piebald horseThis 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.)

Dr. Goodword,

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