Printable Version
Pronunciation: paid Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Mottled, having splotches of two or more colors, as 'a black and white pied magpie'.

Notes: Today's Good Word is known mostly for its use in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". So, was his skin or hair splotchy? No, the name of this story is a reduction of the original name, "The Pied-coated Piper of Hamelin". This was a 17th century translation of the German story Rattenfänger "Rat Catcher", the main character of which wore a pied coat. Do not confuse this word with the pied in pied-à-terre "small second home". That pied is pronounced [pyed].

In Play: This word is used mostly to describe the mottled coats of animals: "My old pied hound points as well Fred's $800 thoroughbred hunting dog." Although it might just as well be used to describe clothing: "Maude Lynn Dresser came in a vicious pied overcoat that offended the tastes of the more modest attendees."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an adjective from the Middle English noun pie "magpie", referring to the bird's black and white pied plumage. The earliest use was pyed freres, referring to an order of friars who wore black and white habits. English borrowed pie from Old French pie, the remnants of Latin pica "magpie", the feminine gender of picus "woodpecker". Latin took its word from the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)peik- "magpie, woodpecker", which came to Sanskrit as pikah "Indian cuckoo", and to German as Specht "woodpecker". Magpies are notorious for pilfering and hoarding, and have been regarded since the Middle Ages as ill omens. (Let's all now thank Debby Moggio, who recommended today's often ignored Good Word in March of last year.)

Dr. Goodword,

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