Printable Version
Pronunciation: mæg-pai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A common European black and white bird, known for its chattering (see picture).

Notes: Only one derivation of today's Good Word has been proffered over the course of its existence, an abstract noun, magpiety, meaning "talkativeness, garrulity" or "pseudo-piety". It was last used tongue-in-cheek in Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Mary Daly 1987): "Magpiety, the impious impropriety of Prudes; irreverence for sir-reverence; Nagpiety's Hagpiety".

In Play: Blankety-blankMagpies are noted not only for their chattering, but for their tendency to collect shiny objects: "The interior of Maggie Bird's house, filled with chachkas, gewgaws, knickknacks and other whatnots, reflects her natural magpie tendencies." However, they are just as well known for their chatter: "Horace threw a stone at the magpies chattering loudly in the tree in his front yard."

Word History: The first element of today's word is Mag, a nickname for Margaret. Margaret was long used in proverbs and slang for qualities historically associated with women, in this case "idle chatter", as in Magge tales "tall tales". French followed the same line of thinking with its word for magpie: margot, the nickname for Marguerite.

The second component of this original compound noun came from an earlier name of the bird, Old French pie from Latin pica "magpie", the feminine of picus "woodpecker". These words were derived from the PIE root (s)peik- "woodpecker, magpie" with a Fickle S, which we see in German Specht "woodpecker". We see the S in spike, but not in pike, both known for their pointedness, just like the beaks of woodpeckers and magpies. Pie also occurs initially in piebald "bicolored", especially black and white like a magpie. Bald refers to the white markings on birds and animals, from Irish bal "spot, marking". (Thank you Kathleen McCune, now of Sweden, for recommending this fascinating bird name. I would have never guessed I could find this much of a story.)

Dr. Goodword,

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