: a genus (the type of the family Bombycillidae) of passerine birds comprising the waxwings

Word History


borrowed from New Latin, from earlier bombycilla "Bohemian waxwing," from Latin bombyc-, bombyx "silkworm, silk," + -illa, diminutive suffix (after German Seideschwanz, literally, "silk-tail"

Note: The taxonomic name was introduced by Mathurin Jacques Brisson in Ornithologie, ou Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux (Paris, 1760), vol. 2, p. 333. Brisson took the name from p. 229 of the "Aviarium Silesiae," Book IV of Theriotropheum Silesiae (Liegnitz, 1603), a compendium of Silesian natural history by a Hirschberg physician, Caspar Schwenckfeld (1563-1609). Given that bombyc- + -illa is morphologically regular, there is no reason to accept the etymology in the Century Dictionary and other 19th-century references claiming that the name is a blend of bombyx and the termination of Latin motacilla, a name for the white wagtail (Motacilla alba).

Love words?

You must — there are over 200,000 words in our free online dictionary, but you are looking for one that’s only in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

Start your free trial today and get unlimited access to America's largest dictionary, with:

  • More than 250,000 words that aren't in our free dictionary
  • Expanded definitions, etymologies, and usage notes
  • Advanced search features
  • Ad free!

Dictionary Entries Near Bombycilla

Cite this Entry

“Bombycilla.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!