popinjay

noun

pop·​in·​jay ˈpä-pən-ˌjā How to pronounce popinjay (audio)
: a strutting supercilious person

Did you know?

Popinjays and parrots are birds of a feather. Popinjay, from the Middle French word papegai, is the original name for a parrot in English. The French word, in turn, came from the Arabic word for the bird, babghā’. Parrot, which English speakers adopted later, is probably a modification of the Middle French perroquet, which is also the source of the English parakeet. In the days of Middle English, parrots were rare and exotic, and it was quite a compliment to be called a popinjay after such a beautiful bird. But by the 1500s, parrots had become more commonplace, and their gaudy plumage and vulgar mimicry helped popinjay develop the pejorative sense we use today.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Robin Hood and the avenging bandido Murrieta, as well as novelist Baroness Orczy’s entirely fictional Scarlet Pimpernel, the secret identity of the British popinjay who saves French aristocrats from the Reign of Terror. Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2021 There was a tiny popinjay of a man with a Windsor knot and a pink tie. Rebecca Keegan, VanityFair.com, 21 Jan. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'popinjay.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English papejay parrot, from Middle French papegai, papejai, from Arabic babghā'

First Known Use

1528, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of popinjay was in 1528

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Cite this Entry

“Popinjay.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/popinjay. Accessed 9 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

popinjay

noun
pop·​in·​jay ˈpäp-ən-ˌjā How to pronounce popinjay (audio)
: a proud talkative thoughtless person

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