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Johnson: London Mayor a 'Popinjay'

"A strutting supercilious person"

Popinjay ruffled its feathers, cooed a few experimental notes of song, and then strutted its way to the top of our lookups on January 12th, 2018, on the tailwind of a tweet by the Foreign Secretary of Britain.

But Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended Trump, saying Khan and opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn were endangering relations between Washington and London.

"The U.S. is the biggest single investor in the U.K. — yet Khan & Corbyn seem determined to put this crucial relationship at risk," Johnson tweeted. "We will not allow U.S.-U.K. relations to be endangered by some puffed up pompous popinjay in City Hall.”
— Phil Helsel and Saphora Smith, NBC News (, 12 Jan. 2018

The most common definition of this word in modern English is “a strutting supercilious person.” But popinjay, which has been in English since the 14th century, has enjoyed a variety of other senses over the centuries. The word, the initial meaning of which in English was “parrot,” comes from the Arabic babghā’ (which has likely served as the root for the word for this bird in many other languages).

For the first several hundred years of its existence popinjay was employed to either refer to an actual parrot, a representation of such a bird in heraldry, or in a figurative sense to describe a person who resembled a parrot in beauty or rarity (as when John Lydgate wrote of the Virgin Mary in 1430, “O popinjay, plumed with al clennesse”).

By the 16th century, however, the connotations of popinjay leaned more toward “vulgar,” “showy,” and “repetitious, in the manner of a parrot.”

Sith you see mee in such plight, thinke not you that I prate like a Popiniay in a Cage. No, no: I am forced to speake from the heart.
— Jean Calvin, Sermons (trans. by Arthur Golding), 1574

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