An etymological slice of “pie”

It’s National Pie Day, according to the internet powers that be. Well, we have to treat ourselves to just a little etymological slice of pie, don’t we?

Mmm…pie. (Pixabay)

A “mixed” metaphor?

The word pie comes out of the oven of Middle English, when the word named a savory dish, originally of meat or fish, covered with pastry. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) firsts attest pie in the 1301 occupational name, pieman (one, “Rogero Pyman”). Evidence for sweet pies, like the fruit-based apple or plum pies, are served up by the late 16th century. (For a taste of some pie expressions, Oxford Dictionaries has you covered.)

The ultimate etymology of pie is a secret recipe, as it were, but etymologists suspect a connection to pie, the older name for the magpie found in Old English. A lost bit of folklore may have lent the avian pie’s name to the food. Perhaps the mix of ingredients in pies were once likened to the spotted—as in the “medley” sense of pied or piebald—feathering of the magpie, or perhaps to the bird’s habit of collecting assorted objects in its nest.

Some word sleuths have similarly supposed the Scottish haggis takes its name from the Old French agace, “magpie,” which extended to “minced meat” on account of the bird’s miscellany.

Via French, the pie in magpie comes from the Latin pica, meaning “magpie” and feminine form of picus, a “woodpecker.” Scholars have offered yet older roots in an Indo-European root denoting “pointedness,” possibly related to words like pick and pike, but it might just be sound symbolism at play in the end.

And speaking of sound, the mag in magpie (1590s) is said to derive from pet-forms of Margaret, a proverbial (and sexist) stand-in for idle chatter. This connection is on account of the bird’s noted twittering.

There is also Latin record of pia and pica in reference to “pie” and “pastry,” but its relationship to the English pie is unclear. Unclear and unknown the etymology of pie may be, but it’s no less the scrumptious for it.

m ∫ r ∫

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…to have with my pie, of course. 


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