Thursday, November 30, 2006

Word of the day: Popinjay

A recent post on the blog Wonkette described Christopher Hitchens as a "drink-soaked popinjay." What on earth is a popinjay?

Merriam-Webster says it's a "a strutting supercilious person."

On the website World Wide Words, British writer Micheal Quinion says a popinjay is "A vain or conceited person, one given to pretentious displays."He continues:
This deeply insulting word is now rather dated or literary. A good example can be found in Joseph Conrad's short story "The End of the Tether" of 1902: "When he looked around in the club he saw only a lot of conceited popinjays too selfish to think of making a good woman happy".
The Best Western Popinjay Hotel in Scotland prefers a different meaning:
The Popinjay takes its name from an imaginary bird connected with 17th century May Day celebrations in the area and described by Sir Walter Scott in his book 'Old Morality.'
Most etymologies point to various words meaning parrot, like the Arabic babagha and the Middle English papejay.

As it turns out, the popinjay insult leveled at Hitchens didn't start with Wonkette -- it was "Gorgeous" George Galloway, the left-of-labour British MP from Scotland. Galloway, a stylish strutter himself, was appearing before a U.S. Senate sub-committee chaired by a cowering Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. But Gorgeous George had words for Hitchens before the main event. From the U.K. Guardian, a blow-by-blow:
Before the hearing began, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway in formed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. "And you're a drink-soaked ..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.
That was back in early 2005. For the record, Hitchens is from the U.K. too, and he was an outspoken lefty till a certain day in 2001, after which he has been rather neo-con-ish.

Shortly after hearing, Hitchens wrote about Galloway's remarks in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, pointing out that on the one hand, Galloway is known for his expensive tastes, but on the other hand, "Galloway says that the worst day of his entire life was the day the Soviet Union fell. His existence since that dreadful event has involved the pathetic search for an alternative fatherland." A perfect pretentious display from our little popinjay.

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