Newspapers and magpies

Magpie reading a newspaper

What’s the connection between newspapers and magpies?

Well, apparently the first newspapers published in Venice and were known as gazeta de la novità and cost one gazeta (Venetian) or gazzetta (Italian), a small coin which had a picture of a magpie on it. A magpie is gazza in Italian and the name of the coin is a diminutive form of that name. Another possibility is that the newspaper was named after the magpie, a bird renowned for chattering.

The word gazette was first used in English in 1665 for a newspaper published in Oxford [source].

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Italian, Language, Words and phrases.

6 Responses to Newspapers and magpies

  1. CuConnacht says:

    Is there any possibility that gazeta derives from the magpie’s habit of collecting miscellaneous objects (which is at the heaart of the Rossini opera La Gazza Ladra, The Thieving Magpie)? There are those who believe that that is why a pie (pastry filled with a hodgepodge of ingredients) is a pie.

  2. CuConnacht says:

    I meant to add that that would make the samantics of “gazette” similar to those of “magazine”, originally = arsenal, storehouse, and hence miscellany.

  3. David Eger says:

    The Latvian word for ‘magpie’ is ‘žagata’ – presumably imitative of its chattering, and also not that far removed from ‘gazza’ and ‘gazzetta’.

    The Latvian word for ‘cuckoo’, on the other hand (which, in most European languages, has a name that echoes its sound – ‘coucou’, ‘kuckuck’ etc.) is ‘dzeguze’

  4. d.m.falk says:

    The first printed newspapers actually were Chinese in origin, 13th or 14th Centuries, although the Romans did have a hand-scribed daily broadsheet within a few decades before the Common Era.

    The first European periodicals were in fact printed bound books- journals/magazines- as early as the 1560s, by none other than Gutenberg himself.

    The first European newspapers would evolve into such by the very early 17th Century. The earliest (printed) daily was by the 1670s, and English in origin, if I’m not mistaken.

    But at least a nice etymology of the word “gazette”.

    (a collector of newspapers from around the world, in any language, whenever I get the chance…)

  5. Chris Miller says:

    Yes, just this etymology was dug up many years back by someone at the Montreal Gazette, the English-language newspaper in Montreal.

  6. Alan says:

    And just to complicate things further — the latin for a magpie is pica, which is a size of printing type (after an ecclesiastical book called a pica)

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