Words: popinjay n. (derog.)

WHEN Camille Paglia last week described Jonathan Dimbleby as "the worst-prepared popinjay of a reporter I have ever encountered" she was uncaging an insult with a long and colourful history.

A popinjay was originally a parrot. Caxton wrote: "Ther ben popengayes, which ben grene and shynyng lyke pecoks".

The OED suggests that describing someone as a popinjay was, at that time: "in a eulogistic sense, in allusion to the beauty and rarity of the bird" though the examples cited smack of overweening pride.

Walter Scott wrote "as pert and proud as any popinjay", but Ms Paglia was perhaps thinking more of a line in Henry IV: "I then, all-smarting, with my wounds being cold, (To be so pestered with a Popingay)".