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Cuckoo

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A cuckold. The cuckoo occupies the nest and eats the eggs of other birds; and Dr. Johnson says “it was usual to alarm a husband at the approach of an adulterer by calling out ‘Cuckoo,ʹ which by mistake was applied in time to the person warned.” Green calls the cuckoo “the cuckold’s quirister” (Quip for an Upstart Courtier, 1620). This is an instance of how words get in time perverted from their original meaning. The Romans used to call an adulterer a “cuckoo,” as “Te cuć ulum uxor ex lustris rapit” (Plautus: Asinaria, v. 3), and the allusion was simple and correct; but Dr. Johnson’s explanation will hardly satisfy anyone for the modern perversion of the word.

“The cuckoo, then, on every three,

Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo!

Cuckoo ! cuckoo ! O word of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear !”


Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost, v. 2.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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Cry Wolf
Crystal Hills
Crystalline
Cub
Cuba
Cube
Cucking-stool (The)
Cuckold
Cuckold King (The)
Cuckold’s Point
Cuckoo
Cuckoo (A)
Cuckoo Oats and Woodcock Hay
Cuckoo - Spit
Cucumber Time
Cuddy
Cudgel One’s Brains (To)
Cudgels
Cue
Cuffy
Cui bono?