Giving your football team the same nickname as a bird widely regarded as unlucky strikes me as rather odd. I always salute and say “Good morning Mr Magpie, how’s your wife?” when I see a single one and am unaccountably relieved if I see a couple. The ‘bad’ conations of magpies had always puzzled me, because up close, they’re really rather beautiful, with blues and greens glinting among the black parts of their plumage.
It seems the superstition stems from a belief that the magpie refused to enter Noah’s Ark, and later, refused to wear mourning at the crucifixion. The Scottish tradition has it that magpies carry a drop of Satan’s blood under their tongues.
Along with the stems of superstitions, we have lost the meaning behind some of our more colourful phrases. I thought that grinning like a Cheshire Cat was a Lewis Carroll invention, but it’s not. His contemporaries would have known that Cheshire cheese was often made in moulds shaped like grinning cats.
I like the fact we call hair bands Alice bands; I like the fact that Wendy wasn’t a name until it appeared in Peter Pan. I wonder if any current children’s literary inventions will last for generations? Anyone for Quidditch and the Hogwart’s Express, or do you prefer daemons and armour-clad polar bears?