View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.
Origin and usage
A nightingale was originally a ‘nightgale’, a word of Germanic origin meaning ‘night singer’. The extra syllable was added in the late 13th century.
This is the time of year when nightingales return to the UK from their winter stay in the warmer south. The first have already been seen, or more likely heard; because although when they arrive from their migratory journey they can sometimes be seen perching on the shrubby scrub that is their favoured habitat, nightingales typically sing from a hidden location late into the evening. While not as drab as some would have you believe, the nightingale outdoes all other birds in the beauty and variety of its song and it is for this that the nightingale is renowned and loved. Like many once-common birds, the nightingale is in trouble, numbers in the UK having plummeted over recent decades, partly at least due to loss of habitat. Nightingale is also a surname and was the name of probably the most famous nurse in history, Florence Nightingale. Her work with the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War helped revolutionize nursing practice, and her fame was such that for a long time a ‘Nightingale’ was another name for a nurse. The huge field hospitals that have been built in record time across the UK to help the NHS cope with the coronavirus pandemic are, fittingly, named after her.
“This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly;
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest’…”
(Thomas Hardy, Weathers)
blackbird, thrush, skylark
Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.
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