Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. See house martin.
  • n. Heraldry A representation of a bird without feet, used as a crest or bearing to indicate a fourth son.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A mythical bird, often used in heraldry, which possessed no feet.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The European house martin.
  • n. A bird without beak or feet; -- generally assumed to represent a martin. As a mark of cadency it denotes the fourth son.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The martin, a bird.
  • n. In heraldry, a bird represented with the wings closed and without feet, but often retaining the tufts of feathers which cover the thighs.

Etymologies

French martelet, from Martin, Saint Martin of Tours.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

Examples

  • I'll stay until the curlew calls and the martlet takes his wing.

    Music For Sting's Favorite Season

  • The "temple-haunting martlet" still makes an appearance, but only as a dead bird that Banquo, smiling inanely, calls attention to as he lifts it up from the pile of foodstuff being readied for the oven.

    In the Night Kitchen

  • As a card-carrying Shakespearean, I have called attention to the tiny detail of the temple-haunting martlet, but specialized knowledge is hardly required: in Goold's Macbeth we quickly sense the atmosphere of Stalinist Russia, with its pervasive paranoia, its inner circles of nervous, vulpine flatterers, its interrogation chambers and extorted confessions, its public rituals of adulation braided together with opportunism, fear, and hatred.

    In the Night Kitchen

  • In the winter time they had their taffety gowns of all colours, as above-named, and those lined with the rich furrings of hind-wolves, or speckled lynxes, black-spotted weasels, martlet skins of Calabria, sables, and other costly furs of an inestimable value.

    Five books of the lives, heroic deeds and sayings of Gargantua and his son Pantagruel

  • This old tower is a complete breeding-place for vagrant birds; the swallow and martlet abound in every chink and cranny, and circle about it the whole day long; while at night, when all other birds have gone to rest, the moping owl comes out of its lurking-place, and utters its boding cry from the battlements.

    The Alhambra

  • The swallow and martlet abound in every chink and cranny, and circle about it the whole day long; while at night, when all other birds have gone to rest, the moping owl comes out of its lurking place and utters its boding cry from the battlements.

    Journeys Through Bookland, Vol. 8

  • With a fine disregard of both ornithology and heraldry these birds have often been spoken of as martlets -- the martlet appearing in the Byrd coat of arms.

    Virginia: the Old Dominion

  • Gates of wrought iron, with perhaps a martlet from the Byrd coat of arms above them, swung between tall pillars in the wall.

    Virginia: the Old Dominion

  • Nor was it the figure stooping at the table-edge with a hand reached for the light that caught his gaze, it was the gleam of that light clear upon a signet ring, and Villon's phrase rang in his ears -- "A martlet with three mullets in chief."

    The Justice of the King

  • The hedge-side beggar boasts a crest, Monsieur La Mothe: a martlet with three mullets in chief.

    The Justice of the King

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  • "I'm not one of those side-whiskered dandies, high-waisted and well favord, who warble their love like martlets and chirp about the future."
    The Last Rendezvous by Anne Plantagenet, translated by Willard Wood, p 11

    June 5, 2010