A genus of passerine birds comprising the wagtails; (also motacilla) a bird of this genus, a wagtail (now rare).
Valid publication of the genus name: Linnaeus Systema Naturae (ed. 10, 1758) I. 184. The Linnaean genus originally included a range of other small songbirds including chats, warblers, and wrens.
Mid 18th century; earliest use found in John Hill (bap. 1714, d. 1775), physician and actor. From scientific Latin Motacilla, genus name from classical Latin mōtacilla wagtail, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from mōtāre to keep moving, so called (according to Varro) because it moves or wags its tail.