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WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

One for sorrow, two for joy,

Three for a girl, four for a boy,

Five for silver, six for gold,

Seven for a secret that must never be told.


Other birds collect twigs for their nests. Magpies collect jewels for theirs.


Magpies. Black and white birds that feature in a lot of stories. There are also a number of superstitions surrounding magpies (especially in the British Isles) related to warding off the bad luck of a lone magpie. Some superstitions are quick and only require a simple salute while others a bit more eccentric involving pinching, spitting or saying certain phrases.

Magpies are particularly noted for thieving tendencies and, as the rhyme indicates, for predicting the future. (This leads to a flock of magpies being a "tidings of magpies".) Because they can't appraise value, they tend to be indiscriminate in their thefts; a collector who gets both valuable and cheap things may be compared to one for that reason.

Magpies are members of the corvid family and relatives of Ravens and Crows, both in Real Life and as tropes. (The rhyme (in all its manifold variations) is also used for crows, on occasion.)

One popular All Is Well That Ends Well Happy Ending is for accusations of theft to be cleared up by the revelation that a magpie stole the item in question.

Examples of One for Sorrow, Two For Joy include:

Comic Books


 Delirium, in The Wake: One for sorrow, two for sorrow, three for sorrow, four for for for I don't know. But I'm bored of sorrow, five for three two one, six for gold, seven for a magpie who tells me where to go...

    • In the earlier story "Parliment of Rooks", Eve sings the rhyme while holding the infant Daniel. Abel finishes with the last line, then adds, "It's true, you know."
  • In The Castafiore Emerald, Tintin has a Eureka Moment when he hears that Castafiore, still missing her emerald, will be performing in La Gazza Ladra (the Rossini opera mentioned below). Sure enough, he finds the emerald in a magpie's nest.
  • A minor Batman villain was named Magpie for her kleptomania and the unfortunate birth name Margaret Pye.
  • In The Crow, the rhyme is referenced (with blackbirds in the place of magpies) by Eric as he prepares to kill a bar full of thugs, and capped with a classic line.

 Eric Draven: Seven blackbirds in a tree, count them and see what they be. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret that's never been told. You're all going to die.

    • Ashe Corven of the movie The Crow: City of Angels references this rhyme as well as he's trashing the bad guys of a strip booth establishment where his second target is, using crows in place of magpies.


  • The Windex cleaning spray commercials prominently feature magpies.



  Luxord: [using two dice, but mentions magpies] "Two is for fresh luck, while three starts the play. Four means start running, five means you stay. Six earns you silver, seven earns gold. Eight for new allies, nine for the old. Ten wins good fortune, eleven risks all — but twelve wins the match and there, stops the ball." (and when asked about one) "One is for sorrow, because it's always alone."


 One is for Sorrow.

Two is for Mirth.

Three is for a Funeral.

Four is for a Birth.

Five is for Heaven.

Six is for Hell.

Seven's for the Devil himself.




  • Several versions of the rhyme occur in Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum. It's explained that none of them work very well, because nobody knows the version the magpies use. Also, the "modern" vampires of that book shape-shift into magpies rather than bats, which is a pun on their family name (de Magpyr).
    • One of the peripheral Discworld books (I think it might have been an art collection) also has Pterry bemoan the fact that Britain used to have hundreds of regional variations on this rhyme, but nowadays if you ask anyone they'll all give you the version from Magpie.
      • He bemoans this state of affairs in "The Folklore of Discworld," but happily he got to know the book's co-writer, Jacqueline Simpson, because she answered "which one?" to the question "do you know the magpie song."
  • There's a book called One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, by Clive Woodall, about more-or-less-anthropomorphic birds. It's a little like Watership Down, but with birds. The villains are magpies.
  • Tom McCaughren's Run with the Wind series about a group of Irish foxes has a flock of magpies as minor villains.
  • One non-speaking Magpie appears briefly towards the conclusion of Kenneth Oppel's book Silverwing, curiously investigating the recently lightning-struck villainous vampire bat, Goth; he's promptly killed and eaten when Goth comes to.
  • A magpie literally named One For Sorrow appears as an assistant to and messenger of the guardian of the old animal highways in The Wild Road. You can pretty much guess what happens to him based on his name.
  • The Mercedes Lackey story "Counting Crows" has a different version: "One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for a birth", IIRC.
  • Daniel Handler's Adverbs features magpies throughout. In one story, a magpie steals a lost diamond from Handler's actual life and delivers it to a story written by another author entirely. He's a fairly odd bird himself.
  • The beginning of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival compares the unsteady man, in whom good and evil are mixed, to a magpie, which is half black, half white.
  • Spike in the nonfiction work Corvus: A Life With Birds, whom the writer portrays as a bit of a small, feathered Chaotic Neutral Loveable Rogue.
  • Star In The Storm by Joan Hiatt Harlow uses "One for sadness, two for mirth; three for marriage, four for birth; five for laughing, six for crying; seven for sickness, eight for dying; nine for silver, ten for gold; eleven for a secret that will never be told."
  • In Michael Flynn's In the Lion's Mouth, Shadows' subordinates, in black and white, are called magpies. When one is always in Donovan's line-of-sight, he feels uneasy, knowing the old Terran belief that a single magpie is bad luck.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales, one of the tales after The Lord of the Rings includes going through Saruman's tower and discovering he had become not a dragon but a magpie with what he hoarded. They still find a treasure there.

Live Action TV

  • Magpie was the name of a kids' TV show on ITV in the 1970s (which was pretty much a Blue Peter lookalike). The theme tune used a version of the rhyme as its lyrics, and the show's mascot was a cartoon magpie named Murgatroyd, who looked too fat to fly.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", the Slitheen Margaret Blaine described the Doctor as having a "magpie mind", i.e. one that's always collecting bits of information.
  • Richard Hammond on Top Gear once went on about how dangerous Magpies are while driving, because of all the gestures you have to preform. Seems Hammond got a bit confused, and rather than picking one of the many variations to ward off bad luck, chose them all.

Music and Sound Effects

  • The rhyme itself appears in the song "A Murder of One" by Counting Crows. As corvids, magpies are part of a family of birds known as crows. The rhyme is also the origin of the band's name.
  • Seanan McGuire's Filk Song "Counting Crows" opens with a version of the rhyme, and continues on the theme. Chorus:

 In mercy's shadow, nothing grows./And she's running hard now, counting crows.

  • Similarly, Vixy and Tony's Filk Song Thirteen asks what happens when there are more than seven:

 Count my brothers and count my sisters, we'll tell your fortune and we'll tell you true/But the path's all covered in claws and feathers, Magpie, there's too many of you...

  • A magpie appears in the artwork to some early albums by Marillion, and is referred to in the lyrics of Misplaced Childhood. One of the band's live albums is titled La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) after the Rossini opera (see below).
  • Patrick Wolf has a song that quotes the aforementioned rhyme as the last stanza. Unsurprisingly the song itself is named Magpie
  • "Two Magpies" off of Paul McCartney's album Electric Arguments features lines from the rhyme. Unsurprisingly, it's extremely catchy.

Opera and Theater

  • In Rossini's Thieving Magpie, the charges of theft against a servant girl are resolved when they discover a magpie stole it.

Oral Tradition

  • The famous rhyme, with many variations. (Sometimes quoted for Ravens and Crows — but chiefly magpies.)
    • '-eight's a wish, and nine a kiss; ten is a bird you must not miss.'
    • ... eight for heaven, nine for hell, And ten for the devil's own sel'.
    • "One for sorrow, two for mirth / three for a wedding, four for a birth"
    • "...eight for a letter over the sea, nine for a lover, as true as can be."
    • "five for England, six for France / seven for a fiddler, eight for a dance."

Tabletop Games

  • Magic: The Gathering has a "Thieving Magpie" card; whenever it deals damage to an opponent, you get to draw a card (representing something that the magpie picked up).
  • The "Freedom City" setting for Mutants and Masterminds has a Gentleman Thief named Magpie who can teleport, but never would he teleport into a building-- he savors the challenge of breaking in the hard way. His power is used only for last-second escapes, and even then only if he can't vanish any other way.
  • Both normal and giant magpies were described in the Creature Catalog, a monster book for Basic/Expert/etc D&D. Their stats made them weak in combat, but excellent filchers of unattended shiny objects; in effect, they were a potential hook for the DM to lure parties into other encounters, by having a magic item snatched up by this trope's embodiment and forcing them to pursue it.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Of course, there's Heckle and Jeckle, two wise-cracking magpies who, by trait, con their way into getting whatever they need. They also make life miserable for two dogs, a lugubrious bloodhound (Dimwit) and a tough bulldog (unofficially named Chesty).