Category: Meaning of Words

My ‘bird’…

I asked my boyfriend to stop calling me his ‘bird’ when referring to me in conversation (mainly it makes me cringe because it makes him sound uneducated and maybe I’m a bit of a snob). He said he would stop, except a while later I heard him say it to his work colleague when he thought I was out of ear shot. We laughed when I caught him out, as it doesn’t really bother me, but should I really mind? I don’t really feel comfortable being likened to an animal, as if I’m his pet or something. One dictionary definition describes it as an offensive term for a young woman, but it didn’t give any further details.

It’s more the lack of individual identity that the word suggests that I find annoying. To call a woman in general a ‘bird’ is maybe not so offensive but since he does know my name it might be more polite to use it.

I tried to find out where this terminology for woman originates from. In the Second World War women who worked in the factories were nicknamed ‘canaries’ because of the yellow effect of the sulphur to their skin. But that’s not very affectionate, or relevant. Another interesting but largely irrelevant term I discovered was ‘grue’ which is an old slang term for prostitute in French, meaning ‘crane’ in English, and refers to the way the women would stand on one leg on street corners… (Not very affectionate either, and why did they only stand on one leg??)

So, looking in to the Old English language, it appears the modern word ‘bride’ comes from the old word ‘bryd’, which sounds a little more like ‘bird’. But I doubt there is any connection. 

Another possibility is the Old English noun ‘byrd’, meaning “birth, lineage” and its adjective byrde, “well-born,” suggesting a well-born lady. I’d like this to be connected to the modern usage as it is the most flattering but I highly doubt this link.

Apparently the slang term ‘bird’ meaning young woman has been used since 1915. Guess I’ll just have to let it go. As long as I’m something grand like an ostrich and definitely not a pigeon.

My theory is that when blokes were going out to have a bit of a perv on the women passing by they used code and said they were going bird watching(?) and then it just stuck.

Anyway, I decided to take the power back by making it my blog name and I’ve threatened to publicly embarrass him by using the word ‘dude’ if I hear him say it again.