"hedge in the cuckoo"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Sep 8 16:31:20 UTC 2013

The English tradition of the village of fools -- Gotham, taken by
Washington Irving and applied to NYC -- included the story that they
noticed that when the cuckoos left their nesting sites and flew off, summer
was over and winter was not far off.  So they build a fence around the tree
the cuckoo was nesting in, to make summer last.

As it happens, the European cuckoo doesn't build nests, but is a parasite
that lays eggs in the nests of other species.  So I may be remembering the
species of bird wrong here, or else the confusion over the cuckoo is
another sign of the folly of the Gothamites.  The ways of the cuckoo had
been noticed:
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.
     Love's Labors Lost
(The American cuckoos are birds of exemplary habits; our nest parasite is
the cow bird.)


On Sun, Sep 8, 2013 at 11:32 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> The phrase "hedge in the cuckoo" appears figuratively in two
> quotations in the OED:
> Under "cuckoo, n." sense 1.a.:
> 1652   W. Blith Eng. Improver Improved ii. 14   He..may as well make
> a hedge to keep in the Cuckow.
> And under "cordon, n.", sense 3.c. fig.:
> 1792   E. Burke Corr. (1844) IV. 21   They propose that all Europe
> shall form a cordon to hedge in the cuckoo.
> "Garrisons were here and there planted in the wild woods on a
> pretence, To keep the Indians from Fishing; which project of Hedging
> in the Cuckow's, our dull New-Englanders could not understand."
> I have no idea whether the expression should be called out as a
> separate item, nor under what main heading ("hedge" or "cuckoo").
> 1689 June 6.
> The Puritan Leaders Justify Their Actions.
> In The Glorious Revolution in America: Documents on the Colonial
> Crisis of 1689.
> Ed. Michael G Hall, Lawrence H. Leder, and Michael G. Kamman.
> Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1964.
> P. 49, col. 1.
> Cited to [W. H.] Whitmore, ed., Andros Tracts [Prince Society,
> Publications], II, 191--202.
> Joel
> ------------------------------**------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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