yardbird; snuffy

Jim Parish jparish at SIUE.EDU
Fri Jun 20 16:18:57 UTC 2014

Laurence Horn wrote:
> Were the Yardbirds, a rock band (or maybe it was still rock 'n' roll back then) that variously included Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, named for this meaning of the word, I wonder? They weren't ex-servicemen as far as I know, but they were part of the British Invasion.
> LH

Wikipedia sez:
"[T]hey settled on the Yardbirds, which was both an expression for hobos
hanging around rail yards waiting for
a train and also a reference to the jazz saxophonist Charlies "Yardbird"

Jim Parish

> On Jun 20, 2014, at 10:44 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> OED:
>> *"Mil.* A recruit, a newly-enlisted serviceman; also, a serviceman under
>> discipline for a misdemeanour; one assigned to menial tasks. Also
>> *transf."*First
>> ex.: (late) 1941.
>> What the OED misses is that the word was introduced to the nation - though
>> perhaps not actually coined - by cartoonist Billy ("Heebie-Jeebies") De
>> Beck in his syndicated strip "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith" for Nov. 16,
>> 1940.
>> In the Nov. 2 strip, Snuffy Smith decided to join the army (San Antonio
>> Light, p. 12 [NewspArch].  After two weeks of various misadventures, he was
>> in.
>> The earliest appearance of "yardbird" in the strip (or anywhere in this
>> sense):
>> 1940 *San Antonio Light* (Nov. 16) 12: BARNEY GOOGLE AND SNUFFY SMITH …
>> Okay, Smith – you’re a first-class “YARD BIRD”  one rank below a buck
>> private - good luck.
>> In strips to come, DeBeck would apply the word to Smith many times.
>> The word had escaped from the strip by Nov. 28:
>> *1940* *Kerrville* [Tex.] *Mountain Sun* (Nov. 28) 11 [NewspArch:  Sergeant
>> Fuzzy Swayze in charge of the supply room, Jimmy [?K]orn, the “yard bird”
>> lately recruited from the ranks of the clothing store employees, busy
>> fitting heavy brogans on some of the boys.
>> And within a few more weeks  the word was reported to be in wide use:
>> *1941* *San Antonio Light* (Jan. 12) III 7: Snuffy Smith’s rank of “yard
>> bird” which is a degree lower than “private” has been adopted by the new
>> recruits of Uncle’s army. In our last war, they used “rookie,” remember?
>> After that, exx. become frequent in the press and eventually elsewhere.
>> The obscure semantics of "yard bird" led to an early suggestion that it
>> came from West Point, where an "area bird" (not "yardbird") meant a cadet
>> sentenced to walk punishment tours around the "area."  Its repetition
>> accounts for the OED's belief that a "yardbird" could mean specifically "a
>> serviceman under discipline for a misdemeanour."  (The "menial" sense is
>> supported from Calude Brown's 1965 _Manchild in the Promised Land_ and
>> seemingly has nothing to do with the military.)
>> I suggest that a better overall definition would be: "a basic trainee in
>> the army or marine corps; (hence), an inept or troublesome enlisted man."
>> OED also lists later, non-military senses.
>> Why De Beck chose the term "yard bird" seems to be a mystery: perhaps he'd
>> picked it up from someone else.  ("Bird" of course was a period synonym of
>> "guy"). OED doesn't include the BE sense,"chicken." Nor does DARE.
>> "Snuffy," moreover, became an occasional USMC synonym for "yardbird":
>> undoubtedly in allusion to Snuffy Smith.
>> Just when and why Charlie Parker (1920 - 1955) was first called "Yard Bird"
>> appears to be another mystery:  http://www.birdlives.co.uk/content/yardbird
>> JL
>> --
>> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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