yardbird; snuffy

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 22 15:28:19 UTC 2014

They also had Jimmy Page.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Laurence Horn [laurence.horn at YALE.EDU]
Sent: Friday, June 20, 2014 12:11 PM
Subject: Re: yardbird; snuffy

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.


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

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