[Ads-l] Antedating Naked as a Jaybird

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Tue Mar 8 20:58:28 UTC 2016


I wonder whether "naked as a jaybird" can be somehow related to "bald (pilled) as a coot," a traditional simile that reaches back as far as the fourteenth century.  The OED does record "naked" in the sense of 'not covered with hair' (A.2.b and B.2), though the usage seems never to have been especially common.  Besides, jays are not bald!  But then, they aren't naked either.  (Neither are coots--though "bald coot" designates a particular family of those birds. It would be inelegant to say "bald as a bald coot.")

I remember my little grandson, when he was about 3 years old, confusing similes and (other) metaphors, once exclaimed, fresh from the bathtub, "I'm a naked jaybird!"

The _Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs_ (1970), p. 553, also gives, from the nineteenth century, "Naked as a robin."

--Charlie

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From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 2:06 PM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: Antedating Naked as a Jaybird

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
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Subject:      Re: Antedating Naked as a Jaybird
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Great citations, Peter. Following your lead I've found the phrase
"naked as an unfledged bird" employed as a description for woods in
winter in 1822.

Date: October 26, 1822
Periodical: The Manchester Iris: A Literary and Scientific Miscellany
Article: A Christmas Visit
Start Page 305, Quote Page 306, Column 1
Printed and Published by Henry Smith, st. Ann's-Square
Database: Google Books

https://books.google.com/books?id=PDIFAAAAQAAJ&q=%22naked+as%22#v=snippet&

[Begin excerpt]
In process of time, the shades of evening coming on pretty fast, the
wind blowing horribly cold, our horses puffing and panting, and
ourselves moderately tired; after having passed through a country
diversified with hedges bare, ditches frozen over, woods as naked as
an unfledged bird, with here and there a few of the feathered tribe
hopping on the uninviting branches--after all these things, and a
great many more, such as whistling, and conversing together, we
arrived safe at the mansion of Squire Potter.
[End excerpt]

Garson


On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 1:34 PM, Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Peter Reitan <pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Antedating Naked as a Jaybird
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> I believe most sources date "naked as a jaybird" to about 1900.  I found a =
> couple earlier sources=2C the earliest one (1841) may answer the question a=
> bout why jaybirds are naked.
>
> "'He that steals my purse steals trash=2C' but he that filched from me my b=
> reeches=2C robbed me of that which may have enriched him=3B but which left =
> me as naked as an unfledged Jay bird."
>
> Lexington Union (Mississippi)=2C March 13=2C 1841=2C page 3. (Chronicling A=
> merica)
>
> An early example of the predecessor British expression=2C "naked as a robin=
> =2C" that seems to support the naked baby bird notion:
>
> "If Sir Thomas adhere to his doctrine=2C and if that doctrine be acted upon=
> =2C he will have the coat taken off his back=2C and will be left as naked a=
> s a robin two hours old . . ."
>
> Cobbett's Weekly Register=2C Volume 58=2C Number 6=2C May 6=2C 1826. (Hathi=
>  Trust).
>
> An earlier example=2C "I'll strip you naked as a robin" (Cobbett's Weekly R=
> egister=2C Volume 42=2C Number 1=2C April 6=2C 1822 (HathiTrust))=2C does n=
> ot refer to how young the bird was=2C but the other two seem to suggest tha=
> t "naked" was originally a reference to a young bird - not jaybirds (or rob=
> ins)=2C in general.  Also=2C a related turn of phrase=2C with a different b=
> ird=2C suggests the same thing:  "naked as a new hatched raven." Charles Wh=
> ite=2C The Cashmere Shawl=2C An Eastern Fiction=2C Volume 1=2C London=2C H.=
>  Colburn=2C 1840. (HathiTrust)
>
> Other examples here: http://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/03/perching-birds-and-n=
> udity-naked-truth.html
>
>
>
>
>
>
>                                           =
>
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