[Ads-l] Antedating Naked as a Jaybird

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 8 18:34:00 UTC 2016

I believe most sources date "naked as a jaybird" to about 1900.  I found a couple earlier sources, the earliest one (1841) may answer the question about why jaybirds are naked.

"'He that steals my purse steals trash,' but he that filched from me my breeches, robbed me of that which may have enriched him; but which left me as naked as an unfledged Jay bird."

Lexington Union (Mississippi), March 13, 1841, page 3. (Chronicling America)

An early example of the predecessor British expression, "naked as a robin," that seems to support the naked baby bird notion:

"If Sir Thomas adhere to his doctrine, and if that doctrine be acted upon, he will have the coat taken off his back, and will be left as naked as a robin two hours old . . ."

Cobbett's Weekly Register, Volume 58, Number 6, May 6, 1826. (Hathi Trust).

An earlier example, "I'll strip you naked as a robin" (Cobbett's Weekly Register, Volume 42, Number 1, April 6, 1822 (HathiTrust)), does not refer to how young the bird was, but the other two seem to suggest that "naked" was originally a reference to a young bird - not jaybirds (or robins), in general.  Also, a related turn of phrase, with a different bird, suggests the same thing:  "naked as a new hatched raven." Charles White, The Cashmere Shawl, An Eastern Fiction, Volume 1, London, H. Colburn, 1840. (HathiTrust)

Other examples here: http://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/03/perching-birds-and-nudity-naked-truth.html

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

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