[Ads-l] Antedating Naked as a Jaybird

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Mar 8 18:50:36 UTC 2016


> On Mar 8, 2016, at 1:34 PM, Peter Reitan <pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
> 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.

Is the presupposed allusion here to featherlessness?  Do new-hatched birds or fledgelings lack feathers?  (I grew up in NYC and, beyond pigeons, didn't the chance to do much bird-watching as a fledgeling myself.)  

LH

> 
> "'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: https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__esnpc.blogspot.com_2016_03_perching-2Dbirds-2Dand-2Dnudity-2Dnaked-2Dtruth.html&d=AwIFAw&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=i_xptZdRp9SdT3aY8glD5Bz5xTcjv-eig-5Dky5XNKA&s=zzAVpOGYZOhH0_hBb35DAWlm3DYn82OAXAukyVHh2RA&e= 
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