[Ads-l] antedating "birdbrain"

Tue Oct 27 19:47:55 UTC 2020

Here are some earlier examples from NewspaperArchive.  Birds on the whole are not thought to be of high intelligence, notwithstanding the well-merited reputations of ravens and crows and the less-merited reputation of owls, and “bird brain” seems to have been available as an insult for quite some time.

Goshen (Ind.) Democrat, Apr. 6, 1864:  “Where’s Copeland, who is receiving $3 to $5 per day from the public Treasury, employing meanwhile, his little chipping bird brain in calling old Democrats traitors, who voted for Jackson before he doffed his swaddling clothes?”

Eugene City Guard, Nov. 4, 1882:  “She had but just left the convent, with a little sentimentality in her frail bird-brain, with that awakening of a heart which beats without rhyme or reason – with that longing for the unknown which is indefinable, which tortures and makes circles about the great curious eyes of young girls.”

Danville (Ind.) Hendricks County Republican, Oct. 21, 1886:  “The article in the News was doubtless the work of the drunken imbecile, Eugene Field, whose column of “Sharps and Flats” in that paper attracted some attention two or three years ago – before the unfortunate creature had steeped his canary-bird-brain to the point of idiocy in Bucktown whiskey.”

As for Eugene Field, best remembered today as a writer of poetry for children, he was no imbecile, but apparently he did have a fondness for alcohol.

John Baker

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of ADSGarson O'Toole
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2020 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: antedating "birdbrain"

Excellent work, Bill. The popular author Kathleen Norris used "bird
brain" in a short story for "Cosmopolitan" published in 1923.

Date: May 1923
Periodical: Cosmopolitan
Story: The Guests of Honor
Author: Kathleen Norris
Start Page 31, Quote Page 34, Column 1
Database: Google Books


[Begin excerpt]
But she remembered with a faint inward chill that there had been a
rather insipid young man, who looked and danced like a professional
dancer, in close attendance upon the beautiful Mrs. Cruikshank at the
club last week, and that Mr. Cruikshank, being warmed with his meal,
had expressed himself with more honesty than tact about him.

"She's giving that bird-brain a run!" had been his way of putting it,
and Juliana remembered now that there was a hint of real resentment in
his words.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Oct 27, 2020 at 10:54 AM Bill Mullins <amcombill at hotmail.com<mailto:amcombill at hotmail.com>> wrote:
> 1925 _New York Times_ Oct 11 X2/1
> "What is the character portrayed by Miss Crews? A middle-aged actress retired to private life, after years upon the stage. A bird brain, utterly without mental processes, functioning entirely through the medium of the tawdry melodramas that have been her life."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org<http://www.americandialect.org>

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

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

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