[Ads-l] Antedating of Bird (Obscene Gesture)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 17 17:23:53 UTC 2023

The cartoon is here (with the dialogue in question at 1:37):


Since Catstello doesn't make the gesture (or even gesture toward the
gesture), we don't definitively know what he's referring to. But since
"give (someone) the bird" previously meant "to express one's disapproval
vocally" (esp. in vaudeville usage), perhaps Catstello was implying that
the Hays Office wouldn't let him use rude *language* toward Babbit, rather
than rude finger-flipping (or whatever the feline equivalent would be).


On Fri, Feb 17, 2023 at 11:52 AM Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:

> The OED and HDAS have 1966 for the first use of "the international
> one-finger salute, the bird," and Green has 1959 for "flip the bird."
> There is an earlier use in the 1942 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon, A
> Tale of Two Kitties (best known as the debut of Tweety, although he was
> called Orson in this original outing).  The cartoon features two cats,
> Babbit and Catstello, that are looking for food and make the mistake of
> targeting Tweety.  At one point it includes the following dialogue:
> Babbit:  Give me the bird!  Give me the bird!
> Catstello:  If the Hays Office would only let me, I'd give him the bird
> all right.
> Apparently this joke did make it past the Hays Office, although the lines
> reportedly were cut when the short aired on the WB.
> John Baker

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list