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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 17 23:25:43 UTC 2023

I'm with Ben.  I've watched this cartoon a number of times over the
decades, and it's never occurred to me that "give him the bird" might
refer to anything other than verbal abuse of the "You can kiss my
ass!" variety.

The usu. phrase is usually *flip* the bird.  It may well be that
speakers ca1940 associated "give the bird" with the gesture rather
than with ridicule, but I've not seen the phrase used early in
contexts where that interpretation was unambiguous.

To "give somebody the bird" was still current, in the verbal sense, in
the '50s and early '60s. I first heard the unambiguous "flip the bird"
in 1974 or '75. Before that, in my limited experience at least, the
phrase was "give somebody the finger."


On Fri, Feb 17, 2023 at 12:39 PM Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> Far be it from me to feign expertise on obscene cat disdain displays, but I note that the cat at the base of the ladder does quite emphaticlly--and synchronized with the words--gesture with atypical cat digits, albeit two (of four)—twice.
> sg
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Friday, February 17, 2023 12:23 PM
> Subject: Re: Antedating of Bird (Obscene Gesture)
> The cartoon is here (with the dialogue in question at 1:37):
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYR8wSmbk9w__;!!OToaGQ!spjLwTWgR_c4p8-An7rotV5c1R7tKeIsaeHb0-uTuuuKH6K1KW0jHudYhuQy6imLiz5VmKkTxtU6vZ-R$
> 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).
> --bgz
> 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
> >
> >
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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