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

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Sat Feb 18 02:42:26 UTC 2023

I can vouch for general use of 'flip the bird' in the upper Midwest (at 
least MN, WI, IA) 1969-73. 'Give the finger' was also in use at the time.

On 2/17/23 15:55, David Daniel wrote:
> Well, anecdotally speaking, I am quite sure that "flip the bird" was in use
> in the late 60s/early 70s. I say this because I left the United States in
> 1974, and at that time and for some time before, "flip the bird" had been in
> general usage, at least in Southern California.
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Antedating of Bird (Obscene Gesture)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
> 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."
> JL
> 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)=E2=80=94twice.
>> sg
>> ________________________________
>> 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=3DdYR8wSmb
>> k9w=
> __;!!OToaGQ!spjLwTWgR_c4p8-An7rotV5c1R7tKeIsaeHb0-uTuuuKH6K1KW0jHudYhuQy6im=
> Liz5VmKkTxtU6vZ-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, rathe=
> r
>> 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
>>> cartoo=
> n, 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
>>> lin=
> es
>>> reportedly were cut when the short aired on the WB
James Eric Lawson

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list