- clay pigeon.
- a shuttlecock.
- disapproval, as of a performance, by hissing, booing, etc.: He got the bird when he came out on stage.
- scoffing or ridicule: He was trying to be serious, but we all gave him the bird.
- an obscene gesture of contempt made by raising the middle finger.
verb (used without object)
Origin of bird
- to be fired or dismissed
- (esp of a public performer) to be hissed at, booed, or derided
Word Origin for bird
Old English bird, rare collateral form of bridd, originally "young bird, nestling" (the usual Old English for "bird" being fugol), of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as "quite inadmissible." Metathesis of -r- and -i- was complete 15c.
Middle English, in which bird referred to various young animals and even human beings, may have preserved the original meaning of this word. Despite its early attestation, bridd is not necessarily the oldest form of bird. It is usually assumed that -ir- from -ri- arose by metathesis, but here, too, the Middle English form may go back to an ancient period. [Liberman]
Figurative sense of "secret source of information" is from 1540s. Bird dog (n.) attested from 1832, a gun dog used in hunting game birds; hence the verb (1941) meaning "to follow closely." Bird-watching attested from 1897. Bird's-eye view is from 1762. For the birds recorded from 1944, supposedly in allusion to birds eating from droppings of horses and cattle.
A byrde yn honde ys better than three yn the wode. [c.1530]
"middle finger held up in a rude gesture," slang derived from 1860s expression give the big bird "to hiss someone like a goose," kept alive in vaudeville slang with sense of "to greet someone with boos, hisses, and catcalls" (1922), transferred 1960s to the "up yours" hand gesture (the rigid finger representing the hypothetical object to be inserted) on notion of defiance and contempt. Gesture itself seems to be much older (the human anatomy section of a 12c. Latin bestiary in Cambridge describes the middle finger as that "by means of which the pursuit of dishonour is indicated").
A Closer Look: It is generally believed that birds are descended from dinosaurs and probably evolved from them during the Jurassic Period. While most paleontologists believe that birds evolved from a small dinosaur called the theropod, which in turn evolved from the thecodont, a reptile from the Triassic Period, other paleontologists believe that birds and dinosaurs both evolved from the thecodont. There are some who even consider the bird to be an actual dinosaur. According to this view, the bird is an avian dinosaur, and the older dinosaur a nonavian dinosaur. Although there are variations of thought on the exact evolution of birds, the similarities between birds and dinosaurs are striking and undeniable. Small meat-eating dinosaurs and primitive birds share about twenty characteristics that neither group shares with any other kind of animal; these include tubular bones, the position of the pelvis, the shape of the shoulder blades, a wishbone-shaped collarbone, and the structure of the eggs. Dinosaurs had scales, and birds have modified scales-their feathers-and scaly feet. Some dinosaurs also may have had feathers; a recently discovered fossil of a small dinosaur indicates that it had a featherlike covering. In fact, some primitive fossil birds and small meat-eating dinosaurs are so similar that it is difficult to tell them apart based on their skeletons alone.
bird in the hand
A benefit available now is more valuable than some possibly larger future benefit. For example, Bob thinks he might do better in a bigger firm, but his wife insists he should stay, saying a bird in the hand. This expression, which in full is A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, was an ancient Greek proverb. It was well known in English by about 1400 and has been repeated so frequently that it is often shortened.
In addition to the idioms beginning with bird
- bird has flown, the
- bird in the hand
- bird of passage
- birds and the bees, the
- birds of a feather (flock together)
- catbird seat
- early bird catches the worm
- eat like a bird
- for the birds
- free as a bird
- kill two birds with one stone
- little bird told me
- naked as a jaybird
- rare bird