Feathered phrases: how birds influence the way we speak and think
While walking our dogs, years ago, my partner Liz said, “You walk pigeon’s feet.” It was the first and last time she said that.
A few weeks ago, on my way to the pool, I looked at my feet, concentrating on my walk. Dang, all of that, she’s right.
I walked in with Nelly Furtado’s song in my head. You know, “I’m like a bird, I want to fly away.” I thought, what a coincidence. I too am like a bird – a pigeon with crow’s feet.
I told my pool friends about the bird’s words and my revelation on my pigeon toes. Immediately the bird-isms flew out of their mouths: the early riser, the bird in his hand, the birds of a feather, and the wise old owl. I was intrigued. Such a small creature with so many words associated with them.
Birdwatcher is not a word that applies to me, and although I have binoculars, I primarily use them for neighborhood watch. There are times, however, when I will stop and watch robins pecking plump, juicy worms.
When what I’ll call the real housewives of Crow City gather above the lines and start croaking and cooing and clicking, which I wouldn’t give to understand them. Undoubtedly, some fine feathered friends have their feathers ruffled.
Yes i thought i could fly
Did you hear the one about the seven year old girl who thought she could fly? Don’t worry if you haven’t: it was me.
Our family lived in Thompson, Manitoba, and I ran so fast over a gravel-covered playground that I swear I was flying. It was my first and last flight.
A few years later, still in Thompson, we had a cornflower blue parakeet named Jeannie. On a hot day, with the apartment windows open, she took flight and blew the henhouse up.
We were inconsolable and ran like chickens with our heads cut off.
I still dream of Jeannie and imagine her facing the nasty winters of Thompson wearing a Hudson’s Bay coat and rubbing her little frozen claws together to keep warm.
I killed a mockingbird in grade 7 and learned a folk dance called Tennessee Wig Walk in physical education. I still know the words. “I am a bow-legged chicken and a kneeling hen.”
In 1974, a seagull named Jonathan Livingston taught me that the biggest obstacle in my life was… me: “All the events of your life are there because you brought them there. What you choose to do with it is up to you.
I sobbed so much over the death of this little bird, it’s no wonder I have crow’s feet.
My math skills are for birds. However, my aunt calls me a magpie because I like shiny things and I have them everywhere.
And you? Do you eat like a bird, are you happy like a lark, or crazy like a loon or, maybe, a night owl, like my friend Noreen?
What is it that attracts us so much about these warm-blooded, feathered, egg-laying vertebrates with horny beaks and scaly feet?
Mother Nature says, and I’m paraphrasing, that they help fight pests, pollinate plants, and spread the seeds that help us nourish ourselves. Seagulls keep coral reefs alive and Scavenger Vultures – which have such a bad reputation – provide a cleaning service for the ecosystem.
Birds are like thermometers for nature. They react quickly to changes in the environment and scientists study birds because they are early warning systems.
Remember the proverbial canary in the coal mine? The first coal mines did not have a ventilation system. The miners would bring a caged canary underground. Canaries are sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide and could detect even the smallest accumulations of gas.
If the canary remained on the perch singing, the air supply was safe. When the bird has fallen from its perch, it is time for you to run for your life.
There are like more than 10,000 species of birds, of all shapes, sizes, colors and differences.
Maybe that’s why there are so many sayings, metaphors, comparisons, idioms and, yes, fun facts. Many of these phrases have influenced not only the way we speak, but also perceive and think.
Did you know that pigeons have been used for millennia to report the results of the Olympic games. Today we are using tweets!
I feel the need to quote Bobby Day’s wisdom here:
“Tweedle-lee-dee-dee-dee, tweedle-lee-dee-dee / Tweedle-lee-dee-dee-dee, tweedle-lee-dee-dee
Tweedle-lee-dee-dee-dee, tweedle-lee-dee-dee / Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet. “
A few tips before we finish: don’t count your hens before they hatch, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and go ahead, fly like an eagle!
Next time in the pool, maybe the conversation – and the words – will turn to fish.
Read more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador