1 of 2
1
‘bird’, ‘chick’, and other slang for women
Posted: 20 July 2007 04:13 PM   [ Ignore ]
Rank
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2007-07-20

Hi.  Recently on Craigslist, someone asked about the origin of bird-related euphemisms for women, e.g., ‘chick’ (especially in the US) and ‘bird’ (especially in the UK).

Someone replied that the terms originated in WWII, when women became known as ‘canaries’ after working in factories and would get covered in yellow sulfur, (see: forums.craigslist.org/?act=Q&ID=68211180).

That etymology sounded rather suspicious to me, so I though I’d ask here.

I tried searching The List for ‘bird’ and ‘chick’ but no luck.

Thanks in advance.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2007 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  236
Joined  2007-02-23

Etymology Online has chick

first recorded 1927 (in “Elmer Gantry")

Perhaps someone will give an opinion of Etymology Online as a source for such information.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2007 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  282
Joined  2007-02-23

"Chick” = “[young] woman/girl” is cited from 1899 in HDAS. [Much older: “chick” = “child”.]

“Bird” = “young woman” is cited from 1838 in HDAS ... from 1848 in US!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 12:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  829
Joined  2007-03-01

Then there’s “hen”, which has been in use in NE England for quite a while. I suspect it is related to “honey” and “hinny” rather than being a bird-word, but it sounds like a bird-word, and if you’re used to hearing women called “hen”, then calling girls “chick” would be logical.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4752
Joined  2007-01-03

Chick has been a term of endearment for a child since the 14th century. My guess would be that this is the source of the modern slang, also probably influenced by hen.

Hen for woman dates to the 17th century.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2021
Joined  2007-02-19

In French, a common slang word for a female prostitute is grue, which also means “crane”. Perhaps there is a learned Francophone among us who could explain the association. I do not know if there is a parallel in any other language. Certainly not in Spanish.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  156
Joined  2007-02-15
lionello - 21 July 2007 11:48 AM

In French, a common slang word for a female prostitute is grue, which also means “crane”. Perhaps there is a learned Francophone among us who could explain the association. I do not know if there is a parallel in any other language. Certainly not in Spanish.

Hi L,

I have condensed this tranlsation of the lemma from the Online French Dictionary and removed the sources.

GRUE n, f [crane]
Etymol and hist 1. 1121-34 ornith.; 1544 ‘act like a crane’ [to stand waiting for a long time]; 1608 ‘to do the crane-foot’; 2a 1415 ‘grus’ [women of dubious habits]; 1858-66 ‘grue’; 2b 1466 [stupid person, easy to dupe].
Borrowed from vulgar latin ‘grua’ in sense 1; sense 2 comes from the prostitute waiting on one leg at the corner of the street, perhaps strengthened by the awkwardness of the bird.

There is another entry for the word meaning ‘crane’ as in lifting machine, but that is derived under influence from the Dutch word ‘kraan’.

On a different tack altogether, the old slang French term for penis is ‘oiseau’, meaning bird. Oddly enough. Means the same in old Italian (’uccello’).

[ Edited: 21 July 2007 01:16 PM by BlackGrey ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3507
Joined  2007-01-29

Nobody seems to be addressing the poster’s central question, which is:

Someone replied that the terms originated in WWII, when women became known as ‘canaries’ after working in factories and would get covered in yellow sulfur, (see: forums.craigslist.org/?act=Q&ID=68211180).

That etymology sounded rather suspicious to me, so I though I’d ask here.

That is indeed a typical urban-legend etymology, and you were right to come here.  We specialize in substituting good etymologies for bad!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 08:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  115
Joined  2007-02-24

Ah, there’s the nail.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2021
Joined  2007-02-19

Very interesting, BlackGrey. I would have thought there is an obvious connection between the bird and the lifting machine, because of the physical resemblance. Not only in French does “grue” also means a lifting machine; likewise, in Spanish, a mechanichal crane is “grua”, the bird “grulla”.

the old slang French term for penis is ‘oiseau’

A bubble rises from the murky bottom of Swamp Memory. On surfacing, it releases a term recalled from post-infancy days: “dicky-bird”

(spirit of present day mutters “ha-ha. i think you mean “dead duck”)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 July 2007 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2335
Joined  2007-01-30

Dicky-bird! Now there’s a term you don’t hear much any more. From my own morass a bubble arises buoyant with song, G&S in fact, “A poor little dicky-bird sat in a tree, Singing willow tit-willow tit-willow”.

Here’s OED, which also reminds me that dicky-bird is slang for word, ("Didn’t say a dicky-bird").

Dicky-bird, dickey-bird, colloq.

(DICKY, n.3)

1. a. In nursery and familiar speech: A little bird, such as a sparrow, robin, or canary-bird.
1781 H. WALPOLE Let. 2 Jan. (1904) XI. 354 The Sphinx was a harmless dicky-bird in comparison.

2. Rhyming slang for ‘word’. Also in shortened form dick(e)y.
1932 ‘P. P.’ Rhyming Slang 15 Word… Dicky bird.

Dicky, n.3

3. A small bird (also DICKY-BIRD).  a. A tame (caged) bird.  b. dial. The hedge-sparrow.
1851 Florist Nov., There was..dicky’s cage on its old nail.

[ Edited: 21 July 2007 10:16 PM by aldiboronti ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 November 2010 02:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3109
Joined  2007-02-26

("Didn’t say a dicky-bird").

So you might say, he didn’t say dick…

Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 November 2010 02:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2021
Joined  2007-02-19

Welcome, pseudo! your amiable posting comes like a breath of fresh air......and your observations are interesting. I can’t help wondering, though, where you got the suggestion that “Puss in Boots” means, well, a female who makes decisions.  This sounds like a latter-day feminist take to me.

I have always supposed THE Puss-in-Boots to be a male (knee-jerk male chauvinism, I guess). Your posting sent me (as many postings do) straight to Wikipedia, where what looks like a carefully researched and copiously documented article appears to confirm my supposition: Puss-in-Boots (Le Chat Botté) has been a male ever since his first apparition in print, with never any suggestion of his being less than intact, either. I don’t know, of course, about earlier incarnations of the clever cat, of which there appear to be quite a few.

Stick around. Wordorigins hath need of thee....while this is not (and never has been) anything remotely resembling a fen of stagnant waters, some people seem to have been getting on each other’s nerves a bit lately. Maybe it’s the shocking weather so many people have been experiencing, all round the world - there’s a whiff of apocalypse in the air, and a bit of amiability does not come amiss. As I said - stick around.

(totters off, muttering “haven’t I got Gawaine and the Green Knight somewhere? Might as well find out what it’s all about. Let’s look on that prominent shelf where (after artificially dog-earing and annotating them) I put the books that I hope people will look at and suppose I’ve actually read them, and am a cultivated sort of fellow”

Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 November 2010 02:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1370
Joined  2007-01-29

Wholeheartedly agreed!  You’re a reminder that knowledge doesn’t have to be divorced from humility and the ability to engage in dialogue, which is what we’re about here.

PS Hen is more Scottish than north east and pussy also means vagina (eg Mrs Slocombe’s pussy in “Are You Being Served?").

[ Edited: 29 November 2010 02:37 AM by ElizaD ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 November 2010 03:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4752
Joined  2007-01-03

Regarding bird/bride/burd, we’re looking at two, possibly three distinct words.

The modern bird comes to us from the Old English bridd, meaning a young bird, a chick (I’m not aware of any Old English slang meaning women). The phonetic swap is just old-fashioned metathesis—we even see birdas in some late OE sources.

Bride is from the OE bryd, which is also well attested, especially in poetry.

Burd is a bit of a mystery. It appears in early Middle English alliterative poetry, like Sir Gawain, especially that written in the north of England. It could come from either of the two Old English words. It has also been suggested, given the region, that the Danish cognate brud, “bride,” may be the origin rather than the Anglo-Saxon. Alternatively, it could come from Old English noun byrd, “birth, lineage” and its adjective byrde, “well-born,” suggesting a well-born lady. But these words are very rare, with only a handful of appearances in the extant corpus, while bridd and bryd appear over a hundred times each.

I’m not sure where you get the Old English pus = “girl.” Do you have a dictionary citation?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 November 2010 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  829
Joined  2007-03-01

FWIW, the story of Puss in Boots is one of the traditional British pantomime subjects, and in panto is unquestionably a male character. (That is, in accordance with the gender-bending tradition in panto Puss can be played by a male or female artist, but is always referred to as “he” and “him” and wears male costume (if any).

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1