While “just looking” in a gift shop, do you oftentimes see things that you think a friend or family member would enjoy? I’ll think, “that’s perfect for them,” but usually it’s too
expensive to buy unless there’s a good reason, like a wedding or birthday. Well, I was cruising through a shop recently, and came to an attractively arranged grouping on backyard birds and among the beautiful items was a small plaque that read, “This House Is For The Birds.” It was nearly time for someone special in my life to celebrate a birthday, so I bought it for her. ( It wasn’t expensive.)
I knew what was written on the front of the plaque was a “play on” an old saying I had grown- up with, but I didn’t give any further thought to this until after I had given the gift away. It was rather late, but I decided to do some research on the meaning of the idiom, “It’s For The Birds,” and I found that it had negative connotations. Actually I knew that, before I bought this plaque, but I thought the meaning had been turned around to be something positive.
Here are some examples of how the saying has been used. While watching a television program that is not to your liking, you may say, “That television program is “for the birds.” If you have a pair of shoes that hurt your feet, you might say, “This lousy pair of shoes is strictly for the birds.” Here’s an appropriate one, “Winter weather is “for the birds.” (The birds may not agree.)
In Ireland, it’s a polite way of saying someone is a little crazy. “That bloke is for the birds.” If something that’s being said is considered “for the birds,” that means it is useless or
pointless, of no importance, and that what’s being said no one cares because it means nothing. This certainly sounds like an insult to our feathered friends and now I’m wondering if when the person I gave the gift to hangs it in her house, visitors may think it’s expressing her dissatisfaction with her home? Life gets complicated, doesn’t it? What would you read into the saying? To me it means that bird lovers reside there.
One definition of the saying got rather vulgar when it is explained that it refers to the time when the streets of New York City were covered with horse droppings and the birds ate the undigested oats from them. Maybe the saying goes back even further than the horse drawn carriage days, all the way to Bible times because in Isaiah 18:6 we read about pruning away unproductive shoots from plants and trees and that they would be left “for the birds.” This analogy is a prophecy against Cush and a description of that nation’s defeat.
Has gift giving become complicated these days? Do many writings have a second meaning? I think they do. I have had to watch what I post on face book because what seems to have a perfectly harmless meaning, does not. I wonder if I may have been better off with a gift that said, “Birds of a Feather Flock Together,” or “A Little Birdie Told Me.” Maybe this one would have been a better choice: “A Bird In The Hand is Worth More Than A Bird In The Bush.” There’s nothing negative about that saying. I surely would have been safe with one that simply reads, “Love Birds.”
I haven’t told you to whom I gave this gift and she has no idea that I’m having second thoughts about giving it to her. Some of you may have already guessed who this person is. I hope you’ll write and let me know. The thought just occurred to me that maybe this person should hang her new plaque on the bird house in her back yard. There, “This House Is For The Birds” plaque would not be misconstrued.
I’m waiting to hear from you. Do you struggle over gift giving or phrases that have a second meaning? To make a comment on Shirl and You, click on the headline of this writing, then scroll down to the bottom where there is a box where you may type your comment.