May 19, 2013

For the birds.

The phrase "for the birds" — originally, "strictly for the birds" (I guess the strictures broke down over time) — is defined by the (unlinkable) Oxford English Dictionary to mean "trivial, worthless; appealing only to gullible people." This isn't such an old expression, according to the OED, which finds its first print appearance in  J. D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," published in 1951: "‘Since 1888 we have been moulding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.’ Strictly for the birds."

But the 1957 book "American Speech" tells us about its use in speech, which goes back to 1942:
In 1942, when I entered the U.S. Army..the disparaging term that's for the birds was in common use among officers and enlisted men... The metaphor alludes to birds eating droppings from horses and cattle.
So "for the birds" is a way of saying "shit"!

This is especially amazing to me this morning as I'm pursuing a bird theme this morning, but I'd gone off-theme in the previous post to talk about Maureen Dowd's column and encountered the expression "sad sack" and learned for the first time that it's a short version of the WWII military slang "sad sack of shit."

How many more common expressions have a hidden shit theme dating back to World War II? If I encounter another one this morning by accident, it's going to feel cosmic. And don't tell me "cosmic" WWII slang for Coincidence Of Shit Metaphors In Combat.

44 comments:

rhhardin said...

Women in combat is about cleaning up the language.

The Drill SGT said...

well there is:

SOL

SOS

SHTF

edutcher said...

I think "American Speech" doesn't know what it's talking about.

People didn't swear that much in them thar days (I know, the military is different...).

That nonsense only began with the Free Speech movement in Berkeley (where else?) around 1960, but took really took hold when the feminists were bound and determined to prove they were womyn (as opposed to women) and not ladies (sure got that right).

pm317 said...

President IRRELEVANT for the birds or bird-brained.

The Drill SGT said...
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The Drill SGT said...

as an aircraft accident marker for probable pilot error, the utterance of "shit", "Merde", "Scheiss" occurs across multiple cultures and groups...

Ron said...

Chipped beef on toast was known as "Shit on a Shingle."

madAsHell said...

SOS

Shit On a Shingle!!

Which, according to my WWII veteran father, was a fried egg on toast!!

Eggs come from birds, and that sticks with the theme for the day!! WooHoo!!! We have closure!!

Ron said...

There's the old "40 pounds of shit in a 20 pound sack" to describe someone to fat for their clothes! WWII? Probably.

pm317 said...
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madAsHell said...

Hmmm....I see we have a different definition of SOS. But your definition violates the bird theme!!

Howard said...

Shitbird
(USMC)Derogatory name for a Marine that is not squared away in appearance or discipline.

"shit hot"
(US) Outstanding, hardcore, tactically proficient. For example, "Second platoon was looking shit hot today in the shoot house."

shithook
(US) CH-47 helicopter.

shitmate
(US Marines/US Navy) Derogative term used often by Marines when refering to Navy sailors.

shit on a shingle
(sometimes abbreviated S.O.S.) (US) Chipped beef on toast.

shit patrol
(US Army) Term used to describe being selected for latrine duty in the field or the practice of burning the buckets of shit, with diesel fuel, collected from the field latrines. To be selected means you have "shit patrol".

shit pump
or pump (Canada) A person who displays a poor attitude, meets the bare minimum standard, an overall bad soldier. "Bloggins is a real shit pump".

ricpic said...

I always opted for shit on a shingle at breakfast in the mess-hall. Very tasty it was, too. As long as you came to the table with an appetite Army food wasn't half bad. Contrary to the myth.

The Drill SGT said...

Howard,

a variant of "shit patrol" would be "shit detail" e.g. a nasty duty, as for example, "shit burning" which I had to do regularly as the low man on the totem at a Vietnam outpost. It consisted of pulling the half of a 55 gallon drum that was the lower part of an above ground outhouse, out of the frame. Pulling it downwind, filling the drum with overage napalm and igniting it to burn off some of the shit, toilet paper, and kill all the maggots (at least for a while).

Truly the shittiest job I ever had in the Army...

LarryK said...

The post about Maureen Dowd didn't go off the morning's bird theme - it just illustrated a bird-brain in action.

Mumpsimus said...

"Crock" (as in "What a crock!") stands for "crock of shit."

LarryK said...
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LarryK said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"Chipped beef on toast was known as "Shit on a Shingle.""

I know. I was just talking to Meade about how my mother — who was a WAC in WWII — served that for dinner many times — never calling it that, of course — and we loved it. She made it quite well, and it's a great way to make a satisfying hot dinner out of, basically, old bread.

There used to be these glass jars with pry-off lids containing rolled-up thin slices of dried beef. They were probably better than the "jerky" you buy in plastic bags nowadays.

You had to know how to make a good white sauce, and back then we all learned how to do that. It was, back then, also a key step in making macaroni and cheese. White sauce only has 3 ingredients: butter, flour, and milk.

But you toast the bread, shred up the dried beef slices, make white sauce, throw in the beef, and pour it on the bread.

This was a meal with 5 ingredients that you'd always have in the house.

You never ran out of milk, because milk was delivered to the house by a milkman. He could deliver butter too.

In fact, we also had a breadman who delivered bread.

So you'd always have those jars of beef and you'd always have flour.

You could always make that dinner.

It was great!!!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

You could always make that dinner.

It was great!!!


Ah. Comfort food. We had creamed tuna on toast. OR our current favorite..curried creamed eggs on toast, made with hard boiled eggs quartered in a cream sauce. Not fancy. Not gourmet but good and always available, not to mention inexpensive.

dreams said...

Snafu is not related to shit but is from Military slang. "Situation Normal: All Fucked Up".

dreams said...

SOS, I liked it too while I was in the Air Force.

Steve Koch said...

The acronym "snafu" originated in the military during WWII.

The Drill SGT said...

Dreams,

SNAFU was clearly WWII.

In Vietnam, it had morphed to FUBAR

Fouled Up, Beyond All Repair

Steve Koch said...

The acronym "snafu" originated in the military during WWII.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

You never ran out of milk, because milk was delivered to the house by a milkman. He could deliver butter too.

In fact, we also had a breadman who delivered bread.


We had the same thing. I think anybody in a fairly large metropolitan area did.

I know you didn't have Abbott's Dairies in Delaware, but how about Bond Bread?

wyo sis said...

I have almost those identical memories of chipped beef on toast.
My dad told us what SOS meant, to my Mom's dismay, but we were ranch kids and heard shit every day.
No one ever used the f word around us though.

The Drill SGT said...

wyo sis said...
but we were ranch kids and heard shit every day.
understatement? heard?

How about:
smelled
saw
walked through
shoveled

Rialby said...
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Rialby said...
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wyo sis said...

Yeah, all that.
My Dad always said cow shit smelled like money to him.

The Drill SGT said...

Understand. I was raised in rural Northern calif. I'm a Cal Aggie. My College dorm had the dairy on the West side, the sheep barns on the East, the Vet school bull barns to the South and 5000 DoE beagles to the North (you can't handle the truth :)

Cows will go up dorm stairs, but are afraid to come down stairs.

BaltoHvar said...

Not to be too scatologically pedantic - I did read on the 'tubes not long ago that the word most used in this post today is itself an acronym. Used as fertilizer, it was at one time shipped in wrapped bales. These bales were susceptible to destruction by water and therefor had S.H.I T. stenciled on the cloth wrapping.

Store High In Transit

Howard said...

The milk man, the Helm's Bakery man, the Fuller Brush man, the Ice Cream man etc. Half of baby-boomer kids were said to resemble at least one of these neighborhood service providers.

Howard said...

Drill Sgt:
I stayed in those aromatherapy dorms one summer weekend for an AAU swim meet. After that, I tore up my application to Davis and became a Gaucho.

Did the shit birds who got shitfaced and talked too much shit get the shit detail?

Chip Ahoy said...

The ground beef version of sos on toasted Wonder bread is truly shit.

Doesn't anybody ever think of putting grated cheese on that and setting it under the broiler? Do that with ham and you've got a croque-monseur (that's French for ham sandwich, or crunchy his, maybe Mister Crocodile).

wyo sis said...

Chip
How do you manage not to weigh 400 pounds?

Dr Weevil said...

Has Ann forgotten the other wonderful thing about those "glass jars with pry-off lids" that chipped beef came in? No matter how many kids in the family, mom never needed to buy orange juice glasses for breakfast.

Ann Althouse said...

Weev, did you also have Flintstones glasses from Welch's jelly jars?

AllenS said...

SOS was one of my favorite meals in the Army.

I also burned shit. To burn shit proficiently you must have a "shit stick". That way when you pour in the fuel oil, and stir it up, the shit will turn off faster.

ken in sc said...

Shit list—people the BMFWIC had a low opinion of.

GrandpaMark said...

Some of the comments here are full of ............interesting information

crosspatch said...

"Marine": The sound made when SHTF

Sad sack or sorry sack were used interchangeably when I was in the service.

I always learned that "for the birds" was a more polite way of saying "horse shit" and that the expression predates Catcher in the Rye as it was said by people who I am sure never read it at a time too shortly after publication to have been made a common cultural figure of speech. In fact, I remember seeing it some old film, don't remember if it was Three Stooges or Abbot and Costello but it was along those lines. Old black and white film from before WWII even, I think. I remember saying it to my grandmother and she got rather upset with me, I couldn't figure out why. Same thing with "horse feathers" which was another way of saying "horse shit" in a more polite way.

Others a "what a load" meaning "what a load of shit" and "shipload" morphing into "shitload" over time. It started out as "Hey, we just got a shipload of blankets! Who needs one?" But that eventually became "shitload".

From the German we got shithead from their Schei├čkopf but that one might have immigrated, not sure.

Q: Hey, sarge, how many whole bunches to a shitload?

A: Is that a metric shitload or an imperial shitload?


Xmas said...

Balto,

That sounds like a backronym to me. Shit has a long history and strong roots in the Germanic precursors to the English language.