I did a lot, and I do mean a lot, of writing about idioms and colloquial phrases. I never did think of researching the origin of ‘for the birds.’ We find the phrase’s origin in America. What originated as US Army slang, the idiom was first publically used by Sergeant Buck Erickson in a 1944 interview in The Lowell Sun. In the interview, Erickson, in response to Army football and the much anticipated “Game of the Century” (the now infamous Army vs Navy game), said, “…this belief that we have football at Camp Ellis solely for the entertainment of the personnel – that’s strictly for the birds.” This idiom is the less vulgar version of ‘that sh*t is for the birds,’ which refers to small birds pecking at horse poop (also known as road apples) on cart paths for seeds.
That idiom was most definitely not used as a setup for the following story, but it did make me think about the similarities and differences between birds. The adage that Benjamin Franklin wanted the national bird to be a turkey is not necessarily accurate or necessarily false (the rumor started in 1784 when he wrote his daughter about the eagle in the symbol looking like a turkey and argued the moral character of an actual eagle vs the turkey being a brave bird who is native to America). Sadly that was a slight fowl fabrication, but we find another Avis adage, that shows the honor and devotion of geese, is absolutely true. As the story goes, if a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese will drop out of formation with the goose. The geese will protect and help the sick goose until it can fly or dies. So not only will a goose mourn in seclusion if its mate dies, never mating with another goose, but geese have a protective instinct and devotion to members of their flock.
If a goose can be a motivator, protector, and helper to someone in need, why can’t we? Take from that adage what you will because this one is definitely not ‘for the birds.
Army-Navy Game image accredited to UM Libraries, Special Collections, News American Photo. 1944 Army-Navy Game in Baltimore, Md. Sometimes called the Gray Phantom of West Point, Glenn Davis #41, is shown again on the prowl, this time for only 4 yards against Navy in the Stadium. Right on Glenn’s heels in Navy’s Bill baron #21, with John Coppedge #60, Navy Tackle, in the background. Navy lost to Army 23-7. Fair Use.
Turkey seal image by Artist Anatole Kovarsky’s image from the cover from the November 24, 1962 issue of The New Yorker, Fair Use.
Canada geese in flight, Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary by Muffet – flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416451