Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bird n.1

also birdie
[note first use of sense 1 c.1300, meaning a maiden or girl and not sl. until 1900 when it meant a sweetheart or a prostitute; imagery of sense 2a reflects the world of hunting; in sense 2b note WWI RN bird, a man continually in trouble]

1. as a symbol of femininity or, in men, weakness/effeminacy.

(a) [mid-16C+] (also bird of paradise, bird of youth, dickey-bird) a prostitute, a promiscuous woman.

(b) [mid-19C+] (also bird of paradise) a young woman, a girlfriend; a mistress.

(c) [late 19C] (US) an attractive (young) woman.

(d) [1920s+] (US) a male homosexual.

(e) [1950s–70s] (US black) an experienced, tough female prostitute.

(f) [1960s] used in sing. as generic for all women.

2. (orig. UK Und.) trapped, controlled, i.e. as a ‘bird in a cage’.

(a) [late 16C+] a confidence trickster’s victim.

(b) [17C+] a prisoner; thus a bird has flown, a prisoner has escaped; ext. as Bridewell bird, Newgate bird, penitentiary bird.

3. in fig. use, a person, esp. a suspect, an outsider, an eccentric.

(a) [late 16C+] a person, usu. male; a ‘bloke’; also as term of address (see cite 1879).

(b) [mid-19C] (US) a dissolute or degenerate person, ‘a fast man, woman or horse’ (R.H. Thornton, An Amer. Glossary, 1912); often ext. as perfect bird.

(c) [1910s–30s] (US) an animal.

(d) [1920s–70s] (Aus./US) an eccentric.

(e) [1930s–60s] (orig. US tramp) an outsider, an unconventional person.

4. [mid–late 19C] (US) as a representation of a bird, e.g. an American eagle on the dollar.

5. [late 19C] a UK sovereign, i.e. £1 (although neither face seems to show a bird).

6. (US campus) representative of good or bad qualities.

(a) [late 19C] (US) something unpleasant.

(b) [late 19C–1900s] a term of reproach.

(c) [late 19C+] (also dickey-bird) something or someone excellent or admirable; also as term of affectionate address (see cite 1890).

(d) [1910s] a failure.

7. [1930s+] (mainly US) an aircraft, esp. a helicopter, spacecraft, missile etc.

8. see dicky-bird n.1 (5)

In compounds

bird-shop (n.)

[1900s] (Aus.) a brothel.

In phrases

bird of the game (n.)

see separate entry.

bird it up (v.)

[2000s] to pursue women for sex.

catching the bird (n.)

[1930s+] (Aus.) picking up a woman while driving one’s car and then persuading her to agree to sex.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

birdbrain (n.) (also B.B.)

1. [1940s+] a fool; thus bird-brained adj., stupid.

2. [1950s+] as a term of address.

birdcage (n.)

see separate entry.

bird colonel (n.) [the silver eagles affixed to the uniform’s shoulders denote the rank]

[1940s+] (US) a full colonel in the US marines; thus light bird, a lieutenant-colonel; cite 2006 refers to police.

birdcrap (n.) [SE bird + crap n.1 ]

[1970s] (US) nonsense, rubbish.

bird division (n.)

[1950s] (US) US Air Force.


see separate entries.

bird eater (n.) [SE phr. eat like a bird]

[1960s–70s] (US) a finicky eater.


see separate entries.

birdseed (n.)

see separate entry.

birdseye (n.)

see separate entry.

bird’s eye (n.)

see separate entry.

birdshit (n.) [SE bird + shit n.]

1. [1960s] (US) a term of contempt.

2. [1970s] (US) nonsense, rubbish.

bird’s nest (n.)

see separate entries.

bird turd

see separate entries.

bird-witted (adj.)

1. [17C–late 18C; 1930s] foolish, scatter-brained, gullible.

2. [late 18C–early 19C] inconsiderate, thoughtless.

In phrases

bird never flew on one wing, a

[20C+] used as a formula for accepting a second drink (and pretending that one is doing so more from duty than pleasure).

bird of passage (n.)

[20C] a tramp, a vagrant.

birds of a feather (n.) [pvb birds of a feather flock together]

[17C–18C] members of the same gang.

for the birds

[1940s+] (orig. US) trivial, worthless, appealing only to gullible people; ext. as strictly for the birds and coarsely as shit for the birds.

go like a bird (v.)

[1920s+] of an automobile, or any vehicle, to go fast and smoothly with no mechanical problems.

go with the birds (v.)

[1930s] (US tramp) to travel south for the winter.

have a bird on (v.) [seemingly a play on fly v. (4) although earlier]

[1900s] (US) to be drunk.

join the bird family (v.) [to ‘fly’ away]

[1940s] (US black) to leave fast, to run away.

little bird (n.) [‘a little bird told me’]

[late 19C] a network of information; rumour, gossip .