We All Do It

Working in the service industry, I’m guilty of using choice words for select clientele.

It can be difficult when a vulturesque woman sucks her teeth at you, looking down her beak from behind her spectacles as she sends the pinot grigio back because it’s not as dry as she is.

Old Bird, I conclude in order to save face.

But she knows what she wants, and she gets it.

The word “bird” in reference to a young woman (c.1300) actually comes from burd, according to the online etymology dictionary:

A poetic word for "woman, lady" in old ballads; later "young lady, maiden;" c. 1200, perhaps from Old English byrde "wealthy, well-born." Or a metathesis of bryd "bride."

Well, she was certainly wealthy.  Entitlement can go a long way if you're in the right place I suppose.

Historically an honourable term,  I certainly used it in a disparaging way, which I think has become the modern use for it. I've heard many a bro refer to groups of young women when looking for prospect; flocks of potential chirping conquests.  I can't remember a specific time where I've overheard someone refer to myself that way, but I wouldn't take it very well. 

If I were to have “flipped her the bird” in response, derived from 1860s expression give the big bird "to hiss someone like a goose," kept alive in Vaudeville slang with the sense of greeting someone with boos, hisses, and catcalls (1922). In the 1960s, this transferred to the "up yours" hand gesture (the rigid finger representing the hypothetical object to be inserted) on notion of defiance and contempt.

“Bird” is also historically linked to catcalling and contempt. Interesting. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to connect the dots. 

Would it have been more polite to call her an old bag?

Using “bag” for woman as slang meant “person’s area of interest or expertise” around 1924 likely in reference to women being chattel. In 1964, from African-American vernacular it likely came from the notion of putting something in a bag. 

Is that really much better?

Photo Credit: Roger Kirby


Emily is a spoiled firstborn and an aspiring editor. She has a Bachelor of General Social Sciences from the University of Ottawa and works part-time as a waitress. In her spare time, she can be found in her apartment compiling her imaginary sneaker collection on Pinterest, snacking, and balancing on her head (sometimes at the same time). 

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