Wednesday 19 December 2012

Dicky Bird

In my travels around the internet, sometimes I hear the phrase “dicky-bird.” I immediately thought, “is that a real bird? I hope not because all the other birds would make fun of it.” Well, it turns out that “dicky-birds” are real, but it’s not an official species name. So in honor of the coming holidays, in which many people will consume some sort of fowl, here’s some info on dicky birds.

According to the always-awesome Oxford English Dictionary, a dicky-bird (or dickey-bird) is “a little bird, such as a sparrow, robin, or canary-bird” in nursery rhyme or “familiar speech.” Dicky-bird is also cockney-rhyming slang for “word.” So instead of saying, “Word up, yo,” you could say “Dicky-bird up, yo.” I bet that would go over well.

According to the OED, dicky-bird appeared in print as early as 1781. It was used fairly frequently in the 1800s, but the dicky-bird entry has not been updated until 1895. I’m guessing the word might not be as common now, at least in its nursery rhyme form. But who knows?

Since dicky-bird can mean “robin,” this (of course) presents the question: is it a coincidence that the original Robin (of “Batman and” fame) was named Dick? It’s widely acknowledged that the Robin costume was inspired by the red-breasted robin (the bird) and Robin Hood. The red of the Robin costume comes from the bird, while the green chain-mail comes from Robin Hood (although people covered their legs a bit more back in the middle ages. I’m just saying.). Anyway, it’s a thought.

There are other dicky-birds out there. One Dickie Bird is an English international cricket umpire. Sadly, Dickie is a nickname that bears no relation to Bird’s real name – Harold Dennis Bird. Alas. I thought he was a Richard.

There is also a Dick Bird, an Anglican priest who died in 2010. Sadly, Richard was only his middle name: he was born Colin Richard Bateman Bird. Dick worked for many years in South Africa before returning to the United Kingdom. He ended his career as Archdeacon of Lambeth.

Finally, there are several Richard Birds out there. A selection for your perusal:

Richard Bird: British actor who lived from 1894-1986 (wow!) Alas, this Richard was originally named “George,” but changed his name after theatre buddies started calling him Dickie.

Richard Ely Bird: an American politician who lived from 1878 to 1955. This Richard was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but spent most of his life in Kansas. He was primarily a lawyer, but was elected to Congress for one term (1921-3). He was ushered into office on the coattails of Warren G. Harding (ha!). Richard spent the last years of his life in retirement in Long Beach, California, but his body was returned to Wichita, Kansas for burial.

Richard Bird: a British computer scientist. Born in 1943, this Richard is a professor at Oxford. He does fancy stuff with numbers, and even has a formula partially named after him (the Bird-Meertens Formalism, which has something to do with calculus and programming). Stay smart, Professor Richard Bird!

Richard Real Bird: there’s not much about him on Wikipedia, but Richard was once Chairman of the Crow Nation in Montana until he was convicted of embezzlement and fraud.

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