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#1
Old 09-04-2012, 01:32 PM
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Old British Slang "Bird" for young girl - still used?

Yes, even as an American I know what the term means, but I'm in my mid-40s and a connoisseur of old Brit-Coms like "Are You Being Served" or "Doctor in the House", so I don't count (and honestly as a kid I don't recall that term being in popular usage in the US during the '70s). Anyway, after watching some "Two Ronnies" clips over the weekend, I wondered if a young British boy (born more or less in the 21st century, say age 12, and a boy because we're talking about hot women), living in a typical English town (um...Slough - why not?) would understand a joke like one in the 2-Ronnies' "How To Build a Shed" sketch - narrator says "make sure the shed roof is steep enough to prevent Birds from roosting", and then the obvious sight gag of three young ladies struggling not to fall off the shed roof...OK, the joke's a bit flat, but it's illustrative.

Question the First:
Does ANYONE still use the term "Bird" (in the sense of a young, usually attractive, girl) UN-IRONICALLY* in the UK today

Question the Second, part A:
Was the term "Bird" in common, non-ironical usage in the UK during the '60s-70s

Question the Second, part B:
If Question 2A was true (and judging from various publications, I think it was), when did the term pass out of general usage in the UK - the late 1970s? early 1980s?

*UN-IRONICALLY meaning not as part of television, movie, or print comedy - but rather two young guys in real-life c1970 saying let's go to the disco and pick up some birds.
#2
Old 09-04-2012, 01:54 PM
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I'm a Brit (mid 40s) and I still use it. Much to my wife's chagrin. In fact I think that's the main reason I still us it!!
#3
Old 09-04-2012, 02:56 PM
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last year QI

Season 9 episode 13 I think

Steven Fry: Can you name an intelligent bird?

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(I'm not sure if this meets your criteria of being 'un-ironic')

Last edited by Sigene; 09-04-2012 at 02:56 PM.
#4
Old 09-04-2012, 02:57 PM
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Brit here, age 27. I use it and it's commonly used where I live, almost always non-ironically. Can't answer your second question but I don't think part B is relevant.
#5
Old 09-04-2012, 03:07 PM
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Just this morning NPR's Morning Edition featured a report on a very large sculpture of a women that carried the nickname 'Big Bird'. I don't think the usage has gone obsolete.
#6
Old 09-04-2012, 03:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirRay View Post
when did the term pass out of general usage in the UK - the late 1970s? early 1980s?
It's hard to say. I've never heard anyone use it non-ironically, but Dead Cat above has had a different experience. Perhaps it's a geographical thing; maybe he's from the North. When I was young (1990s) the preferred term was "chick" - which sounded more innocent, a lot more American and thus more modern - but even that had an air of The Sweeney about it. It was generally associated with tabloid-speak* and old TV comedy, and depending on how you used it, it was either self-consciously retro or just plain offensive. And British people have a love-hate relationship with the past. As Britain modernises, it Americanises, as a wise man once said, and "bird" is too old-fashioned to be very nostalgic about.

Like "coon". Plenty of people used that word in the past; it's less offensive than the n-word, but that's because it sounds ridiculously dated, the kind of thing Alf Garnet would have said. For every "guv" and "sorted" and "blag" that modern people look back fondly on, there are words that people want to forget. Bird has, in my experience, always been on the cusp.

And then there's New Lad, which emerged in the 1990s as a kind of safe, middle-class imitation of an idea of what working class culture might have been like. But even then "bird" still came across as a bit Carry On, a bit *too* hardcore. Not even funny, like "tart" or "strumpet".

And did people in the 1970s use it all that often? Was it just the kind of hard-sounding but inoffensive language put on by television scriptwriters in lieu of the ability to broadcast the c-word, the n-word, the f-word? I'm nervous about asking an actual old person if he said "bird" a lot in the 1970s. Old people are... I dunno, they're unsophisticated, they don't wash as often as we do.

"Of the two-legged variety". I tell you, when Americans talk about flipping the bird, I have a much ruder mental image than they do.

Last edited by Ashley Pomeroy; 09-04-2012 at 03:28 PM.
#7
Old 09-04-2012, 03:31 PM
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I've heard it but I'd say it's a bit old fashioned. However the local term "bewer" is more common here.
#8
Old 09-04-2012, 03:43 PM
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I'm in my mid-30s, from southern England, and use it. It's a jocular word, but I wouldn't call it "ironic". For example, talking about a party, you might bemoan the lack of birds, or say "I was talking to this bird the other day..."

It's the sort of word you'd use with your mates, but probably not in front of your wife (unless you wanted a look), or in other polite company.
#9
Old 09-04-2012, 04:04 PM
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Don't recall exactly when or what about, but heard it recently from a 30ish Brit.
#10
Old 09-04-2012, 04:04 PM
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Interesting - someone in his 20s (assuming Mr Cat is indeed a he) and others in his peer group are still using it non-ironically at this late date - wow! Intriguing

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ashley Pomeroy View Post
When I was young (1990s) the preferred term was "chick" - which sounded more innocent, a lot more American and thus more modern
We (in the US, in my peer group of teens/20s during the 1980s) were definitely using "chick", and I think even back in the 1960s that phrase was popular. I've heard people use it nowadays (unfortunately it leads on shows to even lamer sight gags).

Quote:
The Sweeney...
Alf Garnet...
Carry On...
"tart" or "strumpet"...
Heh, good one - I wonder if any normal American would have gotten those references (they probably would get "Tart")

Quote:
Was it just the kind of hard-sounding but inoffensive language put on by television scriptwriters in lieu of the ability to broadcast the c-word, the n-word, the f-word?
I would think not, but again I wasn't there - I'm just guessing from lines from, say, "Are You Being Served" with Mister Lucas's eternal quest to chat up the birds at the disco - doesn't seem like any hidden dark meaning by the screenwriters there. (AYBS is also from where I learned that by the mid-70s, British women had adapted that deplorable habit of dancing in clubs in a big impenetrable circle surrounding their pocketbooks, which I and the other all-American guys hated when we actually encountered American women doing that 15 years later on this side of the Pond).
#11
Old 09-04-2012, 04:17 PM
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To put it in context a little, here's a Mitchell and Webb sketch (there's one for every occasion and usually NSFW) within which the term
"bird" would certainly be used un-ironically, these days however it is a bit old-hat.

And BlindBoyard, "bewer" is a term from my youth as well, not from the north-east by any chance are you?
#12
Old 09-04-2012, 04:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirRay View Post
Question the Second, part A:
Was the term "Bird" in common, non-ironical usage in the UK during the '60s-70s
Absolutely. In very common use then, and through the '80s too. I can't say after that as I moved to the USA in 1990, but I do not think it is likely to have died out (and other posters seem to bear that out).

I don't think I have ever heard it use "ironically".

Last edited by njtt; 09-04-2012 at 04:35 PM.
#13
Old 09-04-2012, 04:41 PM
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It may be worth noting that there is an older, and mostly obsolete, British usage of "bird" to mean a man: often "old bird" used affectionately, or else to mean an older (but not necessarily elderly) man. You find this a lot in P.G. Wodehouse stories, set in or around the 1920s. (Some of the slang in Wodehouse is probably invented, but I don't think this is.)
#14
Old 09-04-2012, 04:42 PM
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Yup, i don't say it, but 3 times out of 10 my friend's refer to women as 'bird's'.

Last edited by Luk3112; 09-04-2012 at 04:43 PM.
#15
Old 09-04-2012, 05:09 PM
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Incidentally, the OP's use of "young girl" is a bit peculiar (though I realize some people sometimes use "young girl" to mean "young woman"). "Bird" would never be used of a child (though it might well be used of a teenager). It always carries the implication that the woman referred to is of at least potential sexual interest.
#16
Old 09-04-2012, 06:13 PM
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Yep. Early 20s, in London and south east England. A lot of people use it. It's probably not as common as it was in the 80s and 90s but it's around.
#17
Old 09-04-2012, 06:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirRay View Post
...Heh, good one - I wonder if any normal American would have gotten those references (they probably would get "Tart")....
Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) referred to the blonde, good-looking second wives of very rich men in NYC as "Lemon Tarts."
#18
Old 09-04-2012, 06:32 PM
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This thread brought this quote to mind:

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

- George Best
#19
Old 09-04-2012, 06:37 PM
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I'm an American but watch some British shows and listen to some British podcasts and I hear it all the time non-ironically.
#20
Old 09-04-2012, 07:16 PM
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YouTube Top Gear Bloopers...

Presenter Jeremy Clarkson says "All the birds got great tits!" starting @ time index 3:07.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=pTDvyB8Eyk4

Also, on Wheeler Dealers, Edd China often describes some item on the car he just fixed as "sorted".
#21
Old 09-04-2012, 10:31 PM
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Well, looks like the consensus is that the slang "bird" is alive and well in the UK with the young generation at this late date, even if not near its early 1970s peak. Somehow I find that pretty cool to know. Thanks to all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by njtt View Post
Incidentally, the OP's use of "young girl" is a bit peculiar (though I realize some people sometimes use "young girl" to mean "young woman"). "Bird" would never be used of a child (though it might well be used of a teenager). It always carries the implication that the woman referred to is of at least potential sexual interest.
Well, that's because the Original Poster himself is a bit peculiar; I was definitely using "girl" meaning a young woman definitely of age, as in "Damn this bar is a sausage-fest tonight, where the hell are the girls?" - heck, women use the term to refer to themselves ("Girls' Night Out"); we also would use "Chicks", although that's a bit cruder - "cruising Guido style: Dudes in front, Chicks in the back"; we probably wouldn't have said "where are the women" as that just sounds too "Conan the Barbarian" like; and in Reagan's America, "Birds" would have been right out - not sure about Canada though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by colonphon
It's the sort of word you'd use with your mates, but probably not in front of your wife (unless you wanted a look), or in other polite company.
That fits well with TV Brit-Com usage, guys (Mates? Blokes? Lads? Buddies? whatever) talking among each other about chatting up the birds and such.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Enola
Presenter Jeremy Clarkson says "All the birds got great tits!"
Yep, I've seen that clip before (a throwaway bit before the end of the show explaing why you should vacation in Britian), and not only is Jeremy ("YOU PILLOCK!") Clarkson NOT the younger generation, but Clarkson in Top Gear presenter mode is the very definition of Ironic usage...

Last edited by SirRay; 09-04-2012 at 10:32 PM.
#22
Old 09-05-2012, 07:29 AM
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To clarify a couple of points from up-thread, I am a he, and from the South-West of England. My usage of the term is exactly in line with what Colophon described. It does have a slightly sexist connotation, I think - you won't find many women using it.
#23
Old 09-05-2012, 07:46 AM
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Female Brit, early 40s. It's still used, I would associate it with the south of england/London although I'm not sure that's right.

It's pretty sexist and in these more enlightened times I doubt a family show like the Two Ronnies would write that joke. It's the sort of word a bloke might use amongst his male friends, but if he used it on his wife it might prompt a look, and if used in polite, mixed company would make him look like an un-reconstructed oaf.
#24
Old 09-05-2012, 07:55 AM
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Just to add another data point, I'm male, I've lived in a few different towns in the Midlands and the South and I've never heard it used outside of TV.
Well, people tend to notice if they use bird in a sentence if there's a possible double entendre there. But that seems to be the limit of its powers now IME.

On TV it still gets the occasional use but I think it's largely the scriptwriter's poor idea of street slang than reflective of real frequency of use.

Last edited by Mijin; 09-05-2012 at 07:56 AM.
#25
Old 09-05-2012, 09:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njtt View Post
Incidentally, the OP's use of "young girl" is a bit peculiar (though I realize some people sometimes use "young girl" to mean "young woman"). "Bird" would never be used of a child (though it might well be used of a teenager). It always carries the implication that the woman referred to is of at least potential sexual interest.
Yeah I was confused by this at first. Took a few posts to realize that the OP didn't mean "young girl" in the sense of "pre-pubescent or thereabouts."
#26
Old 09-05-2012, 12:12 PM
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[QUOTE=SanVito;15458182]Female Brit, early 40s. It's still used, I would associate it with the south of england/London although I'm not sure that's right./QUOTE]

Definitely heard it in Lancashire/Manchester in the last decade or so (don't live there now, so not sure about precisely current usage). Quite a few lads I knew who would now be in their early 30s would refer to their girlfriends as 'me bird', at least when she wasn't around.
#27
Old 09-05-2012, 02:06 PM
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Just remember that "doing bird" means spending time at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
#28
Old 09-05-2012, 02:25 PM
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South east england, definitely.

Wouldn't really hear it in the north much, if you did it would be from one of those people who likes to show off their entire vocabulary in the pub by using every synonym they know while telling their dreary stories.
#29
Old 09-05-2012, 02:30 PM
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I'm in my 40's and you hear it used here and there but really not so much. Used to be a London thing but now hear it more up north - interestingly where there is less black immigration. M'bird is definately in use in Newcastle currently, just from a stag do I went to there the other month.

I always think of it as young white slang, so maybe when the youth of London and other southern urban centres moved over to psuedo-Jamaican slang it's use crashed.

But maybe I'm talking shit....

Last edited by notquitekarpov; 09-05-2012 at 02:32 PM.
#30
Old 09-05-2012, 02:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by notquitekarpov View Post
when the youth of London and other southern urban centres moved over to psuedo-Jamaican slang it's use crashed.
A seven year old in the middle of a lesson called me "blud"... I almost pissed myself laughing.
#31
Old 09-05-2012, 02:47 PM
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So are men referred to as "Dogs" then?

An if so, what does that make Johnny? He's a bird and a dog. He's a bird-dog.
#32
Old 09-05-2012, 03:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hampshire View Post
So are men referred to as "Dogs" then?

An if so, what does that make Johnny? He's a bird and a dog. He's a bird-dog.
Bloke, chap, guv, guv'nor, mate, mucka, pal, chum, China, geezer, but not dog. (those are all terms I can think of right now)

Last edited by Szlater; 09-05-2012 at 03:01 PM.
#33
Old 09-05-2012, 04:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Szlater View Post
A seven year old in the middle of a lesson called me "blud"... I almost pissed myself laughing.
What's "blud" mean, and is it Jamaican in origin?
#34
Old 09-05-2012, 04:30 PM
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it would be analagous to mate and yeah it is jamaican in origin

any white kid using it will look very silly to anyone who has got their wisdom teeth.
#35
Old 09-05-2012, 06:28 PM
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I use it non-ironically and so do my friends. It's also very commonly used to mean girlfriend - I use it in that way myself. Nothing sexist is intended or taken by it among my friends, and I'm 36 and a lesbian. Most of my friends are pretty left-wing and active against sexism, so perhaps it's taken for granted that the word isn't intended to be sexist?

It's pretty much an exact corrolary to bloke IME, including using bloke for boyfriend. Our experiences on this thread do seem to vary widely.

That said, I do remember in the eighties people claiming that it was a sexist term, and it being frowned upon.

AFAIK it's never meant young woman, btw - it just means woman. If someone said 'that bird over there' and you looked over and saw two women, one fifty years old and one twenty years old, you'd need more clarification.
#36
Old 09-05-2012, 06:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
What's "blud" mean, and is it Jamaican in origin?
It's actually "blood", that spelling just reflects how it's pronounced. It's used by young black people in some parts of the US as well I think (in fact I wouldn't be surprised if it stems from the Bloods gang).

Used in context here...
#37
Old 09-05-2012, 07:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SciFiSam View Post
AFAIK it's never meant young woman, btw - it just means woman. If someone said 'that bird over there' and you looked over and saw two women, one fifty years old and one twenty years old, you'd need more clarification.
I think it would depend on the age of the speaker. As I said before, I think it always (at least as used non-ironically) caries a mild sexual connotation. It implies a woman in whom the speaker (or possibly the person they are talking to) might, at least in principle, be sexually interested (or, at least, a woman that it would be socially acceptable for them to be interested in). That is why it would not be used of a child, but also not normally of a woman a great deal older (or younger) than the speaker. As the word is mostly used by young men, in practice it usually refers to a young woman, but yes, an elderly man (or an elderly lesbian, I guess) might refer to a woman of his (or her) own age group as a "bird". (I dare say heterosexual women sometimes use it amongst themselves, too, but in such cases I think some irony is probably intended.)

Last edited by njtt; 09-05-2012 at 07:38 PM.
#38
Old 09-05-2012, 09:29 PM
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Yup, it's still used regularly in north east Scotland. Usually in conversations between men.
#39
Old 09-05-2012, 11:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Novelty Bobble View Post
....

And BlindBoyard, "bewer" is a term from my youth as well, not from the north-east by any chance are you?
How is this pronounced? Also, etymology?
#40
Old 09-05-2012, 11:17 PM
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All the Brits I know over here still use it. Some of them are young too.
#41
Old 09-06-2012, 06:29 AM
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A classic clip from those "blooper" shows had a question on Family Fortunes asking "Name a bird with a long neck".

Smart-arse contestant replied:
SPOILER:
Naomi Campbell.

Last edited by Colophon; 09-06-2012 at 06:29 AM.
#42
Old 09-06-2012, 09:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simple Linctus View Post
it would be analagous to mate and yeah it is jamaican in origin

any white kid using it will look very silly to anyone who has got their wisdom teeth.
Quote:
Originally Posted by isaiahrobinson View Post
It's actually "blood", that spelling just reflects how it's pronounced. It's used by young black people in some parts of the US as well I think (in fact I wouldn't be surprised if it stems from the Bloods gang).

Used in context here...
OK, thanks! Hadn't heard it before.
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