This post is for my cousin Kate.
We were having a giggle fest the other night and I said something derogatory about running (as I am known to do) and finished with “why am I doing this? This is for the birds!” Both of us use the phrase, and neither one of us knew where it came from. Well, we know it came from either Mabel or Aunt Dorothy, but we were wondering where the phrase came from in the larger sense.
So here you go Kate…
For the birds
Trivial; worthless; only of interest to gullible people.
This phrase is of American origin and, while still in use there, has never been commonly used elsewhere. It is US Army slang and originated towards the end of WWII. An early example of its use is this piece from The Lowell Sun, October 1944, in an interview with a Sergt. Buck Erickson, of Camp Ellis, Illinois:
“Don’t take too seriously this belief that we have football at Camp Ellis solely for the entertainment of the personnel – that’s strictly for the birds. The army is a winner… the army likes to win – that’s the most fortunate thing in the world for America.”
‘Strictly’ is frequently used as an intensifier, as in the example above.
‘That’s for the birds’ is a shortened form of the vulgar version ‘that’s shit for the birds’. That suggests the derivation of the phrase which is the habit of some birds of pecking at horse droppings (a.k.a. road apples) in order to find seeds. Both versions were defined in an edition of American Speech from 1944:
That’s for the birds. It’s meaningless
Shit for the birds. Nonsense, drivel, irrelevant matter.