Archives for posts with tag: birds

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

This is perhaps the first philosophical question I ever heard.  To have a chicken requires an egg and hens (often known as chickens) lay eggs.   The expression it’s a chicken and egg situation has become popular.

She’s no spring chicken is a euphemism meaning that someone is getting on in years.

Chicken feed is considered inexpensive, leading to the meaning a trifling sum of money.

It is possible to ruffle someone’s feathers (although people are mammals, not birds) by annoying them or embarrassing them.

Spitting mad is very cross.  Spitting is antisocial, but has been an act signifying disdain.

Spitting blood is also to be extremely angry.  (Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang)

Spitting feathers (as far as I know) has a similar meaning.

Spit and polish is a quick wash, when there is no water available.

Roast on the spit has nothing to do with saliva.  A long spike is used to pierce fowl or flesh (meat), which is cooked in front of an open fire, turning for even cooking.  It was a usual means of cooking for centuries in homes able to afford food, fuel and servants.

As rare as hen’s teeth is hyperbole in the style of a simile as hens do not have teeth.  Rare means unusual, not non-existent.  (However a steak may be rare, which is a bit better cooked than raw.)

Like drawing teeth compares the extraction of information (for example) to the extraction of teeth, (after which, people do spit blood!)

Cocksure means over-confident.

To chicken out is to back out of some activity due to fear.

Cock crow is early in the morning.  The dawn chorus begins before sunrise as birds wake up and begin to sing.

Before the cock crows twice… John 13:31-38

Another quotation from the gospels how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… Matthew 23:37-39


To kill the goose that lays the golden eggs is an allusion to a fairy story.  It is related to the next phrase:

Don’t kill the golden goose.
Obviously it is not a good idea to cut off the source of income.

As happy as a lark is a synonym from nature.  A lark flies high into the sky singing as it goes.

Parrot-fashion means speech without thought.  Parrots and some other species of bird may be taught to speak, but perhaps not to think!

As the crow flies is the shortest distance.

Higher up the pecking order refers to the behaviour of birds.  Whether it is a group of poultry or wild birds feeding, some individuals are always first to the food, which they peck at.  There is a hierarchy in any society.

Running around like a headless chicken is a bit of a gory picture.  If the head is cut off a hen, its muscles still work by reflex and it can move around.  Of course, it has no idea where it is going.

Cock of the roost is an important person, who perhaps crows about himself.

To rule the roost is to be domineering.

A sitting duck is an easy target.

Picking up lame ducks is helping unfortunate people.

As bald as a coot is a synonym.  A coot is a waterbird with a white patch on its head, making it look bald.

As free as a bird means able to go anywhere.  Not a bird in a gilded cage, then!

While I was preparing this post, the set reading from The Bible Reading Fellowship notes I use was Luke 13:31-35.  There are many other references to birds in the Bible.