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Why do we give ourselves “bird names” when we insult ourselves?

Stéphane Bern offers every day, in Historically yours with Matthieu Noël, to discover these expressions that we use on a daily basis without necessarily knowing their origin. Monday, the host explains the roots of the expression “to give oneself the names of birds”, an animal very present in the French term.

When one person insults another, when we fly in the feathers, we sometimes say that we “give ourselves the names of birds”. This expression, less and less used nowadays, refers to the richness of the French language, not stingy in avian metaphors when it comes to being insulting.

Let’s start with a glaring example: a misogynistic insult. To designate a silly woman, we speak of woodcock. A bird of our forests well known to hunters. If this woman is a little round and naive, she is said to be “snipe”, from the name of the famous cartoon character, born in 1905.

Linnet head and sissy

And there are many examples of feathered insults. For a cowardly person, we say a sissy. This expression entered the dictionary of the French Academy in 1694. In the past, we used to say “milky hen”. When we are cowardly and do not want to face the truth, we play “ostrich politics”.

A person without faith or law is a vulture, even a raptor. A stunned person has a head of linnet, in reference to the bird with a very small skull. And the starling, which migrates in immense clouds when autumn comes, has the same etymology as the word “stunned”.

The same goes for buzzards (idiots) and cranes (an old term for prostitutes). Georges Brassens also sang that the girls had “crane feet”. But let’s leave the last word to Jacques Deval, a French playwright born at the end of the 19th century, who wrote: ‘God loved birds and invented trees. The man loved birds and invented cages’. “

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