Appalachian Dialect

Bird: A Quaint or Comical Character

bird on limb

bird noun A quaint character, comical or remarkable person.
1939 Hall Coll. Saunook NC He’s a bird. (Bob McClure) 1956 McAtee Some Dial NC 5 = a remarkable person. “He sure is a bird.” 1963 Hooper Unwanted Boy 221 Up Carson Creek above my home, there used to live a man named John Owenby. He lived to be eighty-odd years old. He was about as ornery-looking an old bird as anybody ever saw.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


A few weeks back a friend and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance who’s suffering from dementia. While I was talking I was trying to do about ten other things at the same time.

She told me she seen the suffering man and tried to talk to him. He pointed at two men who were standing by a car and said “Just look at them two birds.”

My friend thought he meant the men were literally birds and that his statement was another sign of his dementia. Something about the bird comment tickled the back of my brain, but I was trying to do to many things at once and our conversation soon changed to another topic.

Shortly after our talk my cousin Clint sent me a link to an article about language used on The Andy Griffith Show. Things like nip it in the bud, golly, and surprise, surprise, surprise which are all catchphrases from the show.

The article focused on one phrase that was used by Andy in several episodes you are a bird in this world.

As soon as I read the article I remembered what my friend said and thought “He has dementia, but he didn’t think those two men were literal birds.”

The elderly gentleman was making conversation using Appalachian phrasing like he’s done for his entire life.

I’ve heard the word bird used to describe someone who’s a real character my whole life. In fact I’ve used it to describe Chitter more than once 🙂

I can’t be sure what the meaning behind Andy’s words were, but I’m guessing the writers used the phrase to describe a “A quaint character, comical or remarkable person” just like the dictionary entry explains.


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  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    October 7, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Tipper, I love, love, love this post! You see, my dad was born in 1923 in Unaka and raised up on Copper Creek. When he grew up, married mom and had a family he always would cal the kids, grandkids and great grandkids a bird. We always thought it was cute (with the exception of one great granddaughter who insisted that she was NOT a bird) and just something he called us because he loved birds. I forwarded this post to my sister in Florida who said how she loved the post and how it made perfect sense as to why dad called all the kids a bird! Thank you so very much for posting!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Such sweet memories are brought back by this post. My Granny used to say, with a big smile on her face, “Come here you little Jaybird”. It was always followed with a big hug. I’m not sure what her definition of the saying was, but to me it meant nothing but pure love.
    Thank you, Tipper for your tireless energy and enthusiasm to bring happiness to all of us!

  • Reply
    Frank Vincent
    October 4, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    Back in basic training the DI’s called some of the hard-headed recruits “shit-birds”…couple of them didn’t last but a couple weeks before they were sent home…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 3, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    If I’m not mistaken your great grandpa was called Bird. Benjamin Harrison “Bird” Wilson. I’ll email you a snip.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Back as a child, my Dad would say,”just look at that bird. meaning someone. Look at what he’s doing. Hadn’t thought of that in awhile.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    October 3, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    I’ve heard and used bird like many of the post here. Also use jaybird and catbird. Maybe these two were only used locally. Don’t know. Catbird being used to describe a colorful character and jaybird used in a derogatory way.

  • Reply
    Allison Britt
    October 3, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Yep…sometimes my dad will make reference to the fact that his mother used to say ‘they’re a strange bird’ when speaking about someone who ‘does something quite differently than most others’! Glad it seems to be a description that’s still used today. Maybe we’re all ‘strange birds’ from time to time!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 3, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Tipper–I’ve often heard bird used with a preceding descriptive–odd bird, crazy bird, weird bird, wayward bird, and the like. I guess that in mountain talk bird is a synonym, or at least a near synonym, for quair. To my way of thinking, such folks make ours a richer world, and to me it’s sad there don’t seem to be as many of them as once was the case. In fact, a few years back I wrote a series of columns under the general title, “Where Have All the Characters Gone?” They recalled real birds I had known as a boy, and each and every one of those eccentrics, in one way or another, enriched the world around them.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 11:19 am

    I heard it all my life in Iowa. Remember, George Gobel, the comic on the radio in the fifties who often said, ” I’ll be a dirty bird.” The audience always laughed.

    And the British use “bird” as a slang expression for “girls,” especially ones they want to pick up or simply those they admire.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 3, 2019 at 11:15 am

    I’ve known a few old birds in my time and I thought they were funny or crazy, whichever. For example, Dillard Hardin and his two boys older boys made and carried Liquor or Moonshine all over these Mountains when I was growing up. Him and Eunice had five or six Beautiful daughters. When you went in, you thought you were in Heaven, because they were all blonds, and they all looked like Movie Stars.

    After I got older, me and Daddy was down at the Pond, sitting on the porch watching the Trout fishermen that came by, and Dillard saw us. (Years before, he had hired a Drag-Line to build him a Trout Pond. Me and Harold use to Frog Hunt in his field of Bull Rush that Valley River ran through.) Anyway, Dillard saw us and he liked my Daddy and came over. He always had stories to tell so he told about “Ole Blue.”

    He said, “Last night we decided to go Coon Huntin’, and I sent Ralph to go get “Old Blue” out of the Dog Lot. Ralph come back and said “Blue” wouldn’t come out when I called him, and he must have Lumbago or something. Dillard told Ralph to put “old Blue” in a wheelboro. Folks, we caught 3 Coons last night by following the Nose.” Dillard was quite a Character. …Ken

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Like Ava I had not thought about this usage for quite awhile. I have heard it a lot though, especially down home.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 3, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I’ve been called a bird and a bird brain but never a jail bird. Not yet anyway!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 9:22 am

    Heard Odd Bird and Old Buzzard but I had forgotten all about them til I read your post.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 8:56 am

    The first thing that came to mind when I read this post was an Everly Brothers song. Johnny is a joker, he’s a bird. A very funny joker, he’s a bird. Johnny kissed the teacher, he’s a bird. I have used bird to describe someone all my life. A person who is funny, bold, mean, strange or ornery can be described as a bird.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 3, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Old bird is very common. Also young chick, meaning too young to know better.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 3, 2019 at 8:11 am

    I’m sure I have heard that but it has been awhile. If memory serves, the most common use was as a synonym for “odd”, as Miss Cindy says. So “odd bird” is doubling down.

    Interesting to me that ‘bird’ is used as a mild way of saying someone is different and not necessarily in a bad way. That is, it is a civil way to talk and Lord knows we sure need more civility these days.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 8:03 am

    I have heard only as an odd bird. Another word I used to hear which seemed to mean they could make you laugh was usually for male gender only, “He’s a card.” Mom used to laugh because Dad did not like to shop, and he would never go with her and sit to wait on a bench after he heard it referred to as “the buzzard bench.”

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 7:18 am

    Back in the mid to late 1950s, my dad used ‘an ol’ bird’ or ‘odd bird’ to describe characters he knew. This brought back memories to me.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 3, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Tip, I’ve heard that one all my life, usually with another word like quair bird or odd bird
    and I’ve known quite a few quair birds in my life…might even have been one a time or two!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Yep. Heard it many times. Had forgotten all about it.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2019 at 5:49 am

    O yea, using the word Bird to describe someone is a common thing around here, mostly, or like that Ole Buzzard or that bird just stole my hammer.

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