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Monday, April 16, 2007

Birds and burds

OK, so wireless-on-a-bus just broke down and the computer ate my post. Meh. What I was about to say was, and will now say in shorter compass in case the same thing happens again -

I'd always assumed that the use of 'bird' to mean 'girl' was relatively recent, and coined by some derogatory association with fragility or bird-brained-ness or some such. But reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I saw that the Blessed Virgin was referred to as a 'burde', which the glossary gave as maiden or something like that (will give proper citations when not on bus!). And in the OED, sense 1d of 'bird' says that 'burd' became wrongly connected with 'bird' (as in feathers) and was assumed to be a figurative meaning of this - it's not entirely clear from the quotations in the OED when this confusion took place. Its current usage seems to be a twentieth century thing. Note that for 'burd' in the OED, it really dies out after c.1600 (interestingly the quotation of that date is Scottish - Scots often does seem to retain antique usages), except for one revival by Morris (presumably self-conscious). Interesting. Time to reclaim 'bird' as a term of dignity and grace? Might be an uphil struggle, mind...

(Shortly after that point in Gawain, I'm afraid I admitted defeat (temporary, I hope) and bought Tolkien's translation.)