Monday, 1 February 2010

And Now, Without Referencing Monty Python Once...

I've not been well today, it's sad to report. Indeed, I had a headache which made me as "sick as a parrot". Except... well, it didn't. With the phrase in my head, I decided to poke around to find some origins for it, and came up with more than one surprise. Take a look at this, because I reckon you'll all have found something else to say...

The first job is to find the oldest form we can of our phrase, which is actually "sick as a dog". I'm informed that it dates back to 1705, although I'm unable to confirm the source. This, however, seems reasonable enough to me, and I'm not particularly bothered as to which disease-ridden street animal started the whole thing off in the first place. Dogs, though haven't been treated well in our literary history ("gone to the dogs", "in the dog house", "dog tired"), so I wouldn't be surprised if there were scruffy mutts involved in the process somewhere.

Once I'd got that far, I kept poking my nose about. Strangely, the American internet-goers (I've no idea if there are any reading this yet, but I'd like confirmation on the things I say about y'all) had never heard of this particular idiom, and were baffled by the meaning. Now, it might be a little hasty, but an idiom from 1705 not used across the pond? I'd call that a British origin. "Sick as a parrot" keeps very much to this trend.

We've all watched sports on the telly, and we've all enjoyed watching an old commentator getting too excited by the action on the pitch. It's in the heat of the moment, that tantalising moment in which glory is won and hopes dashed, that "sick as a parrot" is said to have been born. The commentator, with "over the moon" already firmly under the increasing girth of his belt, needs an antonym, an opposite. So comes "sick as a parrot", a phrase ready-made for moments of bitter disappointment and utter trouncing.

I should point out, if you ever intend to use the phrase, that it's rarely used outside of a sporty or light-hearted sense. I take no responsibility for angry relatives at a funeral, when you describe the passing of a loved one as making you feel "sick as a parrot". It's too jovial. Pull your socks up.

Continuing as usual, I thought I'd dive a little deeper into the pool of language (don't worry, there's always a lifeguard at hand). The uneducated man takes the phrase to have its roots at face value, considering the "parrot" in question to be "sick". This, however, is clearly... hang on... Psittacosis? Never heard of it. "Parrot disease"? That's right, folks, there's a disease out there notorious for being passed to humans by their evil avian overlords. Maybe being sick as a parrot has a connection. Coincidence? I think not...

So there you have it. Turns out I wasn't "sick as a parrot", after all. That said, I know people out there who use the phrase as such, so perhaps one day... but who am I, oh reader, to change the course of language? As you were, but bear what I have written in mind!


No comments:

Post a Comment