Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

For The Birds

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 17, 2011

If it’s worthless, not to be taken seriously, and no good, and if the individual speaking deems it useless, and unacceptable, chances are you’ll that person say the idea, group, individual, ideology or event is strictly for the birds.

Sixty years ago, on December 2, 1951, the Telegraph Herald newspaper of Dubuque, Iowa reported on U.S. gamblers who were leery of the federal gambling tax stamp.  The stamp didn’t license gamblers. The stamp meant the gambler was eligible to pay a 10 percent tax on his “handle” — the amount of money he took in on bets.  The law had come into effect just a month earlier on the first of the month.  And what was the effect of this new law?

The sheriff’s office at Los Angeles, where only 26 registrations were on the books, reported that many bookies were switching to the dope racket, prostitution and other “non-taxable” pursuits.

A Washington, D.C., bookie declared:  “I’m quitting.  This racket was tough enough in the first place.  Now with the G-men breathing on your neck it’s strictly for the birds.”

A few people bought stamps because they thought it would legalize their gambling business. When they discovered it wouldn’t, they wanted their money back.

On October 20, 1944, the Lewiston Evening Journal in Illinois ran an article from guest star, Sgt. Buck Erickson of Camp Ellis.  He was quoted as saying:

“Don’t take too seriously this belief that we have football at Camp Ellis solely for the entertainment of the personnel — that’s strictly for the birds.  The Army is a winner.  The Army likes to win — that’s the most fortunate thing in the world for America.”

But long before then and long before cars were the preferred mode of transportation, horse-drawn carriages in New York left reminders along the way that let people know horse-drawn carriages had passed that way. To put it as politely as possible, the scavenger birds in New York found those reminders to their liking. 

Back in the day, when someone in New York politely said that something was for the birds, they were not-so-politely saying it was something else altogether.

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One Response to “For The Birds”

  1. Slava said

    I like this one. Now all I have to do is remember the origins.

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