A Birdbrain: Meaning & Origin Revealed

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: April 23, 2023
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Have you ever been called a birdbrain but don’t know what it means? Idioms are short phrases with easy to understand meanings. You have to precisely understand what the words mean together to comprehend the message, making it difficult for those out of the loop. What is “A birdbrain” meaning, and where did it originate? Find out now! 

What Kind of Saying is a Birdbrain?

idiom

An idiom is a turn of phrase with a nonliteral meaning. They often start with literal meanings but lose them as time goes on.

©canbedone/Shutterstock.com

The term “birdbrain” is an idiom, which is a turn of phrase with a nonliteral meaning. Idioms often started with literal meanings but lost them as time went on. Idioms are also expressions unique to a people, language, or place and can become lost in translation for those unfamiliar. These types of phrases use figurative language to describe something. 

Here are some examples of idioms:

  • “A dime a dozen” – something common that has no particular value
  • “Raining cats and dogs” – a torrential rainstorm
  • “Bite the bullet” – get the inevitable over with
  • “Kill two birds with one stone” – complete two tasks at once

Where Does the Phrase a Birdbrain Come From?

birdbrain

If you were to call someone a birdbrain, you would be insinuating that they lack intelligence or make bad decisions.

©Golden Dayz/Shutterstock.com

Linguists do not entirely know the origin of the term “birdbrain.” It’s slang from the 1930s but likely derives from similar phrasings from earlier periods. The word “bird-brained” was used in 1910, and “bird-witted” in the 1600s. It’s an English term most likely used in America and other parts of Europe. And many associate the word with older generations and slap-stick TV comedy.

What Does a Birdbrain Mean?

“Birdbrain” is more than a short expression; it’s actually an insult. If you were to call someone a birdbrain, you would be insinuating that they lack intelligence or make bad decisions. In other words, a birdbrain is a stupid person or someone acting stupid. 

It was once believed that birds were unintelligent, even among scientists and researchers. Early neuroscientists thought that birds’ cerebrums were primitive and only allowed instinctual behavior.  But new research sheds light on the intelligence of birds. Not only are they capable of cognitive behavior, but many species also have an intelligence level on par with primates and five-year-old human children. Being a birdbrain was always a bad thing, but you may choose to take it as a compliment!

A Birdbrain Examples

insult/offended

Calling someone a birdbrain is a mild insult. And you may find that people use it when someone close to them is behaving silly or childish.

©Cast Of Thousands/Shutterstock.com

Here are some examples of “birdbrain” in conversation:

  • “I’m a total birdbrain. I can’t believe I forgot my wallet.”
  • “Watch where you’re going, birdbrain!”
  • “How do you not know the answer to a simple question? You’re such a birdbrain.”
  • “Those birdbrains definitely don’t have much going on upstairs.”
  • “Would a birdbrain know that being called a birdbrain is actually a compliment?”

Calling someone a birdbrain is a mild insult. And you may find that people use it when someone close to them is behaving silly or childish. People rarely use it in a way to convey serious offense. Although, it can still be hurtful when you’re on the receiving end. If a friend calls you a birdbrain for tripping over a chair, then you both probably laughed and agreed upon your clumsiness. But if someone says that you are a birdbrain behind your back, they may mean more offense and genuinely find you stupid or dumb. If you find yourself stumped, think about the context of the situation. 

And, sometimes, you might call yourself a birdbrain for being absentminded, forgetful, immature, or awkward. 

So while it is an insult, people may use it playfully. However, you should still be cautious about how you wield any slander, whether outdated or not. 

A Birdbrain Similar Sayings

Being called a birdbrain is the same thing as being called stupid. Some synonyms for the word “birdbrain” include nitwit, ditz, scatterbrain, featherbrain, cuckoo, silly, moron, simpleton, dummy, numskull, nincompoop, and so on. 

Some antonyms for the word “birdbrain” include genius, intelligent, whiz, intellectual, thinker, smart, and sharp.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © fran_kie/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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