“A little birdie told me…”
Heard that colloquialism before?
Nobody knows exactly where this phrase comes from but I heard it through the grapevine that the oldest and most likely source is Ecclesiastes 10:20.
“Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”
Or it could just be a reference to carrier pigeons. Perhaps Solomon (or whoever wrote the wisdom he collected) was also thinking of carrier pigeons. Or parrots. Solomon acquired a lot of exotic things. Maybe parrots also.
If it wasn’t Solomon, or perhaps if the wisdom of Solomon became colloquial later, or perhaps if both of these happened independently, the Norse myth of Sigurd the dragonslayer might have been an inspiration. When he kills the winged dragon Fafnir and tastes of the dragon’s blood, he gains the power to hear the tongue of the birds (the logic makes some sense: touch the blood of a magic winged critter to your tongue, you speak the tongue of winged critters). He hears the birds gossiping that his foster father would betray him.
Richard Wagner borrowed from this tale for his opera, Siegfried, based on the tale The Ring of Nibelung. In this adventurous tale, the hero comes to find a helmet and ring after a little bird tells him of his quest.
J.R.R. Tolkein borrowed from one or both of these stories when the wrote The Hobbit. When Bilbo is in the Lonely Mountain and announces he has discovered Smaug’s weakness, a small thrush overhears him. The thrush is the last of a breed of magical messenger birds, and carries the message to the nearby village of Laketown. He whispers the dragon’s secret into the ear of an archer named “Bard”, who is then able to slay the dragon by aiming for his missing scale. Since he can understand the bird, we know he’s a descendant of kings.
So the saying goes way back through a number of similar tales. The recipient of the news is always privileged by the news and unique in their knowledge of the source. Hence why people often proudly claim, “a little birdie told me…” Of course, sometimes people know exactly where the person got their news from, and so they are speaking a little tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes it’s just a cutesy way of sugar-coating the practice of gossip. Or espionage.
The birds tell me to be wary of secrets, of rumors of gossip. As Gospel preacher Michael Shepherd says, “if a little birdie told you something, you might want to ask yourself if that birdie is cuckoo.” If you hear a secret or a rumor, it may be meant to remain secret. Maybe that birdie meant to tell you and you only. If the birdie is lying, there’s no sense in spreading it. If the birdie is telling the truth, ask yourself why he whispered in your ear. It might need to stay secret.
If you saw it in a tweet, or in a meme, or on a Facebook post, or from the mouth of a news commentary anchor, don’t automatically assume it is a fact, an accurate relay of the facts, an actual quote, or even a tasteful joke. Think before “sharing” all tweets, statuses, memes and monologues. Little birdies are powerful, and digital birdies are especially powerful. Be careful little mouths, what you say. Little fingers, what you type.
But these days it seems e’rebody’s cuckoo, and everybody’s the little birdie. Think twice before everything you say on twitter. Or any social media, for that matter. If it’s a secret, should it be told? Is it even true? Who should know it? Be careful what you say, or wings will take up and report the matter faster than a finch flees from a fox.
Bird is the word. Tweet.