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Old 07-23-2002, 07:54 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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How did the cuckoo call become a synonym for someone who is crazy?

I think the OP explains itself. I want to know how this interesting bird's call became a popular euphemism for someone that has lost his or her sensibilities
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Old 07-23-2002, 08:02 PM
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This is a secret well-guarded by the insane. You would have to be indoctrinated into our secret cult first. You WILL BE one of US!
In the state of insanity,
- Jinx
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Old 07-23-2002, 08:07 PM
Darwin's Finch Darwin's Finch is offline
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I haven't been able to find how the two became associated, but according to this, the term first appeared in American slang in 1918.
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Old 07-23-2002, 08:14 PM
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The European Cuckoo repeats its call incessantly through the day. Therefore the name of the bird became used with someone who speaks senselessly and pointlessly.
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Old 07-23-2002, 08:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Darwin's Finch
I haven't been able to find how the two became associated, but according to this, the term first appeared in American slang in 1918.
But the earlier sense of "stupid person" goes back to 1581.
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Old 07-24-2002, 12:44 PM
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From The Handbook of Birds of the World:

Quote:
Shakespeare's plays mention the cuckoo as a voice in the wilderness, of little importance, without recognition of his kin and homo repudiandus. (Prince Hal consorted with Falstaff and the rioters and neglected his social relations with the court):

So when he had occasion to be seen
He was but as the cuckoo in June,
Heard, not regarded . . .


(KIng Henry IV, Part 1, III, 2, 74-76)
A much earlier association of the cuckoo with "nonsense" is that of Aristophanes' setting of his play The Birds in "Cloud-Cuckoo-Land."
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Old 07-24-2002, 01:18 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Thanks Colibri,

That is getting me close to an answer. I still don't know where it came from exactly but I can see that it is really old.
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Old 07-24-2002, 01:27 PM
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Well, the Oxford English Dictionary specifically says:

Quote:
3. Applied to a person, esp. in reference to the bird's monotonous call, or its habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, = a fool.
(first cite listed from 1581)

It's just a short step from extending the meaning from "foolish," to "crazy."

While I don't believe it's directly related to the derivation, it's worth noting that several species of cuckoos from South Asia, particularly the Plaintive and Brush Cuckoos, are known as "Brain-Fever Birds." Their loud, monotonous calls, repeated incessantly through the sweltering nights of India, were alleged by British colonials to be enough to provoke brain-fever and madness.
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Old 07-24-2002, 04:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Colibri
Well, the Oxford English Dictionary specifically says:

3. Applied to a person, esp. in reference to the bird's monotonous call, or its habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, = a fool.

(first cite listed from 1581)


I believe this is also where the term "cuckold" comes from - a man unknowingly supporting a child fathered by another.
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Old 07-24-2002, 05:01 PM
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Yes, the Cuckoo is emblematic of several things:

1) Spring, since it is a migrant, and its call signals the start of the growing season.

Sumer is icumin in
Lhude sing cuckoo!


2) Unfaithfulness, because the female lays its eggs in the nest of other birds (hence, cuckold).

3) Foolishness, due to its repititious call and its lack of care of its own young.

4) Changeablity, being reputed to change into a Sparrowhawk (which it somewhat resembles) at the end of summer, thus explaining its absence during the winter when it migrates.
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Old 10-30-2018, 12:28 AM
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In the novel Wuthering Heights, Hindley refers to Heathcliff as a cuckoo, meaning an imposter. Cuckoo birds are brood parasites, meaning that they lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Then the unwitting birds raise it as their own if it is not discovered and ejected. The novel was published around 1840 so the common use at that time was used on orphans and bastards to mean they weren't quite right; didn't quite fit in. This was taken to mean by some as "behaving oddly" and it was evolved to describe the mentally deficient and those with psychiatric issues. Thus today when someone uses the label it is meant that "they are off in the head".

Last edited by Miss M; 10-30-2018 at 12:32 AM.
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Old 10-30-2018, 01:20 AM
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I think coo-coo is the inspiration for cray-cray.
__________________
It's too late.
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Old 10-30-2018, 03:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Channing Idaho Banks View Post
I think coo-coo is the inspiration for cray-cray.
Or Ga-ga. All of them imply a bit of infantilism or simple-mindedness by an association with baby-talk or blah-blah.
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Old 10-30-2018, 06:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
The European Cuckoo repeats its call incessantly through the day.
Are there no other common European birds that do this?
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Old 10-30-2018, 07:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
..... Brush Cuckoos, are known as "Brain-Fever Birds." Their loud, monotonous calls, repeated incessantly through the sweltering nights of India, were alleged by British colonials to be enough to provoke brain-fever and madness.
Feel sorry for the delicate Bertie Woosters and can total understand how a birdís call can make them go bezerk.

Also, Colibri I think you are referring to the hawk cuckoo and not the brush cuckoo. The Koel (hawk cuckoo) is very shy bird - rarely seen but heard spring through summer in India. Itís a bird symbolizing love in poems and folklore. Some people love bird songs and some donít - I personally love this bird.
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Old 10-30-2018, 09:17 AM
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So, if the cuckoo is a brood parasite (lays its eggs in another bird's nest), and presumably doesn't need to protect a territory to feed its young, why does it call all the time?
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Old 10-30-2018, 10:01 AM
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Enormous sexual appetite?
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Old 10-30-2018, 10:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
So, if the cuckoo is a brood parasite (lays its eggs in another bird's nest), and presumably doesn't need to protect a territory to feed its young, why does it call all the time?
A male sets up his territory and then invites mates by calling. He also calls to keep other rival males away.

I have heard (Maybe Colibri can confirm) that the female cuckoo bird can hold its eggs for extended periods until she finds a suitable host.
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by am77494 View Post
A male sets up his territory and then invites mates by calling. He also calls to keep other rival males away.

I have heard (Maybe Colibri can confirm) that the female cuckoo bird can hold its eggs for extended periods until she finds a suitable host.
But once mating season is over (sometime in the spring I assume), why would the cuckoo care about other males coming along? For most birds, they don't want any others of their species coming along (even after mating) because they'll compete for food, which the territory's male needs to feed his kids. But a cuckoo shouldn't care that much -- it's the host bird that feeds the kids, not the cuckoo. Now the male cuckoo wouldn't want any other birds of the host species coming in, since they'll be competing with the host for food to feed the kids, but the cuckoo's singing wouldn't keep them out, would it?
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:24 AM
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Quercus: there remain some options for why the cuckoo has a call. But whenever we do these things, we devolve into "just so" stories. However:

Birds, particularly songbirds (members of the clade Passeri, of the Order: Passeriformes, commonly called perching birds) evolved a call to defend their territories. Cuckoos also evolved the behaviors and morphology to be brood parasites. They don't need, as much perhaps, to defend territory, but they haven't evolved the loss of the singing trait because ... why would they? They haven't lost their syrinx -- an extra powerful "voice box" outside of the pharynx other vertebrates use to make sounds, so why not use it? Just how much energy would be saved?

Cuckoos may have more complex social order than we realize. Research on crows show they have very complicated social behavior mediated by their song -- yeah, that "caw caw" is way more complex than it seems to a layman. Cuckoos aren't supposed to have a complex social structure, but maybe they do? Maybe male cuckoos keep something like a harem -- as in, a reservoir of females, and drive all males away?

Or maybe not. Maybe cuckoos have to drive all rivals away. If too many congregate in one area, they could deplete all broods to parasitize.
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
So, if the cuckoo is a brood parasite (lays its eggs in another bird's nest), and presumably doesn't need to protect a territory to feed its young, why does it call all the time?
To attract females. Many species call to attract females even if they don't defend territories. And feeding territories aren't the only kind of territory. Males may call to defend their area against other males in order to have exclusive access to any females that enter it. And in any case small birds nesting in the male's territory can be seen as a "resource" needed for breeding. A male defending nesting areas for small birds could be more attractive to females for that reason.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Quercus
But once mating season is over (sometime in the spring I assume), why would the cuckoo care about other males coming along?
Why are you assuming that the cuckoo calls at any time besides the breeding season? In temperate areas small birds may breed raise two or even three broods in a spring/summer, so a cuckoo may want to call throughout the potential time nests are available to females. (This said, I haven't checked to see what the actual calling period is.)
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Channing Idaho Banks View Post
I think coo-coo is the inspiration for cray-cray.
no, that is crazy but in baby talk. It is very modern.
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:57 AM
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A couple decades or so ago it was discovered that female birds sing quite a bit too. Female bird researchers found this out, and male researchers were hard to convince of the fact. The idea of men I mean male birds defending territories and attracting women I mean female birds was too entrenched in their minds. It is still understudied.

cite:https://www.sciencedaily.com/release...0314092348.htm

Last edited by Colibri; 10-30-2018 at 12:09 PM.
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Old 10-30-2018, 12:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkcon
Maybe cuckoos have to drive all rivals away. If too many congregate in one area, they could deplete all broods to parasitize.
I am not sure about that but I can confirm that the Indian Hawk Cuckoo has a pretty large territory. Usually you only hear one cuckoo at a time so I would guess it has a terrritory of about a mile in diameter.

Also as a child, I would mimic the cuckooís call by whistling and it would look around like crazy to spot its competitor.
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Old 10-30-2018, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ulfreida View Post
A couple decades or so ago it was discovered that female birds sing quite a bit too. Female bird researchers found this out, and male researchers were hard to convince of the fact. The idea of men I mean male birds defending territories and attracting women I mean female birds was too entrenched in their minds. It is still understudied.

cite:https://www.sciencedaily.com/release...0314092348.htm
I fixed the link above.

Well, no. It's been known for a long time (not just "a couple decades") that female birds sing, especially as duets with males. No, it wasn't "found out" by those female researchers, and male researchers didn't need to be convinced, since it was already well known. They are correct to point out, however, that female song has been understudied, and that many studies do assume that all singing birds are male. However, in most species, especially in the temperate zone, males do almost all the singing, and its function in defending territories and attracting females has been well documented.
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Old 10-30-2018, 01:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss M View Post
In the novel Wuthering Heights, Hindley refers to Heathcliff as a cuckoo, meaning an imposter. Cuckoo birds are brood parasites, meaning that they lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Then the unwitting birds raise it as their own if it is not discovered and ejected. The novel was published around 1840 so the common use at that time was used on orphans and bastards to mean they weren't quite right; didn't quite fit in. This was taken to mean by some as "behaving oddly" and it was evolved to describe the mentally deficient and those with psychiatric issues. Thus today when someone uses the label it is meant that "they are off in the head".
I understood the term Cuckold to imply the wife was unfaithful and so the husband was unwittingly raising someone else's child as his own - a similar concept as the bird itself. The other thing I recall from popular wisdom was that the cuckoo chick would often grow much bigger than the other chicks, being from a bigger bird typically than the unfortunate host. It may even (deliberately?) push rival chicks out of the nest, leaving us with the image of a tiny adult bird like a sparrow frantically instinctively trying to feed a fluffy demanding (greedy) chick even bigger than itself. One can imagine the social commentary in that image, along with the image of a doting husband being fooled by an unfaithful wife.

Last edited by md2000; 10-30-2018 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 10-30-2018, 01:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
Are there no other common European birds that do this?
In Robert E Horward's Pigeons From Hell he mentions that Whiporwills are believed to be precursors to death. Having been cursed with one once or twice I can believe it's call would drive you crazy.
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Old 10-30-2018, 02:09 PM
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Anybody else try to click the Geocities cite on this super zombie?
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Old 10-31-2018, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
The European Cuckoo repeats its call incessantly through the day. Therefore the name of the bird became used with someone who speaks senselessly and pointlessly.
How I wish I could hear again the cuckoo's incessant call ! But in my area I haven't heard it in the last 20 years or more. Before that it was common.
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Old 10-31-2018, 05:22 PM
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How I wish I could hear again the cuckoo's incessant call ! But in my area I haven't heard it in the last 20 years or more. Before that it was common.
With the right kind of wall clock, you can hear it again. On the hour, incessantly.
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Old 10-31-2018, 06:20 PM
DavidwithanR DavidwithanR is offline
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With the right kind of wall clock, you can hear it again. On the hour, incessantly.
For the other fifty-nine minutes, it is completely cessant.
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