What does this "poem" mean?

Observe yon plumed biped fine.
To activate its captivation,
Deposit on its termination,
A quantity of particles saline.

I first saw it in a Slashdot footer; Google didn’t help much, but did show that it’s related to Linux somehow. I’m guessing it’s a joke… But I don’t get it.

It’s a fancy way of saying that you can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail. That’s an old adage or belief.

If you can get close enough to put salt on a bird’s tail, couldn’t you just, you know, grab the bird?

That is not a very funny or clever poem.

That, I think, is the point of the old saying about putting salt on a bird’s tail. The poem is just a fancy way of saying it. I’ve never quite understood the point of the saying – it seems too much work and not enough wit to make an obvious point.

I think there’s more to it, although not much. I think it’s a comment on the tendency to use unnecessarily big words to convey pretty simple ideas, though what that has to do with Linux, I don’t know.

It’s still not very funny, though.

It’s from a Swedish folktail.

Just FYI, Highlights is not a very good source for accurate information on folk traditions. Authentic folktales are rarely thinly-disguised morals designed to teach children life lessons in narrative form.

Previous posters are correct in that its primary reference is to a belief. There may be a reference to this belief as far back as the early first century A.D., in Strabo’s Geography: 12.5.20: “After Galatia towards the south are situated Lake Tatta… Now lake Tatta is a natural salt-pan; and the water so easily congeals round everything that is immersed in it, that when people let down into it rings made of rope they draw up wreaths of salt, and that, on account of the congealing of the salt, the birds which touch the water with their wings fall on the spot and are thus caught.”

I realize the question has already been answered, but that’s never stopped a doper from answering something before, has it? As a general poem deciphering technique, I go through poems line by line and put them in my own words. For instance:

Observe yon plumed biped fine.
Look at the pretty feathered animal with two legs.
To activate its captivation,
To catch it,
Deposit on its termination,
Put on its end (tail),
A quantity of particles saline.
Some salt.

In other words, look at the pretty bird. Salt its tail to catch it. I think Jodi probably has the right idea of what it “means” though. It kind of reminds me of all of the overly verbose love poetry one can find. I don’t know, I think I kind of like this poem. It’s a bit self-mocking and not laugh out loud funny, but it made me grin.

I think the connection to linux might have something to do with the linux culture’s aversion to bloated software, or simply a caution to the various people who might be programming to keep their codes simple and to the point rather than overly complicated and inefficient.

At the least, my husband is a linux geek, and I think that kind of sums up his point of view!

Honestly, now, was the “salting a bird’s tail” thing ever an actual belief held by some? I figured it was just one of those crazy lies parents told their kids to keep 'em quiet and get 'em out of the house for a while. “Really, junior, it works. Go give it a shot, Mom and I will wait here.”

And in the same spirit, here’s another poem that purposely uses a fistful of fifty-cent words, which I’ve carried in my head for years:

Scintillate, scintillate, globule orific,
Fain would I fathom thy nature specific.
Loftily poised in ether capacious,
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

Hey, Max, set that to music and I think you have a hit!

Years ago, there was a brand of salt (Cerebos 3-1 on, Saxa 5-1, 50-1 bar) that had a picture on its packet of a little boy chasing a bird and trying to pour salt on its tail. The caption was “See how it runs”, which was a pune or play on words since it could either refer to the celerity of the avian’s retreat or the free-flowing nature of the salt.

Cerebos salt still has that pic and tagline here…

Set that to music and you basically have Tom Lehrer circa 1953.