Naked as a Jaybird

Where did that come from? “Naked as a jaybird?” The “jaybird” presumably is a Blue Jay although it could be any of the other jay species but who cares? All jays have feathers. None are naked. None are nude. In fact, only the species which invented the phrase is ever naked. That’s us. And some of us revel in being unclothed. We even have camps for it. Here is an old newspaper ad which, you will note, refers both to “Jaybirds” and “blue J.” (That is a strange looking jay in the drawing.)
Naked as Jaybird
Apparently, the phrase is an Americanism. In England they say, “Naked as a robin.” But robins aren’t naked either. Except when first born, no bird is ever naked. According the O.E.D. “Naked as a robin” was first recorded in Shropshire in 1879. It looks as if no one in America was “naked as a jaybird” until 1943. The earliest recorded “naked” comparison came in 1377. People then were “naked as needles,” which makes more sense. No doubt there were earlier comparisons lost in the dawn of time. Adam or Eve probably coined the first. (“Naked as a fig leaf?”)

Someone wrote an entire book on the subject, apparently full of photos of people without clothes. (We haven’t seen it, but doubt that the photographs are very interesting. We once took a “barefoot” cruise in the Caribbean. Each day there was a session for the passengers to ask the ship’s captain questions. Someone asked him if his cruise line did cruises for nudists. He admitted that it did. “What is like?” asked someone. The captain replied, “Most people look better with their clothes on.”) The book is Naked as a Jaybird by Dian Hanson. In it she (he?) writes,

Modern nudism began in Germany with the Wandervögel, or wandering birds, young men and women who took to the countryside, hiking, singing and shedding their clothes in protest against Europe’s dehumanizing industrialization. The year was 1900.

Maybe. It’s pleasant to think of nudists as wandering birds, although it doesn’t make much sense.

Perhaps real wandering birds, encountering naked humans, become “wondering birds.”

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