For the birds

Grammarist

For the birds is an idiom describing something as useless, meaningless, or only believed by the gullible. It is often used with the modifier strictly.

The phrase was coined in the US military during World War II. The original phrase included a swear word, talking about birds pecking at horse manure for seeds.

That’s for the birds hit its peak in popularity around the 1960s. It was used more often within the United States. However, now the positions have switched. Currently, the phrase, though rare, is used appropriately in other English-speaking countries. If it is used within the United States, it is almost always meant to be a parody of the original phrase, and is used to actually discuss something pertaining to birds.

Examples

They’ve got these cereal bars in the work canteen. Quite tasty, but the idea that they’re health foods is strictly for the birds. [Independent]

The players still have to wait for their classroom grades, but that’s for the birds (am I right, University of North Carolina football team?). [The Daily Aztec]

But as for the notion that they should abdicate their role altogether, that is strictly for the birds. [Financial Times]

The state Senate today passed a measure that’s for the birds. Literally. [NJ .com]

Today’s edition of CNN Student News takes you from the depths of the sea to the skies over Europe. We cover undersea mapping in the Indian Ocean, a disappearing lake in Central Asia, and a view of Paris that’s strictly for the birds. [CNN]

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