Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Origins: A bird in the hand and a town called Intercourse

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Meaning: a small advantage actually held is better than a larger potential advantage.
The earliest written usage in its current form is in the Compleat British Songster, 1781, in a song wherein the female speaker declares that she will be faithful and loving to the man who has asked her to marry, that she cares not for the other swains in that “One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The word “bird” in this context means girl or woman, a usage dating back to the 14th century. Variations of the saying date back to the 13th century. The Latin Bible at Ecclesiastes 9:4 states “A living dog is better than a dead lion”, this being recorded as such in Wycliffe’s version of the Bible. A 1546 collection of proverbs records “Better one word in hand than ten in the wood.” Many medieval pubs (some still existing) were named “The Bird in the Hand” as a reference to falconry, the bird in the hand being the falcon and the two in the bush being the prey.
A modern equivalent has been suggested as: “A hair on the head is worth two on the brush.”
In the 1934 pic Belle of the Nineties, Mae West said "A man in the house is worth two in the street."
There is a town named Bird-In-Hand in Pennsylvania. The following is from a website about the town..
Welcome to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Bird-in-Hand is located along Route 340 (the Old Philadelphia Pike) approximately seven miles east of Lancaster City and four miles west of the village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania (see map location)..
Which leads to another question:  why is a town, especially an Amish town, called Intercourse?
(And yes, I know that there is a village in Austria called Fucking - see
http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/austria.asp )
According to the website for the town of Intercourse, at
the village was founded in 1754 but was then known as "Cross Keys."  The name was changed to "Intercourse"  in 1814.  There are 3 possible explanations for the name:
-  the approach to an old racetrack was known as "Entercourse" and this was gradually extended to the town, becoming Intercourse;
-  it comes from the intersection of 2 famous main roads;
-  the friendliness and community of the Amish village gave rise to the name, that it refers to the friendly communications.

Click on the site to see an ad for Amish buggy rides and covered bridges like those in The Bridges of Madison County.

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