It is an idiomatic expression that means “someone told me, but I’m not telling you who it is”. This phrase is often used more comically than seriously, especially when the source of the information is obvious to both parties but neither is willing to say.
Various authors over the centuries, including Shakespeare, have made reference to birds, feathered or otherwise, giving messages. I have found an earlier version of this phrase: “A little bird has whispered a secret to me,” from 1833 on www.phrases.org.uk
Idioms are fixed combinations of words whose meaning is difficult to guess from the meaning of each individual word. For instance, If two people are birds of a feather, they are very similar in many ways, so they naturally spend time together and join together. That is not the same as the separate meanings of their individual words.
“Do not complain about your friends. Remember, birds of a feather flock together. Your friends are just like you.” These are examples of idioms, they cannot be taken literally.
Sometimes we use the features and cliches based on birds as a short way of expressing a more complicated idea. For example if “the student learned about the birds and the bees in his health education class at school” is a way of saying that he or she has learned the facts about sex and birth and life, the facts of life.
Also idioms help to make English a more colourful language: “An early bird” is someone who arrives someplace early or starts something early
“I am an early bird and I like to arrive early at work every morning.” If you wake up and get to work early, you will succeed, in this case we can say the proverb: “The early bird catches the worm”
Similes are expressions which compare two things, they always include the words as or like. You can use similes to make a description more emphatic or vivid, e.g. “as free as a bird” completely free, carefree. “Eat like a bird” to eat very little. The opposite would be “Eat like a horse”, and if he eats very unpleasantly and greedily with no table manners he “eats like a pig”.
Idioms are used to catch the reader’s eye, particularly those with strong images, e.g.: “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. This expression means that it is better to have an advantage or opportunity that is certain than having one that is worth more but is not so certain. The ‘bird’ we already possess is far more valuable than the ‘two’ we could possibly get. In essence, don’t be greedy and a “bird brain”, stick with what good things you already have, instead of going after something you’ll probably never get.
The Teacher, a very interesting and intelligent person, not a “birdbrain”, introduces us to three idioms connected with birds:
- To have a bird’s eye view. (a general view from above)
- A little bird told me.
The phrase “to kill two birds with one stone” I do use it by habit, but I catch myself every time I say it. The expression is rarely used literally, no one really goes around throwing stones at birds these days. Again, because these examples are idioms, they cannot be taken literally. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the usage as a proverbial phrase meaning “to accomplish two different purposes by the same act or proceeding.” Or in other words: “to use only one action to complete two tasks”.
And this is what I hope I have done with this post, learn about idioms and expressions and about bird features.
Another video about birds idioms by JamesESL English Lessons (engVid)
To learn more about Bird Idioms:
- Cliches about Birds
About idioms in general:
- Sayings, Idioms, Quotes and Proverb
- Practical Precepts: Proverbs
- Lost In Translation: Every language has its ready-made expressions