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Birds and Their Stories

In this May 2010 file photo, sea birds rest on the shore of West Ship Island off the coast of Gulfport, Mississippi.
In this May 2010 file photo, sea birds rest on the shore of West Ship Island off the coast of Gulfport, Mississippi.
Are you Chicken-Livered? Or Are You a Lame Duck?
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Now, the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Today we explain some expressions about birds. For example, if something is "for the birds," it is worthless or not very interesting. Someone who "eats like a bird" eats very little. And "a birds-eye view" is a general look at an area from above.

Did you know that if you tell a young person about "the birds and the bees" you are explaining about sex and birth? Have you ever observed that "birds of a feather flock together"? In other words, people who are similar become friends or do things together. Here is some good advice: "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." This means you should not risk losing something you have by trying to get more of something you do not have.

Sometimes I can do two things by performing only one action. This is called "killing two birds with one stone." But I would never really kill any birds. I love all kinds of animals. This is "a real feather in my cap" -- it is something to be proud of.

Most of the people I work with are "early birds." They believe that "the early bird catches the worm" -- they think that a person who gets up early in the morning for work has the best chance of success. Everyone in my office works hard, but some people "have had their wings clipped" -- their jobs have been limited. This is because the office is organized "by pecking order" -- people with more years and experience are given more responsibility.

Some bird expressions are about crows, chickens and ducks. For example, when I am driving, I always "travel as the crow flies" -- I go the most direct way. Anyone who "eats crow" has to admit a mistake or defeat.

Now let’s talk about my sister. She is not very young. She is no "spring chicken." She will work any job for "chickenfeed" -- a small amount of money. She is easily frightened. For example, she is too "chicken-livered" to walk down a dark street alone at night. Often she will "chicken out" -- she will not go out alone at night.

My sister was an "ugly duckling." She looked strange when she was a child, but she grew up to be a beautiful woman. Sometimes she thinks too much about having something in the future before she really has it. She "counts her chickens before they are hatched." Sometimes her chickens "come home to roost." That means her actions or words cause trouble for her. However, my sister does not worry about what people say about her. Criticism falls off her "like water off a duck’s back."

Politicians are sometimes considered "lame ducks" after losing an election -- they have little time left in office and not much power. Congress holds a "lame duck session" after an election -- important laws are not passed during this period.

This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Jill Moss.
I’m Faith Lapidus.