Birdeen

A few years back, I came up with “guanophenia” as a euphemism for the state or condition of being batshit crazy. Multitudes suffer from, or perhaps enjoy, this particular ailment. The problem with that particular neologism, of course, is that the production of guano, per any dictionary you’re likely to find, is not at all limited to bats. For example, my trusty Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, Eighth Edition, which has been at my side for three decades and more, says that “guano” is “a substance composed chiefly of the excrement of seafowl and used as a fertilizer; also: a similar product (as of fish-cannery waste).” More bird than bat, then. What to do? When in doubt, ask Nancy Friedman:

I once worked for a group of civil engineers who referred to birdshit — an occupational nuisance because it interfered with electrical transmission, or something — by the Irish-sounding euphemism birdeen. I have never seen or heard this circumlocution before or since.

“Birdeen” apparently was a not-so-rare given name in the 1930s: among the first eight items from a Bing search were the obituaries of two women (and one man) named “Birdeen” who passed away in 2014, all born in the early Thirties. But the name existed before the turn of the century. From Fiona Macleod’s The Dominion of Dreams, 1910 edition, written in the 1890s:

They were happy, Isla and Morag. Though both were of Strachurmore of Loch Fyne, they lived at a small hill-farm on the west side of the upper fjord of Loch Long, and within sight of Arrochar, where it sits among its mountains. They could not see the fantastic outline of “The Cobbler,” because of a near hill that shut them off, though from the loch it was visible and almost upon them. But they could watch the mists on Ben Arthur and Ben Maiseach, and when a flying drift of mackerel-sky spread upward from Ben Lomond, that was but a few miles eastward as the crow flies, they could tell of the good weather that was sure.

Before the end of the first year of their marriage, deep happiness came to them. “The Birdeen” was their noon of joy. When the child came, Morag had one regret only, that a boy was not hers, for she longed to see Isla in the child that was his. But Isla was glad, for now he had two dreams in his life: Morag whom he loved more and more, and the little one whom she had borne to him, and was for him a mystery and joy against the dark hours of the dark days that must be.

They named her Eilidh.

Macleod, otherwise known as William Sharp (1855-1905), assumed the pseudonym circa 1893; his widow Elizabeth subsequently compiled, and in some case edited, his works. I still don’t know, however, how this mystical, and presumably airborne, child is connected to the stuff that lands on your windshield 45 seconds after departing the car wash.





4 comments

  1. Roger Green »

    21 March 2015 · 2:39 pm

    Ha! Independently, unless I’m doing a My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine thing, I’ve been using guano crazy. http://www.rogerogreen.com/2011/10/15/guano-crazy-candidates-question/

  2. McGehee »

    21 March 2015 · 3:56 pm

    The flying mammals have become less popular as adjective excreters online the last few years, and putting that phrase in Ben Franklin’s mouth on an installment of “Sons of Liberty” probably rings true to the internet generation precisely because any epithet from the last decade might as well be 200 years old in internet years.

    That said, it will probably come back, now bearing the cachet of “retro.”

  3. CGHill »

    21 March 2015 · 4:31 pm

    Roger: My guano piece precedes your guano piece, though not by much, and it proves nothing anyway.

  4. Tatyana »

    22 March 2015 · 1:25 pm

    I’d guess “Birdeen” comes from “Aberdeen”, but what do I know about semi-hobbits in rural British Isles?

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