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I found “Big Bird” being used as the byname of public broad services in the article titled,“The Red and Blue Fantasies behind the Big Bird War” appearing in Time magazine’s October 9 issue which begins with the following sentence:

"There is a reason conservative’s dream of cutting funding for Big Bird, but it has nothing to do with Sesame Street. Behind the big yellow fowl is a fantasy: the idea that the federal budget can be balanced by doing away with wasteful ephemera that no one really needs. “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too,” Romney said at the first debate to Jim Lehrer, the moderator. “But I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

From the context of the above sentence, I surmise that Big Bird appearing in the popular children’s TV show, “Sesame Street” became the nickname of PBS. If I am right, I wonder why just one of 1,000 Sesame Street characters comes to represent for PBS.

Why PBS is called "Big Bird"? The article says “There is a reason conservative’s dream of cutting funding for Big Bird, but it has nothing to do with Sesame Street.”

Why don’t you say simply “PBS,” which I think is short enough word that doesn’t need to take a bother of inventing an alias?

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Big Bird here is not a nickname for PBS but a metonym. –  StoneyB Oct 10 '12 at 1:18
    
@StoeyB.I corrected ‘nickname’ as ‘alias.’ I’m not sure if it agrees with ‘metonym’ you suggested, the word I didn’t know. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 10 '12 at 1:30
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@StoneyB: I don't think it even acts as a metonym, it is simply literally Big Bird (but by implication also Sesame Street and then also PBS), that is, not as a stand in representative for all of PBS. –  Mitch Oct 10 '12 at 1:37

2 Answers 2

"Big Bird" is not really a nickname for PBS, but Sesame Street is such an iconic show for the PBS network that to say one almost immediately brings the other to mind. As StoneyB said in a comment, this is an example of a metonym (though to be honest I'd never heard the phrase before StoneyB mentioned it).

Why didn't they just say "cut funding for PBS"? I'd speculate that it was a creative choice. Saying that you're cutting funding for Big Bird (or Elmo, or any other well-loved TV character) makes it sound more personal and thus more dramatic than just saying you're going to cut funding for a network.

As for why "Big Bird" and not one of the other characters? In Romney's generation, Big Bird was the iconic Sesame Street character, so that's probably why that one sprang to mind, but I think you could substitute any other prominent character and achieve the same effect.

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In a political environment, Romney may have also been making a preemptive attempt to deflect criticism that his proposed cuts could hurt children. It's one thing to declare, "I want to cut the McLehrer News Hour;" That's likely to elicit a yawn – just like the McLehrer News Hour. But when you mention cutting Sesame Street – the show credited with teaching an entire generation the alphabet – well, them's are fighting words. –  J.R. Oct 10 '12 at 2:48

Big Bird was specifically referenced by Mitt Romney in a statement during the debate last week in which he said he would eliminate federal funding of PBS.

I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I love Big Bird.

In many ways, Big Bird, and the show in which he/she/it appears, Sesame Street, has become iconic for Public Television.

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