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I really have looked, but the best I can come up with is this

To say that something is "for the birds" is to call it horse manure. Dating from the days of horse-drawn traffic, the expression is the answer to a child's question: "Mommy, what's all that stuff in the street?"

Perhaps I need to get out more (not that there's much of it around where I live), but I find it hard to believe that of all the things it might be known for, bird food should be considered an archetypal use for horseshit. Is that really the origin?

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From Phrases, Cliches, Expressions on www.joe-ks.com:

For the birds

Meaning: Something that is worthless.

Origin: Before the advent of cars, one could see and smell the emissions of horse-drawn wagons in New York. Since there was no way of controlling these emissions, they - or the undigested oats in them - served to nourish a large population of English sparrows. If you said that something was for the birds, you're politely saying that it's horse crap.

Example: His apology, after his deliberate and harmful actions, was for the birds in everyone else's eyes.

...and then there are the following two quotes from the Bible which if interpreted the same way, would put the usage way before the 20th century:

Isaiah 18:4 For this is what the Lord has told me: “I will wait and watch from my place, like scorching heat produced by the sunlight, like a cloud of mist in the heat of harvest.” 18:5 For before the harvest, when the bud has sprouted, and the ripening fruit appears, he will cut off the unproductive shoots with pruning knives; he will prune the tendrils. 18:6 They will all be left for the birds of the hills and the wild animals; the birds will eat them during the summer, and all the wild animals will eat them during the winter.

Jeremiah 16:4 They will die of deadly diseases. No one will mourn for them. And they will not be buried. Their dead bodies will lie like manure spread on the ground. They will be killed in war or die of starvation. And their corpses will be food for the birds and the wild animals.

(from the website: 10000birds.com as an answer to the question, "Why is 'for-the-birds' a bad thing?")

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Interesting. Your citations are from a 1999 translation, and the Isaiah passage is translated "unto" or "to the birds" in KJV and ASV, the most likely versions to feed into the phrase; KJV translates the Jeremiah "fowls", but ASV does use "food for the birds of the heavens". – StoneyB Dec 21 '12 at 4:51
Apparently the Venerable Bede (673–735 AD) was sent to take over as top cleric at York. When he arrived and saw whatever derelict hovel was then on the site of what's now York Minster, he said it was fit only for Birds to build their Nests in. Looks like the Christian church has always held birds in low regard! – FumbleFingers Dec 21 '12 at 18:10

According to the Phrase Finder,

It is US Army slang and originated towards the end of WWII … a shortened form of the vulgar version 'that's shit for the birds'. That suggests the derivation of the phrase which is the habit of some birds of pecking at horse droppings (a.k.a. road apples) in order to find seeds. Both versions were defined in an edition of American Speech from 1944:

That's for the birds. It's meaningless

Shit for the birds. Nonsense, drivel, irrelevant matter.

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Hmmm. I can't read the whole context, and it might be misdated - but to me at least, this 1935 instance of that's for the birds argues against shit for birds to eat. Seems more like an allusion to being for bird-brained/flighty people, or maybe airy-fairy/lightweight/castles in the air sort of stuff. I shall wait to see what else emerges. – FumbleFingers Dec 21 '12 at 0:05
Well of course, there would have been things which are intended for birds ("Is the new cage for the hamster or rabbit?" "Why, it's for the birds"), but at least online, I could only find the sense of "worthless things" in postwar works, when the phrase also sees a big uptick in popularity. books.google.com/ngrams/… – choster Dec 21 '12 at 0:20
Ah, right. First time around I couldn't see enough context - I just saw that "I told him it was a piece of silliness" occurred somewhere just before the search phrase, and assumed they were connected. I've now sneaked up on it from a different direction and discovered the speaker had apparently just flung away something she didn't want to eat. So you're quite right - it's just a literal usage. – FumbleFingers Dec 21 '12 at 0:34

Looking at Google Books, I see proto-figurative uses of "for the birds" along the lines of:

By sword and famine shall they be consumed that their carcase may become food for the birds of the heavens and the beast of the earth

The implication here (and in several other similar cases) is not that the birds are feeding on horse shit, but rather on the dead bodies of those deemed unworthy of living.

There are also many references to passages such as Matthew 6:26:

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

These passages imply that birds are among the lowliest of all of God's creations, and thus anything that is "for the birds" would be lower than the lowest.

I'll also mention The Birds by Aristophanes, which contains at a very minimum, dozens of references to birds which could somehow apply (though I'll admit I've made no attempt to penetrate this work sufficiently to speculate how it might apply).

In my (admittedly brief) review of works up into the 70s, I did not see any direct uses of the figurative "for the birds" until 1960, and nowhere did I see a use which implied the birds were feeding on horse shit. (But of late Ngram "hits" in the early/mid 1900s have been severely hampered by the limitations imposed on displaying them, sorry to say.)

In my opinion (and I've seen nothing to contradict it, but lots of birds supporting the notion), it's most reasonable to regard "for the birds" as simply reflecting the fact that birds will feed on very tiny amounts of pretty much anything. (Consider, eg, the idiom chicken feed meaning "a trivial amount of money.) It's the sort of expression that would be invented tomorrow if it didn't already exist.

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"That's for the birds" is related to calling someone a "birdbrain". Meaning you have a small brain, are foolish, silly, ignorant, gullible.

That's for the birds is to say that whatever you are referring to is for silly, foolish, ignorant and gullible people.

Now when did people start calling each other bird brain? I believe that originated from caveman times, lol. 5000 BC to 10,000 BC

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I'm sure this is relevant to the matter of how the expression gained / retained currency, but I don't think it directly relates to the origin. I might be wrong, of course, I only asked the question in the first place because I don't know. – FumbleFingers Apr 1 at 16:49
This sounds like your opinion, or a folk etymology you heard somewhere. You see how the other answers cited relevant etymological authorities? That's what makes them credible, and why people upvoted them. Your answer is both competing with those, and contradicting both, and without any authorities to back you up, the only conclusion we can come to is "this guy is either making this up or just plain wrong", and consequently downvote. The remedy is to quote and cite relevant authorities in your answer, to give us a reason to believe, and to upvote. – Dan Bron Apr 1 at 16:49

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