In the UK there is a popular idiomatic saying:

To pull a bird.

"Bird" is a well known Brit expression for a young woman. In the USA, I think "chick" is more popular. The above expression means to have success in fixing a date or going to bed with an attractive woman.

I'd like to know why the verb, "pull" was preferred and not catch, get, take, trap, or even grab.

And why do Americans go for "chicks" and never "birds"?

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    "Bird" is old-fashioned AmE slang for woman, from the film noir era. I'd say around 1940s, roughly the same time that "dame" was popular. I've never heard it with "pull" though.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 21:58
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    @KitFox: It goes back a lot further than that! OED has citations from 1400 for bird = maiden, girl (plus one from 1330 for the now-obsolete sense young man, youngster, child, son). Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:02
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    @Mari-LouA A chick is, of course, only one of very many different types of bird - and a very young one at that. So maybe Americans are either very selective or very fussy! (grin back)
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 23:35
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    I'm aware of "pulling for birds/blokes" from my British friends but the AmE equivalent used in my time (late 1970's - early 1980's) was "picking up chicks or guys/dudes". Of course picking up a chick or dude was no gaurantee that the the picker-upper would "score" (result in sexual conquest). ;-) Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 0:07
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    Then there's the American (and Australian?) "to flip the bird," meaning to thrust one's middle finger into the air in a gesture of contempt or aggression (the nonverbal equivalent to the locution "F**** you!") Personally, I don't see the similarity between human phalanges and any bird I'm familiar with, but perhaps we're not talking about a resemblance but about something else entirely, and I will not go there! Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 0:19

1 Answer 1


I think it's probably just because in British slang pull has that meaning independently of bird. From OED...

pull: trans. 12a: Brit. slang. To pick up (a partner), esp. for sexual intercourse; to seduce. Also intr.

It also occurs as a noun in the expression on the pull, and there's no reason why a couple of young British men shouldn't hope to pull some girls on a night out. Come to that, the girls they end up with may have gone out hoping to pull some blokes.

As to why young British women are called birds, OED says it derives in part from a now-obsolete

burd: a poetic word for ‘woman, lady’; the female counterpart of berne n.;
in later use chiefly = ‘young lady, maiden’.
berne: a warrior, a hero, a man of valour;
in later use, simply one of the many poetic words for ‘man’.

Of chick, OED says applied to human offspring; = chicken n.; esp. in alliteration with child. Sometimes as a term of endearment, with citations starting from 1320. But their earliest citation for the current (well, hopelessly "dated", imho) sense girl; young woman. slang (orig. US) is 1927.

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    @Mari-Lou: Almost certainly they were, because OED says that originally (back in 800) it was The general name for the young of the feathered tribes; a young bird; a chicken, eaglet, etc.; a nestling. The only sense in Old English; found in literature down to 1600; still retained in north. dial. as ‘a hen and her birds’. Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:05
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    I found this: "Bride is from the OE bryd, which is well attested, especially in poetry. Burd appears in early Middle English alliterative poetry... It could come from either of the two Old English words. It has also been suggested, that the Danish cognate brud, “bride,” may be the origin rather than the Anglo-Saxon. Alternatively, it could come from the Old English noun byrd, “birth, lineage” and its adjective byrde, “well-born,” suggesting a well-born lady."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:28
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    Burd Ellen was the sister of Childe Rowland (who was not invented by Browning): authorama.com/english-fairy-tales-24.html . But I never knew the origin till now. Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:39
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    Pull is independent from bird, but often found together. Of the OED's four quotations, they're together in the earliest two (1965 and 1973).
    – Hugo
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 4:45
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    And of burd: Burd has been variously identified with bird n., and with bride n.1 Although its later spelling is identical with the modern Scots form of bird, and it has been sometimes treated as merely a fig. use of this word, the earlier forms of both show them to be quite distinct. The identification with bride has somewhat more plausibility; but even if we take as the basis the Danish brud instead of the Old English brýd, the phonetic difficulties are many and serious.
    – Hugo
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 4:53

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