Back many years ago, perhaps 1950's, 60's or 70's, the word "bird" was used to describe a woman, and more typically a girlfriend, as in the phrase "She's a top bird"

Was there a male equivalent to this word?

  • 2
    I'm sure there were quite a few possibilities, but not one with the same degree of sexist dismissiveness..
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 24 '19 at 21:17
  • 1
    I would have thought 'bloke' would work in a similar way. It's not quite as dismissive as 'bird', but does have the same ring. Jan 24 '19 at 21:24
  • 1
    I disagree, @Kiloran_speaking. At the time, people might well have said that bloke was equivalent to bird, but in retrospect the implications of the words were utterly different.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 24 '19 at 23:52
  • 'Bird' is the dismissive word applied by men to women. 'Bloke' is the dismissive word applied by women to men. BrE, I would say.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25 '19 at 3:43
  • "Dog", obviously. "He's a bird dog!"
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 21 '20 at 16:57

Bird as a term was applied to women in Middle English. The slang usage was revived in the 20th century as (often disparaging) slang. (The Oxford English Dictionary explains:

d. A maiden, a girl. [In this sense bird was confused with burde , burd n., originally a distinct word, perhaps also with bryd(e bride n.1; but later writers understand it as figurative sense of 1 or 2.] In modern (revived) use: a girl, woman (often used familiarly or disparagingly) (slang).

There often aren't cross-gender equivalents of terms. For one, the sexes were often not thought of in the same way. Sexual looseness for women was often scandalous; for men it was sometimes celebrated. For another, the roles people played were different. Courtship, family structures, and employment were often highly gendered. So with a very general term like bird, the best I can find is another animal-like word that would refer to a man during the same time period you describe.

Cat. Merriam-Webster:

2a. GUY // "some young … cat asked me to go drinking with him" — Jack Kerouac

Kerouac writing it places the usage firmly in the 1950s beat culture. It's also associated with jazz. While other terms (bloke, dude, guy) would be contemporaneous, the animal terms make the two feel more similar.

  • To me, "cat" doesn't connote any gender at all. I suppose it might have had a male connotation due to the male dominance of the 1950s jazz scene, but nowadays, the term can be used to refer to any hip person. Was it used exclusively for men in the past? Apr 21 '20 at 16:42

I am not sure that bird is out of use or really that derogatory. A bird is an attractive younger woman, a top bird is someone very attractive indeed. The difference with bloke is that it denotes nothing except maleness, although it would not usually be applied to someone upper or middle class. It is not the same as ‘guy’ which in an American context is classless and often sexless. That is why you often here middle class Englishmen using guy; they want to appear classless but cannot bring themselves to use the more working class ‘bloke’.

The really derogatory terms for women are the ones which make distinctions on the basis of being lower class (chav), loose morals (slapper, slag), age (old broiler, trout) and low intelligence (bimbo). There are no male equivalents for these terms.

  • 3
    Hello, Jon. All valid comments, and interesting, but they don't address the question (except 'no male equivalents', which has really already been said by @TaliesinMerlin). Apr 21 '20 at 16:42

Lover-boy is often deployed in a similar vein, and was around in the '50s and '60s.

Mrs. Higgins popped another chocolate in her mouth, sucked on it noisily, then drawled, "It's a nice idea, lover boy, but let's face it— you just ain't got the guts. And since you haven't, there's nothing you can do but what I tell you, when I tell you, the way I tell you. You're mine ...

Theodore R Cogswel, Lover Boy. 1954

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.