a little bird told me

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

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Various authors have made references to birds passing along information to characters, including Shakespeare, and, though the exact origin of the phrase is unknown, a number of theories have been floated around over the centuries.

Some attribute it to Ecclesiastes 10:20 "Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter."[1]

There is also a Norse legend in which, after slaying the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd is able to understand what the birds were saying and they warned him of an impending betrayal. This was borrowed by Richard Wagner's Siegfried (Act 2), in which the main character comes to understand that the song of a small bird instructs him to steal a ring and helmet.

Another, simpler explanation is that it's an allusion to carrier pigeons or other such messenger birds.

The closest written version to our own modern one comes from the 1833 book Peter Simple in which a character says: "It’s very much I care...for a little bird has whispered a secret to me."[2]

Pronunciation[edit]

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Phrase[edit]

a little bird told me

  1. (idiomatic) I received the information from a source not to be overtly exposed.
    Let's just say I know because a little bird told me.

Usage notes[edit]

This phrase is often used more comically than seriously, especially when the source of the information is obvious to both parties but neither is willing to say.

Translations[edit]

References[edit]

See also[edit]