English of the Day

The internal software at my office has an interesting little addition called ‘English of the Day’ that pops up on the login screen and the home page. It gives a phrase in English, the meaning, an example sentence, and the frequency of usage.

Today it had two phrases that I’d never heard of, which I found surprising.

The first one was ‘in the catbird seat’, which, after further research, turns out to mean ‘sitting pretty’, or to be in an advantageous position. It is an American phrase which refers to the catbird (a mimic thrush which can replicate the sound of a cat’s miaow and sits high up in trees). It was introduced into mainstream usage in 1940s by baseball commentator Red Barber, and James Thurber’s short story The Catbird Seat. A slightly more recent example of the influence of literature than the Chaucer story I talked about a little while ago.

The second one was ‘strictly GI’, where GI is short for Goverment Issue (not Gastro-Intestinal, as it most often means to me, but then again, I studied pathology at university). The software did mention that anyone who used this phrase would probably be military, so it’s unsurprising that I don’t use it myself. ‘Strictly GI’, as well as being a 1943 film starring Bob Hope, means something is standard issue, military, by the book, etc. It has also been applied to infantrymen, or common soldiers. I think a lot of us remember the popular action figure G.I. Joe. I never realised that they were essentially calling the poor guy ‘Average Joe’.

I’ve asked for some more information about the source of these idiomatic gems, but as yet I haven’t heard anything back.