Catbird seat

Catbird seat

"The catbird seat" is an idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand or greater advantage in all types of dealings among parties.

"In the catbird seat" was among the numerous folksy expressions with which the legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber delighted listeners. Some say he invented the expression; others say that he dug it up from his Southern origins.who|date=June 2008

According to Douglas Harper's Online Etymological Dictionary, the phrase refers to the Gray catbird and was used already in the 19th century in the southern United States. [ [ Catbird] , Online Etymological Dictionary, Douglas Harper. Accessed 17 September 2006.] However, another clue to the history of the word may come from the Australian bowerbird of the family "Ptilonorhynchidae", also known as the catbird. This bird is known for the extraordinary lengths that the males will go to in order to build a bower to attract a mate. Some birds will assemble several hundred colored rocks or shells, arranging them in a remarkable and artistic display, in order to build the "seat" atop which his mate will eventually be enthroned.

In a 1942 humorous short story titled "The Catbird Seat," James Thurber [Thurber, J.G., "The Catbird Seat", "New Yorker Magazine", November 14, 1942] features a character, Mrs. Barrows, who likes to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explains that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber and that to Barber "sitting in the catbird seat" meant "'sitting pretty,' like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him."

According to Barber's daughter, it was only after her father read Thurber's story that he began using the phrase "in the catbird seat." However, according to "Colonel" Bob Edwards' book "Fridays with Red", Barber claims that Thurber got this and many other expressions from him, and that Barber had first heard the term used during a poker game in Cincinnati during the Depression. [Edwards, Bob, "Fridays with Red - A Radio Friendship", Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993]

External links

* [ Image of a satin bowerbird ("Ptilonorhynchus violaceus") and the collection of objects near its nest]
* [ Image of an artistic interpretation of a "catbird". This piece was replicated in a stone inlay and installed at Gracie Mansion, the New York City Mayoral residence.]


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • catbird seat — ☆ catbird seat n. an enviable position, as of power …   English World dictionary

  • catbird seat — [[t]kæ̱tbɜː(r)d siːt[/t]] PHRASE: v link PHR If you say that someone is in the catbird seat, you think that their situation is very good. [AM, INFORMAL] If he had not been hurt I think his team would be sitting in the catbird seat …   English dictionary

  • catbird seat — cat|bird seat [ˈkætbə:d ˌsi:t US bə:rd ] n be (sitting) in the catbird seat AmE informal to be in a position where you have an advantage …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • catbird seat — cat|bird seat [ kætbɜrd ,sit ] noun be in the catbird seat AMERICAN INFORMAL to be in a situation where you have an advantage …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • catbird seat — Informal. an advantageous situation or condition: His appointment as acting dean put him in the catbird seat. [1940 45, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • catbird seat — noun AmE informal be (sitting) in the catbird seat to be in a position where you have an advantage …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • catbird seat — noun : a position of great prominence or advantage sitting in the catbird seat …   Useful english dictionary

  • catbird seat — cat′bird seat n. inf inf an advantageous situation or position • Etymology: 1940–45, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • catbird seat — noun Date: 1942 a position of great prominence or advantage …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • catbird seat — noun Expression used to describe an enviable position, often one of great advantage …   Wiktionary

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