Birds of a feather

Birds of a feather
Copyright Lincoln Park Zoo

Sometimes closely related material doesn’t wind up all that close together in reference books. I found a good example of that this week while browsing through Bartlett’s again.

I looked up “birds of a feather” and found two citations in the index — one on page 107 and one on page 223. That happened because the authors of the quotations are several decades apart in time, which is the organizing principle for the quotations in Bartlett’s (at least in my edition).

The first citation has the words I expected, but from an unexpected source — “Don Quixote,” part II, by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616):

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

The other citation comes from Robert Burton (1577-1640), in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” part II:

“Birds of a feather will gather together.”

Oddly, it’s this slightly later reference in Bartlett’s which gets a footnote from Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In “Rhetoric” Book I, Chapter II, says Bartlett’s, he wrote:

“Beast knows beast; birds of a feather flock together.”


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  • One of the advantages of electronic publishing is that a search finds the phrase wherever it is.

    The other thing of which the picture reminded me was that "Flamingos smell because they pee on their legs to keep cool."--as usual, Craig Ferguson.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, Jack, but I am not so sure that finding the phrase anywhere it is truly makes an advantage. One reason I set out to do the "browsing through Bartlett's" is that search engines are killing the serendipity of finding something you don't expect. I grew up reading a wonderful columnist, Sydney J. Harris, who occasionally had columns made up of "Things I learned en route to looking up other things." I still love that idea.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Leisurely browsing has its advantages. On the other hand, I just blew an hour clicking on links based on various unrelated topics.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Sydney J. Harris was one of my favorites too. And I do remember "Things I learned...."

    I had "the serendipity of finding something you don't expect" when researching the origin of 'Charley horse' which I wrote about in one of my recent posts.

    Margaret, you're on target again.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thanks so much! I love your "Charley horse" post -- I just hadn't decided how to say that.

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