[Tweeters] Re: Birding History

Alice Swan aswan at rockisland.com
Sun Jan 15 12:43:52 PST 2006

Greetings, Tweets.

As an English major from a time long past, may I answer? Though our
language provides forms (-er added to a verb=one who does the verb)
that we all understand and can manipulate, how we view the manipulation
has a strong social context, which is what people are describing on
this thread. Perhaps the first few times we hear a particular
manipulation (some form that breaks the rules such as -er added to a
noun=one who interacts in some, hopefully clear, way with the noun), it
may seem virtuosic and creative, when we view it as an invention. On a
few more hearings it becomes irritating (now it's clearly not an
invention--just something someone heard and is copying (or maybe they
"don't know any better"), or it may seem to contain a social
message--that the speaker assumes himself more "hip" or expert than the
listener). If the new construction starts replacing the use of the old
familiar, "correct" construction, many listeners will feel a lot of
resistance, especially if the new construction carries no obvious
advantage, such as brevity, or is associated with some especially
jargon-ridden group, or if the old construction is particularly apt, or
appreciated for some reason.

Using the construction "I'm a birder" is not "wrong", and there are
social contexts where, now, you would want to use it to make yourself
clear (though you still might choose resistance over clarity). However,
you might continue to end your nightly prayer with, "Thank you, Lord,
for making me a bird-watcher." For the rest of the list, it depends on
whether the base-word is primarily a noun or a verb, or has made the
transition to being used both ways, and when that transition took
place. Therefore, "I'm a knitter", I'm a brewer" and "I'm a gambler"
are all correct and have always been correct because the base-words are
verbs: "to knit", not "a knit"--you don't walk into a store and ask for
"a knit"; instead you want "a sweater". People may find themselves
responding to ads for "knits", or ordering "a brew", or taking "a
gamble", but the noun forms are derivatives of the verb forms and have
not replaced them. "To quilt" may have replaced "to make a quilt" which
may now seem long-winded and inefficient.

We all understand "I'm a birder", "I'm going birding" and "To bird is
to live" but our social and aesthetic reactions may vary wildly. As a
cellist, people sometimes ask me about my "celloing"--it makes my ears
"crawl" but I know how to answer, and, if I'm feeling particularly
kind, I do.

Please forgive my "knit-picking". But . . . ain't language grand!

Alice Swan
Orcas Island, WA

> And if anyone is an English major here, I query: why is "I'm a birder"

> wrong,

> but "I'm a quilter" not? "I'm a knitter"? "I'm a brewer"? "I'm a

> gambler"?

> They're all a noun with an -er added to make it an active term...

> Ain't

> language grand?!


> Cheers,


> Susan Collicott

> Ballard, WA



> On Sat, 14 Jan 2006, Edwin D. Lamb wrote:


>> All right Mike! That's what I do, I watch birds. I don't

>> know what it is to bird something. The word doesn't make a

>> very good verb, in my opinion.


>> Edwin Lamb in Bellevue, WA

>> edsplace2 at comcast.net


>> ----- Original Message -----

>> From: "Mike Patterson" <celata at pacifier.com>

>> To: "Tweeters" <tweeters at u.washington.edu>

>> Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2006 7:46 AM

>> Subject: [Tweeters] RE: birding history



>>> At the risk of being accused of picking nits, people who

>>> studied

>>> birds before the mid-60's would not have called what they

>>> did

>>> birding. They would have been as repulsed by the term

>>> birding

>>> and reacted in the same way many did a few months ago to

>>> "googling".

>>> They would probably have cringed the way I cringe when I

>>> hear

>>> "journaling" or "scrap-booking".


>>> Back in the day, people referred to themselves as

>>> bird-watchers,

>>> ornithologist, naturalists, but not birders. The term

>>> came into

>>> common usage in the late-60's and early-70's as a

>>> mechanism to

>>> distinguish a class of "extreme" birdwatchers focused on

>>> bird study

>>> as a sport. It was an unabashedly elitist way to separate

>>> the list

>>> building, ID focused bird chasers from the little old

>>> ladies, eccentric

>>> gentlemen and shotgun ornithologists most people thought

>>> of when

>>> characterizing bird-watchers. Since that time it has

>>> come, more less,

>>> to identify all classes of bird students, much to the

>>> annoyance of some

>>> old school birders.


>>> It is this difference in the definition of what a birder

>>> is that

>>> often leads to hurt feelings and impugned characters.

>>> This is the

>>> a big chunk of the reason why some folks were so grumpy

>>> about the study

>>> done by the USFWS claiming 46 million birders.


>>> Me? Even though I came of age in the age of the "true

>>> birders" and

>>> have an elitist streak in me, I still call myself a

>>> bird-watcher and

>>> celebrate my eccentric gentlemanliness... or a

>>> naturalist... or an

>>> ecologist. I only use birder when talking with the press,

>>> for

>>> efficiency sake...


>>> --

>>> Mike Patterson

>>> Astoria, OR

>>> celata at pacifier.com


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