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The meaning and origin of the expression: As sick as a parrot

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As sick as a parrot

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'As sick as a parrot'?

To be 'as sick as a parrot' is a jocular expression, used to mean someone is highly annoyed or exasperated.

What's the origin of the phrase 'As sick as a parrot'?

This expression is quite recent - it originated in the UK in the 1970s. Unlike most 'As ... as' similes it doesn't rely on the fact that parrots are often sick.

The origin of the phrase 'As sick as a parrot'.
The Monty Python 'Dead Parrot' sketch didn't use
the expression 'As sick as a parrot', but it was
the source of the imagery for it.

Although 'as sick as a parrot' doesn't appear in the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch, first broadcast in December 1969, that's where the idea came from.

There are several 'as dead as...' similes, amongst the most notable examples being 'as dead as a dodo' and 'as dead as a doornail'. The Dead Parrot sketch's writers John Cleese and Graham Chapman didn't use either of these either, but they did list as many ways of being dead that they could think of:

Stone dead
Deceased
Passed on
No more
Ceased to be
Expired and gone to meet his maker
Stiff
Bereft of life
Resting in peace
Pushing up the daisies
Metabolic processes are now history
Off the twig
Kicked the bucket
Shuffled off his mortal coil
Run down the curtain
Joined the choir invisible

That sketch was hugely popular in the UK and many people can quote chunks of it it word for word. The idea that a parrot might be an example of something sick began with that sketch at the very end of the 1960s.

Another comedy favourite of the time was the Colemanballs column in Private Eye. This caricatured the mangled speech of football managers and commentators, popularising terms like 'over the moon'. They also had their comic creations, like Ron Manager, being 'sick as a parrot' whenever their team lost.

Private Eye brought such expressions to the public's attention but they didn't coin them. The first example that I can find of 'sick as a parrot' in print is in a football report from the London newspaper The Observer, May 1973. The report was of the underdogs Sunderland beating the favourites Leeds 1-0 in the FA Cup final:

In Sunderland 1,500 shipyard workers, their wives and families hit the ceiling at the town's Odeon cinema, where they were watching the match in colour. When a despondent Don Revie [the Leeds' manager] appeared on the screen a storm of cheering and booing was followed by a splendid voice from the stalls: "Poor Don Revie, he looks as sick as a parrot".

Whether the phrase was coined there and then or whether it was a repeating of something previously heard we can't now be sure. It was new enough for it to be reported in a national newspaper, which would hardly have been the case if the expression were already in widespread use. Whatever the source, there's no doubt it was inspired by Cleese's dead parrot.

See other 'as x as y similes'.

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