This unique Andy Griffith catchphrase has stumped experts on the English language
This figure of speech truly is a rare bird.
The Andy Griffith Show sure could coin a phrase. If someone says, "Nip it," you immediately think Barney Fife. Gomer himself was known for a few catchphrases, what with "Shazam," "Golly," and "Surprise, surprise, surprise."
Thanks to his folksy, Southern speaking style, Sheriff Andy sure had a way with words, too. In fact, there was one phrase, in particular, he was fond of saying. And it has linguists stumped.
The national public radio show A Way with Words, hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, explores the nuances and history of our language. The broadcast also welcomes questions from listeners. A few years back, an Andy Griffith Show fan named Iris stumped the two word experts. She wanted to know the origin of a frequently used Andyism.
Let's go back to the 14th episode of the sitcom, "The Horse Trader." In the first scene, Barney explains to Andy why he resists change. He specifically has a nit to pick with an automated stamp machine at the post office. He refuses to buy stamps from a "slot machine." So he writes a letter to the Postmaster General. He doesn't send it, though. You see, he doesn't have any stamps.
This prompts Andy to affectionately say while shaking his head in disbelief, "Barney, I'll tell you the truth, you are a bird in this world."
That is not the only time Andy calls someone a "bird in this world," his way to fondly label someone quirky. As A Way with Words explains, Andy later says the same to Aunt Bee when she fusses over the quality of her apple pie.
But here's the weird thing — Andy is the only person to use this phrase. Like, ever.
"I don't see this phrase anyplace else," Barnette says. The two hosts looked in every dictionary and dialect book — they even did a full text search of newspapers. Nobody else had ever written, "You're a bird in this world." Now that's cuckoo!
"I think the people who wrote this show coined this phrase," Barrett adds, "Or else Andy Griffith himself came up with it."
They speculate that the term might just be a colloquial spin on "rare bird" or "odd duck." Iris the fan wonders if Andy just liked the way it sounded, due to the purring internal rhyme of "bird" and "world."
Maybe, if we as fans start using this saying enough, perhaps it can finally make it into dictionaries. After all, Merriam-Webster added "Adorbs" and "Rando" to its dictionary in 2018.
Take a listen to the A Way with Words segment: