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What is the origin of the phrase "as sick as a parrot"?


The industry and statistical information for aviculture is still in its youth. Approximate life span info is provided from various sources. Please feel free to contact us if you have updated information on the life spans or can add other species. Visit our Senior Psittacine page for stories and pictures of elderly parrots.
  • African Grey - 50 to 75 years
  • Alexandrines - 40 years
  • Amazon - 50 to 80 years
  • Budgie - 10 to 20 years
  • Caique - 30 years
  • Canary - 10 to 15 years
  • Cockatiel - 15 to 30 years
  • Cockatoo - 50 to 70 years
  • Conure - Blue Crown - 50 years
  • Conure - Greencheek - 20 to 25 years
  • Conure - Sun - 25 to 30 years
  • Eclectus - 25 to 30 years
  • Finch - 10 years
  • Lovebird - 10 to 15 years
  • Lorikeet - 15 to 20 years
  • Macaw - 40 to 80 years
  • Macaw - Mini - 25 years
  • Parrotlet - 15 to 20 years
  • Pionus - 25 years
  • Quaker - 25 to 30 years
  • Ringnecks - 25 to 30 years
  • Senegal - 15 to 40 years

TRIVIA - Answers:

TO AVOID United States quarantine and livestock importing restrictions, people smuggling parrots from South America into the US dope the birds on tequila as they near the Mexican border. Careful timing of the binge will ensure that the birds are sleeping it off through the border crossing formalities and will not greet the officials with a mouthful of verbals as is the breed's wont. Having thus avoided detection, the downside for the exotic loudmouths is coming to with the mother and father of a hangover. This queasiness manifests itself in the origin of the expression. - F. L. O'Toole, London SW19.

THE PHRASE originates from 1926 when the previously obscure disease of bird psittacosis became a pandemic of clinical importance, involving humans in 12 countries with more than 800 cases. The association of respiratory infections in man and contact with parrots was soon recognised. - Dr F. W. A. Johnson, Liverpool.

IT IS A CORRUPTION of "sick as a pierrot" and refers to the typically pale and miserable face of that French pantomime character. - Peter Barnes, Milton Keynes.

ANOTHER THEORY (but a quite erroneous one) is that the Amazon parrot - a large green bird with yellow cheeks - was the most-sickly looking creature imaginable. - (Mrs) Jane M Glossop, Pwllheli, Gwynedd.

I FIRST HEARD this simile shortly after the Monty Python "Norwegian Blue" sketch. Whether this is relevant, or whether it is just another example of people finding non-sequitur expressions of this type amusing, I know not. My mother always used to be as sick as a cowboy's "oss". The interesting thing is that being sick as a parrot is not the same as being sick as a dog. - Alex Wilson, Billingham, Cleveland.

The phrase was originated by the dramatist Aphra Behn in her 1682 comedy, The False Count, in which the maid Jacinta says of her mistress Julia (Iii1), "Lord, Madam, you are as melancholy as a sick Parrot." The simile is particularly apt as Julia is herself a bright and beautiful creature deprived of her liberty by a jealously oppressive husband. It is for this reason that the phrase is used to expresses a feeling of disappointment rather than one of nausea. - Joss Pinches, Huelva, Spain

During a recent long trip to Indonesia, I found that by necessity I learnt the correct way of saying "upset stomach" in the language of the country - "Sakit Perut", pronounced: "Sackit Paroot". Could it be that this has been adopted over the years, like so many others, by english speaking travellers to the archipelago and returned to native shores corrupted into familiar words? My theory at least made me feel a little better at the time. - Tony, Salford UK

I've never seen a parrot be sick. Cats, now that's a different thing. Sick as a cat I say. - Phil, London

In 1909, the Tottenham Hotspur team toured Uruguay and Paraguay. On the voyage back home they were gifted the ship's parrot by the captain of the vessel. The parrot lived happily at the club for 11 years until it keeled over and died in 1919 on the very day Spurs were relegated from Division 1 and Arsenal promoted in their place. - John, London UK

John, London was the correct one. - Peter, Thornaby UK

It has become a soccer cliché after Brian Clough, on TV at half time during the 1983 England v Poland World Cup Qualification match predicted "sit back, relax, the goals will come", and the Polish Goalkeeper would be shown to be "just a clown" After the match ended in just a 1-1 draw he said "I feel as sick as a parrot" which then became a cliché for a dissapointed football manager. - Matty, Canterbury UK


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Updated 9/04/17