“Naked as a jaybird”

1. Text (folk simile)

“Naked as a jaybird”

2. Context 

My informant heard this piece frequently from her grandmother. She grew up in rural Tennessee, a small town with a population of about 900 people. If you’re going outside and looked like you’d be cold based on what clothes you have on, she’d often heard her grandmother say “Put some clothes on, you’re naked as a jaybird!” When asked, my informant made me aware that the phrase is not said in a joking manner, but rather just a normal, everyday phrase. When the phrase is used, she recalls that it is said in a more serious tone and in a way that doesn’t embrace nakedness as natural, but it is taken more negatively seeing it as a shock factor.

 3. Analysis/YOUR interpretation

The folk simile “Naked as a jaybird” to me, originally, seemed to imply one is fully nude. According to my informant’s rural Tennessee background, however, it is not used by her family in the same way. This is a prime example of Von Sydow’s proposed oikotypes as the meaning of this folk simile where one does not need to be fully nude, is a local variant of the original meaning that implies one is fully nude. The implication that the idiom does not always refer to a nude body, is a logical extension of the comparative method. The phrase is likely heard in more rural areas where there is more of a connection between animals and humans as opposed to cities. There also are no sexual connotations meant to go with this phrase, it is simply meant in a harmless way to say that someone simply isn’t dressed properly and should put on more clothes. When I first heard this saying, I immediately associated it with being another way to say that a person is nude but did not associate any sexual connotations. When you hear the phrase “naked as a jaybird”, are jaybirds naked? Birds don’t have clothes hence they are always “naked” and relating nakedness to a bird, lessens sexual connotations.