Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Melinama in the catbird seat

Rehearsals for the Duke Collegium began again last night. It's an a cappella group, mostly Duke music grad students, but there are a few of us townies too. The spring concert will be creamy music of the Spanish Renaissance. I joined in the fall because I was tired of being boss of all the music in my life.

Trying to describe how extremely pleased I was to wangle a place in the back row - surrounded by big young basses who sing wonderfully in tune and without vibrato - I came up with an expression I've never used before. I was in the catbird seat.

Before looking it up, I assumed the catbird seat was the commanding position a cat finds for watching birds. But no.

This chair, called "Catbird Seat," is (or was) for sale at

The catbird is relatively common to the southern U.S. It is aggressively territorial, driven by instinct to secure a place at the top of the tallest tree in its territory (more).

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words says the term was first used in 1942 by James Thurber thusly:
"Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions - picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.
On the internet, Google, Yahoo, and other big companies seem to sit most frequently in the catbird seat.. Other uses follow.

Blessed with the affections of two of the hottest brothers in daytime, she was in the catbird's seat until... until... whatever happened that pushed her into the disgrace of a 20 second death scene (as Katrina put it, "She's not breathing." "She's gone." "Cut")

A Cuyahoga County resident is sitting in the catbird seat after winning an Ohio Lottery instant game.

Poetry's catbird seat: the consultantship in poetry in the English language at the Library of Congress

From kitty litter to the catbird seat: USA Today looks at how and why AOL went from being "the poster child for Internet bubble excess" after its ruinous Time Warner merger to today's hotly pursued darling.

A New York City teenager seems pleased to be in the catbird seat at the back of the #11 bus.

The Catbird Seat: A Digital Hair Removal Newsletter

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