What does “Birds of a feather flock together” mean?
“Birds of a feather flock together” is a very popular idiom that’s used in common, everyday speech. The phrase refers to similarities within a group of people that allows them to connect and feel safe around one another. It, like all idioms, it is difficult to understand if one does not have any previous contextual examples to refer to. The phrase does not make sense on its own or when one tries to define its individual parts.
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Meaning of “Birds of a feather flock together”
The phrase “birds of a feather flock together” refers to the natural phenomena of a single bird species flying in groups or flocks. These flocks, or murmurations, can become quite dense as thousands of birds join in together. The reasoning behind this, scientists suggest, is because there is safety in numbers. Together, the birds are stronger and safer from predators than they are separately.
It is this same reasoning that allowed the idiom “birds of a feather flock together” to gain traction. It’s a piece of wisdom that feels quite obviously true. People join together with those they feel are similar to them, and together, they can face what comes as a group. The similarities that these groups might have could be anything from politics, moral or religious beliefs, life structures, etc. There is safety, the idiom says, in being around those who believe the same thing you do.
Origin of “Birds of a feather flock together”
The phrase “birds of a feather flock together,” in some form, has been used since the middle of the 16h century. A version of the phrase appeared in 1545 in William Turner’s satire, The Rescuing of Romish Fox. In the volume, the phrase was slightly different than it is today, but the central meaning is there. It reads:
Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together.
The alternative spellings in the line make it slightly harder to read, but in contemporary English, it says, “Birds of a kind and color flock and fly together always.” This is one good example of how idioms, as well as everything from nursery rhymes to prayers, transform through use and the evolution of the English language.
The first recorded printing of the phrase in what is recognizable as the idiom used today was in 1599 in The Dictionarie in Spanish and English that was put together by John Minsheu. It read:
Birdes of a feather will flocke togither.
Some have suggested that the phrase appeared much earlier though, perhaps as early as 380BC in Plato’s Republic. In one translation by Benjamin Jowett in 1856, he translates the line: “Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says.” But, the line can be translated differently, and the lack of citation anywhere else suggests that Jowett may have taken some liberties with his use of the idiom.
When to Use “Birds of a feather flock together”
The phrase “birds of a feather flock together” can be used in common or colloquial speech. It, like most idioms, is meant to be used amongst friends and family. It would likely not appear in a professional speech or paper. The phrase can be used when someone is seeking to comment on the friends they keep, or another keeps, or to make a broader comment about the nature of groups. Depending on how the idiom is used, it might come off derogatory as though someone is suggesting that a group is too closed off and unwilling to step outside their bubble. Alternatively, it can be used light-heartedly to comment on close friends.
Examples Sentences with “Birds of a feather flock together”
- Haven’t you noticed? Birds of a feather flock together.
- When I looked into the shopping mall, I couldn’t help but think “birds of a feather flock together.”
- They were all gathered together marching up the street because, as we all know, birds of a feather flock together.
- Did you see that group walking by earlier? I guess that’s what they mean by “birds of a feather flock together.”
- There’s only one way to describe it, birds of a feather flock together!
Why Do Writers Use “Birds of a feather flock together?”
Writers make use of this phrase in dialogue, whether external or internal, in stories and novels. The idiom, as noted above, is used colloquially or in common speech between friends and family. It could quite easily appear in a dialogue between two friends who are commenting on their own relationship or on a relationship between two or more people they’re observing.
Alternatively, a writer might use the phrase internally, within the mind of their narrator or the character they’re focusing on at that moment. The person might see a group and think “birds of a feather flock together” in either a mocking or good-natured way. The phrase is helpful in creating a link between the reader’s understanding of the English language and how idioms are used, and what’s going on within the content. English language speakers will likely be familiar enough with the phrase to know exactly what the writer is trying to get at when they use it.