Tuesday, December 15, 2009

At Last: Mother Carey's Chickens, Explained

Have you spent sleepless nights, tormented with the question: "who are Mother Carey's chickens?"

If so, this is your big day!

I won't say it's weighed heavily on my mind, but I'd been wondering about the phrase, and looked it up. The following

"Mother Carey's Chickens."
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898, Bartleby.com

"Stormy petrels. Mother Carey is Mater Cara. The French call these birds oiseaux de Notre Dame or aves Sanctæ Mariæ. Chickens are the young of any fowl, or any small bird.
" 'They are called the "sailor's" friends, come to warn them of an approaching storm; and it is most unlucky to kill them. The legend is that each bird contains the soul of a dead seaman.'..."

Well, other people say, 'is not.'

Some say they're stormy petrels or snowflakes. The idea that Mother Carey's chickens are petrels seems to be pretty generally accepted, though.

Then there's the movie of that name:

"Mother Carey's Chickens" (1938)

And, a book, "Mother Carey's Chickens" (Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin (1911)). She's also wrote "The Birds' Christmas Carol" (1887), "Timothy's Quest" (1890), and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1903).


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