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What Does "Birds of a Feather Flock Together" Mean?

Two similar birds, the inspiration for the term "birds of a feather flock together.".
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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The phrase “birds of a feather flock together” is used to refer to the many ways that humans who share interests, demographics, or other characteristics will naturally group themselves together in a given situation. This phrase is an example of a “metaphor of personification,” where the literal meaning, related to birds, is figuratively used to relate to humans. There is generally nothing negative or demeaning about the use of this phrase, where some other metaphors of personification can be offensive to some speakers.

Many language historians attribute the origin of the phrase to the 16th century. Originally, some writers had used a slightly alternate phrase “birds of kind and color,” which is a bit more literal than “birds of a feather,” where the word “feather” is used to denote commonality. In older forms of this phrase, old English spelling often applies.

Some uses of the phrase have been used in reference to older works. One of the most prominent is the use of this phrase in a translation of Plato’s Republic. Most researchers would agree, though, that this idiom was not explicit in the original, but rather a convention of the translator.

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Along with the social use of the phrase “birds of a feather flock together,” this phrase has also started to become popular in some circles related to computer programming or IT development. In many cases, the phrase has been shortened to the abbreviation BoF. One use of this item is in describing Web forums dedicated to a particular intention or goal. In general, BoF refers to either informal work groups of people engaged in the same task, or a broader collection of developers with a common agenda or focus.

In the general category of idiom phrases in English, the phrase is often classified more precisely as a “saying,” in other words, a popular metaphor, which is also a “truism,” or re-statement of something that may often be evident. The phrase also benefits from its internal rhyme. Some also see it as mainly a descriptive phrase, when used in its original social context, that might be applied to an observed instance of people being grouped together in a certain way. In the above computer industry context, the phrase has become more a kind of “marker” for collaboration and cooperation in progressing toward particular IT goals.

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andee
Post 7

Is anybody a fan of British sitcoms?

If you are, you might recognize this as the name of a sitcom called "Birds of a Feather" that was popular during the 1990's.

I have only had the chance to see this a few times when I lived in England. I don't think it was ever played in the US, so many people would not be familiar with it.

Even though this was a comedy, you could see how this show was based on this old saying.

Now all you have to do is take a quick look at the major social networking sites and see this saying put in to practice. There are groups and forums on just about anything you can imagine.

This is not a bad thing, but it just goes to show that this is something that will always be around in one form or another.

John57
Post 6

Ever since I can remember, my parents and grandparents used this term. Not until reading this article did I realize it is now commonly used in the computer world.

Now when I come across this abbreviation, I will understand what it means. The 'birds of a feather flock together meaning' can be easily seen in nature.

I have seen this saying hold true many times, for both birds and humans. I feed a lot of birds, and very seldom do you see all different types of birds feeding at the same time.

Usually the same kind of birds, such as cardinals, goldfinches, bluejays, are at the feeder when their same 'type' is. If others come to eat, they will be chased off.

In humans, I see this more as you associate with those you have common interests with and feel comfortable around. Most people like to move in social circles within their comfort zone.

I see this as human nature that is fairly common for most people. Not many people easily step outside their circle of where they feel most comfortable and accepted.

miriam98
Post 5

@allenJo - I agree. It’s not just mailing lists where the phrase birds of the feather flock together holds true. In the Internet age, it’s with social media.

Social networking sites have become places where people of common interests and passions can come together to network and share ideas. You can create your own “favorites” pages on some of these sites and have a lot of people subscribe in short order.

Of course these relationships are not as meaningful as friendships in my opinion. They are simply for convenience, and possibly to build business connections.

allenJo
Post 4

Regardless of the origin of the word, I think it’s clear that marketers embrace it as an inescapable truth.

They often target specific demographics in their marketing campaigns, whether you are talking about age groups and people with personal interests or children, to name just a few.

If you own your own business you can even buy mailing lists of people who have common interests. I used to subscribe to this magazine of business ideas and immediately I was put on a mailing list of “opportunity seekers.”

Soon I was flooded with “special offers” from people peddling their own business opportunities, whether they were legitimate businesses like franchise operations or questionable practices like envelop stuffing. Clearly my name had been sold to these people from the magazine I subscribed to.

burcinc
Post 3

@alisha, @turquoise-- I don't agree. BoFs- Birds of a Feather IT groups- are actually unofficial groups and they're certainly not an interest group.

I don't think that a goal or objective is necessary for the proverb "birds of a feather flock together" to apply to a group. But I do think that these groups of people tend to be different than the rest of society in some way. For example, many people are born in America and are American but we don't use this phrase for Americans because it's a characteristic almost everyone shares in the US.

But not everyone in the US has Italian roots for example. If Americans with Italian roots came together as a group we could use this phrase for them. So the group needs to have some sort of an exception in my view.

turquoise
Post 2

@alisha-- I don't see why it couldn't be both. I mean, every group, whether it's official or not, comes together because of common likes and interests.

For example, I have five close friends all of whom have a personal blog on beauty and so do I. I didn't become friends with them knowing this but somehow, unintentionally we found each other the first semester of college and have been friends since.

I think that people who are similar recognize these traits in each other, maybe even subconsciously, and come together without even realizing. It's pretty natural because we all enjoy spending time with people who understand us and who have the same hobbies.

So for me, my friend group is a good example of "birds of the same feather flock together."

discographer
Post 1

The 'birds of a feather flock together' quote doesn't refer to a formal type of group right?

I mean are these generally people who sort of naturally come together because of their likes or who come together officially with a specific purpose in mind?

For example, can we say that interest groups are 'birds of a feather who flock together'? Members of interest groups generally have the same characteristics and work towards the same goal.

IT groups clearly see this phrase applicable to themselves and I think they're a type of interest group as well.

What do you think?

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