Posted by R. Berg on October 12, 2005
In Reply to: "For the birds" posted by Smokey Stover on October 12, 2005
: : : As I recall, this came into vogue about 1950. Since I was in college at the time, I heard the un-Bowdlerized version. In that era there was still some horse-drawn traffic in rural areas, so everyone had seen birds pecking at road apples. The original expression was "Crap for the birds."
: : 1950s sounds about right.
: : FOR THE BIRDS - "Worthless; overstated; appealing to the simple-minded. Probably the connotation is that only a birdbrain would go for whatever is being dished out. In J.D. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye' Holden Caulfield is quoting and then commenting on a blurb issued by his preparatory school, Pencey Prep: 'Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men. Strictly for the birds.' From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).
: I've heard both versions, with little to recommend either. It's used in my house a different way. Things that are edible, but not by us alleged humans, are put out "for the birds." I don't offer that as a meaning or an etymology, just a comment. SS
Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases" quotes a source who explains that "that's for the birds" is "from the by-products of horse-drawn transport, which once nourished a large population of, especially, sparrows. That is, 'that's a lot of horse-s**t'. American, from 1930s, or earlier".
So that's what road apples are.