Revisited: In The Catbird Seat

In a earlier post (Write About What You Don’t Know), I talked about some writers being “in the catbird seat” when it comes to selling articles. I must confess that although I’d heard that expression for years and used it on many occasions, I had completely forgotten its origin. The words kept buzzing around in my head, so to Google I went in search of the answer.

“In the catbird seat” means to be in an advantageous or prominent position. Catbirds are said to sit in the treetops or the highest point in sight and stake out their territory. So, figuratively, a catbird seat is a place of ease and favor.

It’s also the title of a famous short story by James Thurber published in the New Yorker in 1942. Here’s an excerpt from the story, in which a weak and mild Mr. Erwin Martin, head of the filing department at F & S, is pitted against a strong woman, Mrs. Ulgine Barrows, and triumphs over her.

In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. “Are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch? Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?”

It was Joey Hart, one of Mr. Martin’s two assistants, who had explained what the gibberish means. “She must be a Dodger fan,” he had said. “Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions — picked them 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.

Today, I downloaded the entire story and now I remember reading it in high school. It is a brilliant little story and I loved reading it again. Thurber’s catbird story, The Secret Life of Waler Mitty, The Night the Bed Fell — all his stories, drawings and cartoons were delightful. I hope to go back and re-read more of them.

Please leave a comment.

©2007 by Laverne Daley
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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