catbird seat

In a superior or advantageous position. “Sitting pretty”!

“The catbird seat” is an American idiom used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand in all types of dealings, but often used in describing sports. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded usage occurred in a 1942 humorous short story by James Thurber titled “The Catbird Seat.”

Longtime baseball announcer Red Barber often described a player in a winning situation as “sitting in the catbird seat.” According to Barber’s daughter, after her father read Thurber’s story, he began using the phrase. However, as Thurber’s story clearly references Barber as using it, one can assume that Barber originated the idiom. According to “Colonel” Bob Edwards’s book Fridays with Red, Barber claimed he had first heard the term used during a poker game in Cincinnati during the Great Depression. Barber himself also put forth this version of events in his 1968 autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat.

According to Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary, the phrase refers to the gray catbird and was used in the 19th century in the American South.

So what is a catbird? It’s one of a group of birds called the mimic thrushes. They include mockingbirds and, as you might expect, they are adept mimics. The catbird is named for its ability to mimic the sound of a cat’s miaow. During breeding season, when protecting its territory, the catbird competes with others of its species. The two combatants sing their way to higher and higher perches. The one who finally takes the highest perch is … well … sitting in the catbird seat!

The phrase is also often used by various NASCAR broadcasters to refer to a driver in a pivotal, valuable position, such as the leader, the last driver to be guaranteed into an event, or a driver utilizing a risky strategy that may bring them to victory.

When used in the sense of a lookout, it can be considered a euphemism for the nautical term “crow’s nest” that is used on sailing ships.

I feel like I’m sitting in the “catbird seat” when I’m driving my Jeep Wrangler and I am able to see what’s happening with traffic. Of course, it’s an entirely different matter when I’m surrounded by semis and delivery trucks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: