The following article submitted by Wessel Rossouw
To say that someone is cuckoo is not very flattering to say the least. However in the English world, once again, not everything is always what it seems. In the British Empire (whatever that means) “being cuckoo” means to be not all there, speaking a lot without saying anything (like the incessant calling of a cuckoo) or even crazy. In the New English World (read America) it means to be very enthusiastic about something.
In South Africa (it is up to you to decide about the English world we fall into) when we speak cuckoo we are mostly referring to a family of birds that are nefarious for basically two reasons. On the one hand they are brood parasites. This means they lay their eggs in other birds’s nests and those poor birds have to feed and bring up the young cuckoos. Come to think of it, this could not be the reason “cuckoo” refers to not being all there. After all, not having teenagers in your home must be the result of some very fancy and clever footwork.
The second reason they are nefarious is because of their incessant calling. It can drive you crazy to hear a Red-chested Cuckoo calling from sunrise to sunset and what makes you even more crazy is the fact that the are notoriously difficult to catch sight of. The call travels quite a distance and it also seems to me that they are part ventriloquist as well and this can really drive you up the wall or make you go cuckoo for that matter. Some cuckoos in the region of Asia are known as “Brain-Fever Birds.” Their loud, monotonous calls, repeated incessantly through the sweltering nights of India, were alleged by British colonials to be enough to provoke brain-fever and madness.
Even the bard (THE BARD) Shakespeare mentions the cuckoo as a voice in the wilderness, of little importance, without recognition of his kin because of its parasitising other birds and their nests:
“So when he had occasion to be seen
He was but as the cuckoo in June,
Heard, not regarded . . .”
(King Henry IV, Part 1, III, 2, 74-76)
Here endeth our English literature lesson! This theme was also exploited in a rather brilliant movie a few years back called: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” Whatever the case may be, it is also true that the majority of birds belonging to this family bring up their own young. They are also among some of the most beautiful birds you will ever get the opportunity to see. In Greek mythology, Zeus transformed himself into a cuckoo so that he could seduce Hera; the bird was sacred to her. Another interesting fact is that coucals are also part of this family, albeit a rather cuckoo family.
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