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Illustration: Petrina Chiu

The encyclopaedia Birdannica

Going to see Andrew Bird? Here's a glossary of what the hell he's talking about.


In 1996, Northwestern University handed Andrew Bird a diploma for a bachelor’s degree in violin. But the Chicago native clearly loaded up on extracurricular course work and spent a lot of time in the library. The whistlin’ songsmith has a vocabulary that would’ve made William F. Buckley Jr. blush. Hell, he named a song “Nomenclature.”

Thus, a Bird fan needs a working knowledge of microbiology, botany and antiquity to glean any meaning from his latest, Noble Beast (Fat Possum). Much of what he’s saying is singsongy gibberish, unified in imagery alone, but there’s a bewitchingly melodic aural quality to his poetry. For those who never subscribed to Scientific American or aced their SAT verbals, we put together a handy appendix to the lexicographer’s eighth opus—and take a stab at what he could be getting at.

anthurium lacrimae (anthurium lacrimae decays underneath the canopies—“Natural Disaster”)
Def. Anthurium is a genus of flower that thrives in moist, organic compost. Lacrimae is Latin for tears. Oddly, it’s not rhymed with macramé, which does pop up in another Beast number.
Interp. Despite soiling myself, and crying, I am still a pretty flower.

calcified arhythmetists (all the calcified arhythmetists were doing the math—“Oh No”)
Def. A pun of arithmetics (or math) and rhythmatist (or drummer). Calcified means chalky, unchanging.
Interp. Bird is slyly starting a beef with local math-rock percussionists Tortoise. Oh, snap!

coprophagia (when coprophagia was writ—“Tenuousness”)
Def. the consumption of feces
Interp. Going off the context and title, we believe he’s telling those scribes who interpret his work to eat shit.

dermestid (a colony of dermestids, undressed and digested—“Natural Disaster”)
Def. a type of beetle
Interp. Ringo, George.

midge (midges and moths, cut from a cloth—“Masterswarm”)
Def. a two-winged fly
Interp. A fly, yes, but Midge, played by Cherry Gillespie, was also one of Octopussy’s minions. Bird is more a Roger Moore Bond man.

proto-Sanskrit Minoans (from proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans—“Tenuousness”)
Def. The Minoan civilization flourished on the island of Crete in the second and third millennia B.C. Linguists have found links between the Minoan Linear A script and ancient Sanskrit language.
Interp. He’s just showing off that big brain now. Likely, Bird needed a rhyme for “Lisboans” but didn’t want to sell out to the Girl Scouts with a plug for their delicious Samoas.

plecostomus (the seemingly innocuous plecostomus though posthumous—“Anonanimal”)
Def. A sucker-mouthed, bottom-dwelling scavenger fish. Aquarium keepers throw them in the tank to clean up algae.
Interp. Sticking the term between innocuous and posthumous gives Bird Eminem-like flow. Careful, concertgoers—an online rhyming dictionary returned more than 4,000 results for words ending in “-ous.” If Bird starts freestylin’, bring a book.

pleurisy (malarial alleys where kittens have pleurisy—“Natural Disaster”)
Def. inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs
Interp. By working in references to feline pulmonary disorders, Bird lures the lucrative shut-in cat-fanatic demographic. It’s like the dorky version of a rapper mentioning booze brands. This is one of the song’s two references to lung diseases. Ironically, there’s a real condition called “chronic bird fancier’s lung.” You’ve been warned.

radiolarians (we were the young radiolarians—“Masterswarm”)
Def. Single-cell amoebas that form ornate, snowflake-like mineral skeletons. They are found as zooplankton throughout the ocean.
Interp. It’s about microscopic sea fossils? Until reading the lyrics, we swore this number was a bossa nova take on Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.”

valerian (donning our goggles, valerian ogles—“Natural Disaster”)
Def. Sweet-smelling summer flowers. The pink and white blooms were used as a perfume in the 1500s, and the root is often used in herbal remedies as a sedative.
Interp. Funny: The above definition could pass as an Andrew Bird album review.

Andrew Bird ambulates onto the Civic Opera House stage Thursday 9 and Friday 10. Both gigs are sold out.

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