13 October 2007

Why "pigeons"?

Kathy Lynne wants to know, "Why pigeons?" and adding, "I don't like that."

I don't remember. I do remember seeing something once about where the term came from and, after reading it, feeling that it's not the pejorative term I had previously thought. Where was that article? AAHistoryLovers? Oh yes, here's the post that asked a question similar to Kathy Lynne's and here's the one response it got.

To summarize, the term appears to have originated with Dr. Bob and was in use by 1940. Dr. Bob was heavily into using slang. He called Anne, his wife, "the skirt" or "the little woman" and a kiss "the slobber." When he learned that Benjamin Franklin [follow this link: it has excellent information] had once observed that drunks appeared "pigeon-eyed," it immediately followed that they must be "pigeons". He also referred to sponsees as "cookies." Despite the apocryphal and derogatory explanations one hears from time to time in the rooms of A.A.—that pigeons are called that because they fly around and shit all over everyone, or because if you give them a message they deliver it somewhere but never get the message themselves—the term was originally meant endearingly.

I actually use the term "sponsee" in most of my conversation. But I prefer "pigeon" (and use it more often in writing since I have time to think about it) because it's sort of metaphorical and more colorful rather than technically accurate. When I use it I certainly do not intend it to be derogatory.

If you have a subscription to the A.A Grapevine's Digital Archive, you can find further discussion of this topic in the following articles:
This is a list of references I got from the first of the two AAHistoryLovers posts I noted above. After reading them, I'm still not inclined to change my opinion, though there are some good reasons not to use the term.

P.S. There may be other articles and letters among the 262 that were returned when I searched the archive for the term "pigeon."


Kathy Lynne said...

Thanks Trinker. I actually heard an explanation at a Roundup I attended today. She said that back in the beginning of AA people were on party lines when they spoke to each other and so they spoke in code and used the term pigeon to identify a newcomer and to protect annonymity. Now that makes a bit more sense to me and takes away a bit of the negative connotation that I was placing on it.

sharonsjourney said...

I just got a new 'pigeon'. We are getting together tomorrow to get to know each other a little, see if we'll make a good match. She's back in AA from a drinking, & meth run, is still pretty toxic.