Are you thinking about telling on the behavior of someone else? You could be a “stool pigeon.” A stool pigeon is a common idiom from the 1800s, but today, many people replace it with the word "snitch," which came to fame after the rise of hip hop culture in the 1990s.
The word stool pigeon is colloquial language, and it's only suitable for use in social situations. The term "informant" would be a better choice for use in professional settings. This post unpacks everything you need to know about this colloquial expression. We'll cover its meaning and origin and look at ways to use the idiom in conversation.
Stool Pigeon Meaning
The original meaning of the idiom "stool pigeon" has three references to a decoy bird used in hunting, a police informant, or a lookout or decoy for a criminal organization. When you refer to someone as a stool pigeon, you could be referring to their behavior of "ratting out" other people for illegal or egregious activity.
The informant meaning of the word is more common today, as most hunters don't refer to a decoy as a "stool pigeon" anymore, and a lookout is usually in cahoots with a criminal organization. They won't like the word since it refers to informing their counterparty's to a crime.
Stool Pigeon Example Usage
Some of the ways you could use stool pigeon in a sentence are the following.
- Rob is a real stool pigeon for the teacher; he told her we were all cheating on the test.
- Cindy is a real stool pigeon; she told the boss we were ten minutes late coming back from our break.
- Chris is a stool pigeon; you can't trust him to keep a secret.
- Skylar is a stool pigeon. Did you see how she turned in her neighbors for cracking the tiles on the steps?
Stool Pigeon Origin
The origin of the idiom "stool pigeon" dates back to 1812. The original meaning was a decoy bird, which evolved into a human decoy to deceive or trick others. The saying morphed into a decoy for the police in 1821, cementing as a term to describe police informants by 1859.
"History of Animals," released in 1812, describes the use of a wooden decoy bird in hunting. The decoy would attract other birds to the kill zone inside a hunting area, usually manned by hunters in a hide. The original text reads as follows.
"In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance."
A court report in 1821 refers to the use of "stool pigeon" to describe a decoy rather than an informant. The original text reads as follows.
"Van Ort made use of him as a kind of stool-pigeon, to decoy or persuade other blacks to go to the south with him."
Phrases Similar to Stool Pigeon
- He's an informant.
- He's a rat.
- He's a snitch.
- He's untrustworthy.
- He'll tell on us.
Phrases Opposite to Stool Pigeon
What is the Correct Saying?
- Stool pigeon.
- Stoolie pigeon.
- Stool pigeons.
Ways People May Say Stool Pigeon Incorrectly
Some people may use the idiom in the wrong context. In modern language, stool pigeon refers to an informant, not a decoy.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase Stool Pigeon
You can use "stool pigeon" in everyday conversation when referring to someone that's an informant. The stool pigeon may work in your company; it could be a friend, family member, or outsider.
Saying someone is a stool pigeon is a fairly outdated phrase, and you're better off going with "informant" or "snitch" if you want people to understand the reference.