A serious game…

OK, this is a serious matter. There has, for the first time, been a serious difference of opinion on strategy between factions of Wild Justice and its legal team.

The strategic matter under dispute is how to write the name of the group of birds in which pheasants and partridges are found. Are they game birds or gamebirds, or even conceivably, game-birds?

Sharp words have been spoken and various authorities cited but the matter is still somewhat unresolved – we may need to seek a legal ruling (but if I ‘lose’ I’m going to the court of appeal if necessary).

It probably won’t surprise you that I am in the gamebird camp. It shouldn’t surprise you because that is how I write the word (for it surely can’t be two words) in this blog. On my side I have some fairly powerful allies: British Birds journal, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, BASC and as far as I can make out, the Countryside Alliance.

On the other, the wrong, side are The Guardian and the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Hmmm – have I fallen in with a bad crowd?

I am seriously interested in which you would select and if anyone has any gems of wisdom as to why opinion is divided, any historical perspective or any other thoughts then I’d be keen to hear what they are.

But for now, cast your vote, please, and then press the green DONE button:

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63 Replies to “A serious game…”

      1. Any descriptor with the word ‘game’ in it labels the animal as property and ‘fair game’. It’s a label like ‘pest’ or ‘vermin’ that arbitrarily casts a group of animals into a particular position, often one which is neither justified nor retrievable. Wild Justice needs to rise above this. You should acknowledge the outdated and pejorative terms at the beginning of your court submissions, for example, but thereafter make it clear that you will use the proper names such as red grouse, red-legged partridge and ring-necked pheasant.

    1. Not sure. You could say that the last is the odd one out because the first four say something intrinsic about the bird, whereas the last does not.

    1. The English language continues to fail to get to grips with standardised spelling and grammar. It is almost like a language cobbled together from four different direct sources, with bits nicked from across the globe to flesh out the gaps, and originally designed to let uneducated peasants pay their lord the correct taxes, is all a bit ramshackle really. Maybe the French have the right idea?

      English: Standardised Spelling Optional.

      Bleff mi thole.

  1. Surely gamebird is clearer. But isn't it defining the group on the basis that they are 'fair game' to be shot. Don't we want a different word which defines them on some other basis than that they are bullet-fodder?

  2. A game bird could be someone I went out with in my youth. I am sure I have never been out with a gamebird

  3. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1933 edition) refers, under the entry for 'Game', to that word being "Short for game-fowl 1867". It also refers to 'game-cock'. This suggests that the hyphenated form may be the most recognised. I would suggest, whatever one's preference, that since an (excellent) legal case is involved the form of words in the Acts/Statutes be followed exactly.

    1. Correct English evolves so that what previously was regarded as incorrect becomes acceptable. Today the English language is comprised of many examples. To willfully split an infinitive is common in legal documents. Besides, there are cases where two or more alternatives are equally acceptable.

    2. Robert - that is a reasonable point of view - but I take comfort from the fact that the Wildlife and Countryside Act has many game birds but does include at least one gamebird too!

  4. My gut feeling was to agree with you. But notably, when searching the OED for "gamebird", you are redirected to "game bird", without even an alternate spelling listed. Sorry, Mark...

    1. Callum - surprising isn't it? Not to have the alternative even mentioned looks like an error in some ways. The use of gamebird is very widely used (which doesn't make it right (whatever that means) but should be noted by a dictionary.

      1. The OED is an equivocal authority to follow on this, surely? On the one hand it is certainly used as an arbiter of correct spellings but on the other its editors frequently tell us - when explaining the inclusion of this or that neologism such as 'chillax' - that they do not dictate how the language should be so much as reflect actual usage. There are clearly many published uses of the word gamebird that would justify the OED including it as an accepted usage.

  5. I would have said "gamebird". But OED says "game bird". But more ominously so does Dearly Beloved Mrs Cobb who is never wrong about such matters. This is why we don't need an EB. I see trouble ahead.

  6. Actually I object to the term gamebird - no matter how it’s written. Looking at many bird identification books and apps, under the section Gamebirds you will find various partridges, and grouse - including capercaillie.
    This infers that there is one thing that relates these species - the right of mankind to shoot them. It’s as if their only reason for existing is to be shot!
    Of course, they should be described as partridge or grouse or whatever but the term Gamebird should disappear.

    1. Implies not infers.


      Literally had the distinction drummed into me as a child. Social meeja pedantry seems mild by comparison.

  7. Like you Mark, I have always used gamebird and was certain that when I looked it up I would be proved right. My favourite Dictionary has long been Chambers, and my copy is from 1994, but that says game bird with no alternatives. I also looked at Brian Vesey-FitzGerald's British Game (1946) and he also uses game bird, whereas Poyser's Dictionary of Birds (Campbell & Lack, 1985) hyphenates it. But words evolve, and if so many of us use gamebird then surely that should become a valid alternative. Having said all this, I also agree with Alick that this is a pejorative term that I don't feel comfortable using.

    1. Tim - indeed, I was quite surprised to find that I couldn't roll out a long list of authorities in my support. But also interested to note that the people who shoot these birds go, pretty much all of them, I think, for gamebird. That has to count for something.

      1. Surely following the game industry is wrong. They dismiss birds as merely things to be shot. The rest of us should signal we will no longer tolerate that attitude.

        1. Paul - and use what as an alternative? And there isn't much difference between gamebird and game bird in connotation is there?

    2. Paid 10/6 for my Chambers etymological back in 1971;)

      What a can of worms, and for sure it's not a fair game that has been paid and hats off to WJ for addressing the issue of mass unregulated release:)

  8. Gamebird. Although spell checker disagrees and try’s to split it up.
    I would just like someone to explain to me how a gamebird changes into a wild bird at a farmers behest.

    1. Phasianidae
      Six words, two errors!
      Louise Bacon - you must do better.
      And yes I would get out more if I wasn't marking homework.

      1. And, Tim, double exclamation marks should be banned everywhere – except for road signs warning of the presence of distracted phasianidae wondering what to call themselves.

  9. The problem (if there is one) is not the word but the way it's used. Gamebird can mean a bird in a particular taxonomic grouping or it can refer to a bird that can be shot for sport. Shooters include snipe, woodcock and golden plover as gamebirds or game birds, even though they're waders. Falconers use 'hawk' to describe any old bird of prey that is flown in the sport. They use the word differently to the way a birder would use it. We all use 'wader' to describe the taxonomic grouping even though they don't all wade. So gamebird is fine to refer to the taxonomic group even if they're not all 'game'.

    1. Oh the joys of semantics! Thank you Mr Carter for the falconry reference. I am a falconer who goes hawking with my hawks and falcons. I hawk gamebirds because they are edible (and may be legally taken). Just for the record there is no such word as falconing (verb) and my hawks are kept in a mews (noun for a place of moult, not a posh London side street) and not in a falconry (non-existent word often coined by the media). What it is to be misunderstood.
      I am entertained that this blog's trivia seems to get such a high level of responses than those that are contentious. More humour please. We all need it.

  10. To be as all-inclusive as possible and to have a solid basis in science, perhaps a statute to replace this somewhat pejorative and value- laden phrase with GALLIFORMES would be timely. This would also prevent the release for sport shooting of chickens, turkeys and other alternative potential targets?

  11. Ha ha! a classic 'Pedant's Corner' dilemma. As long as all concerned have the same understanding whichever form is used isn't important. For years I always wrote reed bed as reedbed before I discovered the OED, but I don't think anyone was confused!

    1. I will continue to write "watercourse" and "groundwater" and "wastewater" and "bedwetter" and when the context is appropriate, "reedbed" even though I am self-conflicted everytime I write "surface-water"

  12. I did a quick search of old book titles including gamebirds, game-birds and game birds and the older titles (from the 1800's onwards) use game birds or game-birds and the newer titles (1920's onwards) use gamebirds (generally speaking). Not sure if if that answers the "which is right" question but it does give you some historical use perspective.

  13. Absolutely always 'gamebird' - in quotes to highlight the fact that it's a term made up to condemn some species to be thought of as little more than a target, an exploitable resource, something to be blasted at, as if it were somehow a lower form of bird. It's important to make these distinctions, otherwise we just carry on blithely accepting that some birds have a different status to others. At least that's how I see it...

  14. I think if the Wildlife and Countryside Act uses "game bird" and you're trying to determine the best form to use in a legal challenge, possibly best to use that form.

  15. Despite the spell checker on this computer not liking it, it is Gamekeeper and gamebird. Although beautiful but alien pests better suits Pheasant.

  16. My New Oxford dictionary for writers & editors (rev 2014) has it as game bird (two words). Usage will probably change it to gamebird but not quite yet.

  17. In such matters I refer to my RSPB Birds of Britain which confirms the group name is Gamebirds.
    More interestingly, no explanation is given for this term. Only the Pheasant entry states, “The status and behaviour of this species are difficult to specify because of the frequent presence of young birds reared and released, unprepared for life in the wild, to be shot.”
    Collins Complete Guide to British Birds gives a balder assessment of this species’ negative impact upon native wildlife.

  18. I have always used gamebird, but if the legal term as in Wildlife and Countryside Act is Game bird then it would be wise to use that in any legal action. It might seem a bit technical, but Norman McCanch makes a very good argument for Galliformes.

  19. My initial response was that they're birds full stop. They don't deserve the label "game" - it's loaded with assumed acceptance of what they're here for, rather than just being birds in their own right. I've done the survey & made my choice, based on a) what there was to choose from and b) today's Guardian article form used of "game birds". But for heaven's sake, they're birds first and foremost - let's not forget that.

  20. Hi Mark

    I don’t know what the answer is but here's another option … “birds of game”!

    The Game Act 1831 defines game in S2 as
    "What shall be deemed Game.
    The word “game” shall for all the purposes of this Act be deemed to include hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game, black game”

    The Game Act 1831, Chapter 32, S3A later has a section relating to the “Sale of birds of game"


    As for game bird and gamebird - from what you say it looks like the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 allows some flexibility here with both options being used but I don't know the implications of that!

    All the best.

  21. wow - most comments on a blog, Mark? I'm in the camp that thinks you should stick with individual taxonomic species or group names not pander to the Victorian (or earlier?) shooting definitions and the 'baggage' of "game" mixed up with taxonomy. I don't know about legal wording but I think as others have said it just blurs the biological and conservation arguments to 'buy-in' to the idea that some species are there 'to be shot' (why/ how does GWCT distinguish between Game and Wildlife??. Might it annoy the hell out of them to have to change their name or justify it? - when you win the court cases!). I've just looked at an old edition of Peterson Mountford and Hollom and see that for the plates list they use 'Gamebirds' but for the Contents list - 'Partridges and Pheasants: Phasianidae'. Doesn't the latter cover what you need? Also as I assume at some stage you might be 'exploring' the difference between wild birds (native and/ or feral?) and non-native/ released pheasants (Himalayan chickens), red-legs? Won't the arguments need to be specific in that sense - "game" just blurs all the boundaries? Might be interesting to look in other languages too - I don't think French uses 'gibier' for any taxonomic purposes?

    1. I think French laws governing hunting use 'gibier' in a pseudotaxonomic way - there are different hunting seasons and rules relating to different classes of gibier including petit and grand gibier, gibier d'eau, gibier de montagne and gibier sedentaire (ie non migratory game). Completely unrelated species may be included in a given category including some that seem surprising to an English eye.

      1. Thanks Jonathan. I was wondering about the other way round - I don't think a French bird book (for example) would use gibier as a descriptive/ collective noun for specific (taxonomic) group of birds? But as you say the legal side is probably as unclear as in English (language) and UK legislation. Maybe that is part of the problem for WJ - if challenging legality of existing regulations etc. then maybe you have to use the language used in those regulations? I liked the Twitter suggestion of "gamebird" because then you can argue that it is "loaded" (pun intended)/ has no real defined meaning and not fit for purpose in that sense too? I would go with your lawyers, Mark - assuming they have a view. But I do also hope this is the start of something wider where we can also get the public language changed. I think all these words 'vermin', 'weeds' etc. are symptomatic of how disconnected we have become from nature and how ignorant (often deliberately) of ecology and ecosystem function. Cogs and wheels and intelligent tinkering (Aldo Leopold) - what did he call pheasants and partridges, or other 'game' - as a reformed hunter-turned-conservationist??

  22. As others have said - worth looking at how hunters define. 'Game birds' includes many others - waders and ducks etc. Here is another list: https://www.purdey.com/shooting-life/guide-game-birds

  23. I always used to write "gamebird", but then spellcheckers kept telling me it was wrong, so I doubted myself and started writing "game bird" in case I was wrong. I couldn't be bothered to spend any time looking it up or researching it, because it is one of these meaningless made up terms like vermin, weed, pest etc, which only has meaning to those using the term. In this context the "game" prefix simply means some people want to shoot it for sport. It is entirely arbitrary.

    It really is pointless trying to chase things down like this. Because you end up using rules as arbitrary and meaningless as the term. You can say what is the oldest reference, how did some authority or whatever spell the term. However, this involves personal selectivity where you consider one authority better than the other. Also the earliest reference is meaningless because once you go past the time of modern dictionaries even the idea of standard spelling starts to dissolve.

  24. I'll go with Galliforms as per Madge and McGowan, 2002, "Pheasants, partridges and grouse (including Button Quails etc) of the World."

  25. I would have said "gamebird" before looking it up. There are, as you say, a great variety. But two widely differing places have "game bird". They are Purdey, who make guns to shoot them with and Cornell in the USA , who take a different view on what to do with birds.

  26. Apologies for being off-topic but I read today that China is sending a 100000-strong 'duck army' to Pakistan in order to help control the swarm of locusts affecting the country. Isn't the game industry missing a gap in the market for exporting some of the 50 million long-tailed chickens they unleash on this country? Together with a few gamekeepers to look after them perhaps?

  27. In my own field, I was often confused about whether to write bumble bee or bumblebee. The one explanation I found that kind of made sense as an actual rule on such matters (in insects at least) was this one from Snodgrass in 'Anatomy of the Honey Bee' who states: 'If the insect is what the name implies, write the two words separately; otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddicefly and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an aphislion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and is preeminently a bee; ‘honeybee’ is equivalent to ‘Johnsmith.’

    By this logic, and if groups other than insects were to follow the same rules, it should be game bird (as they are a taxonomic group within the birds). A counter-example of the other kind would be something like a ladybird (which is not a species of bird)... and this is the rule I've tended to stick to when writing in the insect literature. However, the literature is also rife with confusion over this issue, and obviously not everyone seems to follow the same rules (or even agree that there should be rules).


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