"The catbird seat" is an American English idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand or greater advantage in any type of dealing among parties. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded usage occurred in a 1942 humorous short story by James Thurber titled "The Catbird Seat," which features a character, Mrs. Barrows, who likes to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explains that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber, the baseball broadcaster, and that to Barber "sitting in the catbird seat" meant "'sitting pretty,' like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him."
The phrase "In the catbird seat" was among the numerous folksy expressions used by Barber. According to Barber's daughter, after her father read Thurber's story, he began using the phrase "in the catbird seat." This seems to reverse events, however, as the passage of story quoted above clearly references Barber himself. According to "Colonel" Bob Edwards's book Fridays with Red, Barber claimed that Thurber got this and many other expressions from him, and that Barber had first heard the term used during a poker game in Cincinnati during the Great Depression. Barber himself also put forth this version of events in his 1968 autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat.
Ken Harrelson, the play-by-play TV broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox, has been often heard referencing "the catbird seat" during games.
- 1948: Season 1, Episode 5 of the Actors Studio was called "The Catbird Seat"
- 1988: William L. Marbury Jr. called his memoirs In the Catbird Seat (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1988)
- 2009: Steve Forbert digitally released an album, Loose Change, that included a song he wrote called "The Catbird Seat"
Indianapolis sports radio hosts Query and Schultz, of 1260 WNDE, frequently use the phrase to describe teams in an enviable position.
It is also often used by various NASCAR broadcasters to refer to a driver in a pivotal, valuable position, such as the leader, the last driver to be guaranteed into an event, or a driver utilizing a risky strategy that may bring them to victory.
- OED.com, Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed 23 October 2008.
- Thurber, J.G., The Catbird Seat, 55 Short Stories from New Yorker , November 14, 1942
- Edwards, Bob. (1993). Fridays with Red: A Radio Friendship. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-87013-0.
- Barber, Red, and Robert Creamer. (1968). Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-8032-6136-5.
- Catbird, Online Etymological Dictionary, Douglas Harper. Accessed 17 September 2006.
- Marbury, William Luke (1988). In the Catbird Seat. Maryland Historical Society. Retrieved 18 August 2017.