This is the part from a novel 'Baker's blue-jay yarn' by Mark Twain. The sentence in bold is what I don't exactly understand.

You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure - because he's got feathers on him, and don't belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I'll tell you for why. A jay's gifts, and instincts, and feelings and interests, cover the whole ground. A jay hasn't got any more principle than a congressman. A jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive, a jay will betray; and four times out of five, a jay will go back on his solemnest promise.

Does that sentence literally mean that congressmen normally have a lot of principles to follow while blue-jay doesn't have many of them? Or is there any connotative meaning?

  • 1
    No, it means a jaybird has no more principles (=ethics) than a congressman. It's a joke setting up congressmen as the standard, the benchmark, the exemplars of immorality.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 11, 2015 at 12:19
  • Yes. It is sarcasm. I advise that you check the biography of the writer when you want to analyse the respective writer's work. Mark Twain's known to provide sarcastic statements. Good luck.
    – shin
    Aug 11, 2015 at 13:28
  • He has no more decency than a snake.
    – Lambie
    Mar 11, 2019 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


Literally, it means that jays have fewer principles than a congressman, or an equal amount. Figuratively, it's a way of saying that congressmen have little in the way of principles. That's because the fact a jay has no more principles than a congressman is illustrated by the fact that:

A jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive... (etc.)

Because if a jay wouldn't do all those things, he would clearly have more principles than a congressman.

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