Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Episode 33: Wild Goose Chase Transcript

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Dan:                                     00:00                    Welcome to bunny trails a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. I'm Dan Pugh
Shauna:                               00:05                    and I'm Shauna Harrison. Each week delve into the origin and history of an idiom or other turn of phrase and discuss how it's been used over time. This often takes us down some fun and interesting research rabbit holes. Today we're going on a chase, but not just any chase chase a wild goose chase. That was like fun. It is a, you know, it's kind of funny actually. This is how I feel when researching the history of idioms sometimes is a on a wild goose chase. So wild goose chase means that you are pursuing something pointless, that you are any hopeless quest or that your activities will be fruitless.
Dan:                                     00:44                    I sometimes feel like that when researching like I am, feel like I'm never going to get to the end of this, but then I'll be reading some newspaper from 1784 and some fishing boat weekly or something and boom, here I found something and I'm like, oh whoa. Oh,
Shauna:                               01:04                    so here I decided to share an example for those who might not have heard this one. Wild Goose Chase. Yes. EXAMPLE "Yesterday I spent an hour searching the house for my cat. Turns out I was on a wild goose chase and he was out in the garden the entire time. "
Dan:                                     01:20                    So I happened to know that you're allergic to cats. Don't have a cat. Where did, did you just like come up with this randomly?
Shauna:                               01:27                    Well, I was gonna. I did, I started, I was going to say that I was looking for my keys, but it turns out that somebody else had my keys and it turned into this big story. And so I felt like a shorter thing that was not real
Dan:                                     01:39                    better than now. I have another question because in the US we use garden to me a place where we grow fruits and vegetables or flowers, but in the UK they use garden as like what we would just call a backyard.
Shauna:                               01:51                    Yeah. Backyard. So I, so I was raised by someone who spent several decades in the UK in England and I, I picked up terms, I believe from her that, that aren't necessarily used in the United States as much. So that probably came from that.
Dan:                                     02:12                    All right, well I just wanted to clarify. Okay, so question. Where did this phrase come from?
Shauna:                               02:18                    Okay. Are you ready for like a big debate here?
Dan:                                     02:24                    Whenever we have to have a conversation about debates it's either 1. it's from the Bible or 2. it's attributed to Shakespeare.
Shauna:                               02:33                    The second one.
Dan:                                     02:33                    That's good because we did a Bible thing last week, so I'd rather not do two in a row.
Shauna:                               02:37                    This week's debate is about credit to Shakespeare or not to Shakespeare.
Dan:                                     02:42                    Oh, I see what you did there.
Shauna:                               02:45                    So most sources claim that there was an older, more literal use of wild goose chase and chasing geese that. But actually in this case it was referring to the style in which geese fly, but it was actually about horse races.
Dan:                                     03:01                    Okay. Now I'm utterly confused. So go on.
Shauna:                               03:04                    So the Oxford English dictionary shares the meaning of this literal version as a kind of horse race or sport in which the second or any succeeding course had to follow accurately the course of the leader at a definite interval, like a flight of wild geese.
Dan:                                     03:23                    I don't think I've ever heard it used in that way.
Shauna:                               03:26                    I, I, well, at this it was, they did include that this is an obsolete usage of the term. So, but yeah, it was like fascinating.
Dan:                                     03:34                    I would've never thought back to horse racing again. I would have never thought that, that there was a horse racing usage to this term.
Shauna:                               03:42                    Yeah. It kind of, based on the things that I, that I read from that time frame, it sounds like it started a little bit more organically. So somebody would be like want to race and they'd take off. Right. And then the second person who is racing against them would have to follow along, you know, and try to match their movements in order to keep up.
Dan:                                     04:04                    Kinda like follow the leader?
Shauna:                               04:05                    Yeah, Then it became kind of a more official style of racing. so the first attestation of this being in 1602 in mother's blessing by in Britain, and it says esteem a horse according to his pace, but loose no wagers on a wild goose chase. The last time though that we see it clearly used in this literal style in print is in 1697. So it was only around for about 100 years in print with that literal use. This was from Nicholas Cox in his work gentleman's recreation, which discusses the sports of hunting and hawking fishing and things like that.
Dan:                                     04:48                    Hawking as in like bird birding, bird, hawk, or hocking up things...
Shauna:                               04:53                    No, no, no, no, no.
Dan:                                     04:55                    Okay. I won't finish that sentence
Shauna:                               05:00                    Another said others choose to hunt the hair and then it to run these wild goose chase.
Dan:                                     05:05                    That one doesn't rhyme. But I like the meter.
Shauna:                               05:09                    Yeah, the cadence was good. Yes. so this excerpt is describing that Flying v formation, that scene in wild geese rather than like futility of effort. So it's not, not the figurative use yet here. So that's when that usage quit being seen in print anyway. Was the end of the late 16... um, the end of the 1600s. The end of the late 1600s
Dan:                                     05:36                    Years. Years are hard. So hard.
Shauna:                               05:40                    Okay, so. But let's travel back to the beginning of the phrase, usage and print and back to Shakespeare.
Dan:                                     05:46                    So figurative and literal version were used... Contemporarily? Is that what I was looking for? They were contemporaries? Yes. I think that was the word I was looking for. English,
Shauna:                               06:00                    the figurative version and the one that became our idiom as it does use today is defined as an erratic course taken or led by one person or thing and followed by another or taken by a person in following his own inclinations or impulses.
Dan:                                     06:16                    It does sound Shakespearean.
Shauna:                               06:19                    It also specifies that in later use, which is the way that we're used to hearing it now. In Oxford English dictionary, it clarified that this origin has been forgotten.
Dan:                                     06:33                    We forgot. Now we don't know. We probably knew at one point, but we do not know. The thing is to say it's been forgotten. Has to implied that we did know at one point,
Shauna:                               06:42                    well, will somebody knew, right? so that definition is given, apprehended as a pursuit of something as unlikely to be caught as the wild goose, or a foolish, fruitless or hopeless quest. So there it is, the mystery. We don't actually know. We don't actually know the origin of our, of our phrase here.
Dan:                                     07:01                    Gotcha. Okay. Well that is pretty standard for any.
Shauna:                               07:04                    Yeah. But we can make some guesses. One thing I want to say, I love the Oxford English dictionary because they always use the Oxford Comma.
Dan:                                     07:13                    I am, I'm, as a recovering pedant. I frequently find myself still getting a little bit frustrated when I see someone not use the Oxford Comma and you'll notice in my tweets anyway, even if I need to save one space, I will almost not do it by giving up one of the commas.
Shauna:                               07:33                    Yes. And that's so hard to do a working in a PR in communications. That's not the style, that's not the style that's used in whatever the word is for things that you print. Media...
Dan:                                     07:49                    journalism?
Shauna:                               07:49                    Journalism. Thank you. Wow. Oh, so that's not the style of. It's used in journalism writing. You don't use an Oxford comma
Dan:                                     07:59                    Whatever the AP style book says I do the opposite.
Shauna:                               08:05                    I mean, there are some things that make sense in there.
Dan:                                     08:07                    Nope. Doesn't matter. I'm obstinate like that. I. Yeah, it's good.
Shauna:                               08:14                    Um, okay. So more importantly than the rest of that information is that Shakespeare's usage is actually the first time wild goose chase was a tested in print. Um, so even before that, literally usage our reference as found in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet was written sometime around 1590 to 1597 when it was that started being performed.
Shauna:                               08:36                    So different pieces of it, it would be added and taken out during live performances. So that's why they kind of put that date range. And they're usually a similar cree. Que Sheeo, Mercutio and Romeo were having a little battle of wits and Romeo was winning and Mercutio sheeo says nay if they, which run the wild goose chase I have done for, I am sure thou hast more of the goose in one of my wits than I have in all my five. So this is a pretty decent back and forth between the two friends, if you enjoy that sort of style of writing, which, I, I like the banter there in their conversation and Mercutio I generally don't like anything. So mercutio is trying to bow out and Romeo's like if you give up on our battle of wits, then the, I'm declaring myself the winter and then that was mercury sheeos response was a, you've outwitted me essentially. I'm so tired of this. Right? So, in the, in those five wits mentioned here would be memory, imagination, fancy, common sense and judgment. I see. So it's kind of a, that's not something that's mentioned, but it was known at the time
Dan:                                     09:49                    and these two characters were like 12 or 13 or 14 or something like that. So it totally sounds like that age, young teenager approaching adulthood will, if you don't do this, then I win
Shauna:                               10:04                    I declare myself the winner, um, yeah, I know some adults like that too.
Dan:                                     10:09                    I have seen adults do that. Okay. That's, you know what, that's a fair statement. I take it back, young teenagers.
Shauna:                               10:16                    So once again were brought to this discussion, did Shakespeare write this a totally original thought and then very shortly thereafter or around the same time, we see it in a different usage in print by someone else. And the answer to that is maybe a but more likely is that the phrase was already commonly in use and he turned it slightly. He was pretty good to the turn of phrase that is true. so wild goose chase was probably already in the lexicon quite possibly with that specific type of horse race meaning. And then Shakespeare adapted it for a good laugh,
Dan:                                     10:53                    which I guess at that point means he probably did generate this figurative use of what became an idiom
Shauna:                               11:01                    probably. So we do see wild goose chase used throughout the 16, 17 and 18 hundreds in a figurative sense. and by that I mean that it's used figuratively, but it's literally used during that timeframe. I don't know if that follows, figuratively used. Literally, literally used figuratively. It was in literal use.
Dan:                                     11:23                    Your intellect is quite dizzying,
Shauna:                               11:26                    I knew you were going to say that.
Dan:                                     11:30                    Listen, I'm always quick with the princess bride quote.
Shauna:                               11:33                    One thing I think is interesting is that it was often paired with a dance and we see that in a 1673 quote from Bathsua Mankins: An essay to revive the ancient education of gentle women in religion, manners, arts and tongues with an answer to the objections against this way of education.
Dan:                                     11:54                    Well, I mean that's, that's actually not even a long title for that timeframe.
Shauna:                               12:00                    If we should dance that wild goose chase usually led, it would require a longer time.
Shauna:                               12:06                    There were a few others that use that combination with dance. I like the idea of dancing the wild goose chase. It just kinda sounds like it fits in with that idea that, okay,
Dan:                                     12:14                    I'm really good. I can do the Charleston and the wild goose chase and the floss and the Macarana. It's a good, good combination of dances. I mean I just meant I know the name, the name of them. Like you can use them in a sentence. Well let's not go that far.
Shauna:                               12:38                    The phrase was really well represented in 1885 in Mrs Alexander's at bay and just to point Mrs Alexander is a pseudonym for Anne Hector, so I'm kind of wondering what was wrong with Anne Hector. If she couldn't, she couldn't use that name.
Dan:                                     12:55                    Maybe she was a single lady and they didn't have Beyonce back then. She wanted to use Mrs Alexander because that was a. I don't know. I'm making things up. I'm just making things up. I have no idea, but actually no, that it is true that they did not have Beyonce back then. So that is true.
Dan:                                     13:12                    That part's true. We know that part. Confirmed.
Dan:                                     13:16                    Okay, so this non de plume by Anne Hector here. What did Mrs Alexander write?
Shauna:                               13:20                    There was a conversation between two individuals. I see you have found nothing. Exclaimed Lady Gethin. It was a wild goose chase. He replied with a weary look
Dan:                                     13:30                    and that was 1885 you said?
Shauna:                               13:32                    Yes. Now I'm moving into the United States here, the Pacific commercial advertiser out of Honolulu, Hawaiian islands. This was in August of 1899. And...
Dan:                                     13:45                    Actually it wasn't the US by the way so...
Shauna:                               13:51                    Well, and it wasn't even from the United States. They were sharing a snippet that was found in the China gazette titled a Wild Goose Chase. Though no definite orders have been promulgated to the officers of the Italian squadron here. There is a strong impression amongst them that their mission to China is a wild goose chase and that no active steps of any kind will be sanctioned by the new Italian minister. also in the day book out of Chicago, Illinois. So we are in the United States and this is in November of 1914.
Dan:                                     14:27                    Yes. That was definitely the United States.
Shauna:                               14:29                    Oh, you're waiting for the date. So there was a follow up to an ad the previous week ad caused wild goose chase last Friday. And ad appeared in the Chicago Daily News to the effect that solderers were wanted for the. Well, I don't know what wm is, honestly. Oh, William Green, William Green manufacturing company Harvey out of Harvey, Illinois at Chicago. Man Out of employment, borrowed thirty cents to go to Harvey, the fair being fifteen cents each way on the electric. When he got there, he found that there had been many applicants and did that about two dozen came by mail, but that the company had all the soldiers that wanted, in spite of that fact, the same ad appeared in Monday's news. It may have sent other unemployed men on a wild goose chase as it sent the one who went to harvey last Saturday.
Dan:                                     15:20                    We still have that kind of thing happen now when somebody is like applying for a thing and it's like, nope, nope, we've already filled it. Well, why is it still up on Ziprecruiter? Or sometimes
Shauna:                               15:30                    things posted and the closing date to, for applications is after the date they posted it or before, I mean like, it's already been over before they even posted it. And you're like, why is this even here? What are you doing to. Okay. So really we saw both meanings, um, appear in print around the same time, but the figurative use stuck around far longer as seems to be the case with many of our phrases. Um, I think there's this underlying truth in analogy that can be applied more broadly and that allows for phrases like this to sort of flow and adapt as the greater language morphs over time.
Dan:                                     16:07                    Hmm. That's very interesting. I like it. well. A quick break here as we say.
Dan:                                     16:13                    Today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon special things to log a morphology interns, Charlie Moore and Pat Rowe for sponsoring. This episode. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and follow along if you're in a financial situation that allows for monetary support, you can get additional perks for as little as a dollar a month. Features like early access to episodes behind the scenes content bonus episodes and more are all available at trails pod.
Shauna:                               16:45                    In 1991, there was an adult mystery movie released called Wild Goose Chase
Dan:                                     16:51                    adult mystery movie as opposed to just a mystery movies. So is it like rated, what? M for mature?
Shauna:                               17:00                    No, it was '91. So this, you still had to like specify when things were... A detective searches for a missing girl among the world of professional female wrestling, but his obsession with the female derrière,
Dan:                                     17:14                    Oooohhhhh.
Shauna:                               17:14                    Okay, maybe it is a little bit more ... A perfusion of which are found among laney wrestlers and it's distracting him from his search. So maybe more adult listen, I didn't watch this movie, you know, the late eighties and early nineties.
Dan:                                     17:30                    Pretty a pretty well known for their adult movies that were just. I mean, let's be honest, light porn. Really.
Shauna:                               17:40                    Yeah. Like now we've seen this transition the other way where violence is, is listed as mature but like, or like not as mature. That's like sexual content. It kind of is flipped the script a little from the nineties there. Interesting. Yeah. So my very favorite, favorite quote of wild goose chase comes from star trek next generation and episode called data's Day. This was also released in 1991. So in the episode data records a day in his life for commander Bruce Maddox, including observations on Chief O'Brien's wedding and the mystery of a vulcan ambassador who apparently dies in a transporter accident as they are investigating the death of said Vulcan Ambassador in true data fashion, he comes so close, but misses getting humans and during conversation with Dr. crusher data says, have you compared to the genetic code with the ambassadors last recorded ID traces and Dr. crusher says, no, that's not procedure. Why? Data replies, I could be chasing an untamed ornathoid without cause. Crusher pauses and says ,a wild goose chase?
Dan:                                     18:54                    Love it. Love it. So character was written so well. Yes, yes, it was released
Shauna:                               18:58                    in 2008. Wild Goose Chase is a book by Mark Batterson. The book description reads, Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit and guide class or the wild goose, the name hence it. Mystery, much like a wild goose. The spirit of God cannot be tracked or teamed an element of danger. An air of unpredictability surround him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious, I cannot think of a better description of what it's like to follow the spirit through life. I think the Celtic Christians, we're onto something
Dan:                                     19:32                    that does sound a little sacrilegious bit of course after last week's episode about can we take statements and whatever. We firmly established where we were. So it's fine.
Shauna:                               19:45                    Was more recently an article in the Cape Breton Post by Brendan Ahern on January 23rd of this year, 2019, 2019. So just a couple of days ago here for us. We call them drive by 911 calls. How well meaning citizens consent first responders on a wild goose chase, a fire chief Peter Frazier in thorn burn at Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is quoted in the article. He said we get calls like that all the time. A motor vehicle accident that ends up being someone putting windshield wiper fluid in their car or something. So, Dan, you were a first responder and can probably speak more to this, but this comes in when individuals think they see an emergency on the road and call it in. Um, sometimes as many as 40 percent of these calls in areas of Canada, England, and the United States, likely other places as well, don't actually require an emergency response.
Dan:                                     20:45                    yeah, that's, that's probably in fact that might be a low number. But you know, we send people out and then once we get an idea of it, then we can look at that and say, well, that probably didn't warrant us driving with the red lights and sirens on the way there. But the other, the other thing that we, 911 systems now have done a pretty good job of developing a question flow chart that they use to help identify what's going on, but and that can, that can allow us to say, well, we're not going to drive red lights and sirens on this but we will drive red lights and siren on this other one depending on what we think the severity of the call is. But that, those drive by a 911 calls. I mean, those do still happen when somebody you see, maybe there's a truck in the ditch, you know, which is why in a lot of places you see the orange or red or whatever stickers that are placed on cars that way if there's a tag on it, they, people know it's been dealt with already.
Dan:                                     21:41                    but we'd get calls over and over again. In fact, in our, in the city where we both live. There is a river that runs through and when the river water level drops. Then there's an old car that is in the river that people can see as they drive by. And so when the water gets to a really low levels, then the will get 911 calls about it and they'll just happen to see. I think there's a car in the river and you know, the local fire department is very well aware of it. They're like, oh, that address. All right. We'll send somebody, just one unit out to check it out. Of course you got to check it out and make sure.
Shauna:                               22:13                    Right. You don't want to take a chance on it,
Dan:                                     22:15                    right? Absolutely. We send somebody out and check it out. But by the same token, we were pretty sure that this is a, we already know what this is and it's just this thing that's been there for a very long time.
Shauna:                               22:24                    I imagine the number of times where it's like, okay, we have to respond and then you can't even find the vehicle or whatever it is because they've already fixed whatever their problem was or what had gone on by then. So.
Dan:                                     22:35                    Yeah, absolutely. And that's when you, that's when you're trying to get a call back on a number and you can say, Hey, are you still there or whatever. And you know, it's a lot easier if they're the ones who called 911, but when it's summer, when it's a passer by. Yeah, sometimes you just, like, you drive around and you're like, this is going to be a, a patient or a false alarm or good intention, but no, nothing needed.
Shauna:                               22:56                    yeah, in my opinion, this is one of the great idioms. You can understand what the meaning is if you really kind of dive into the phrase and look at it, which is why it's been sustained for so many centuries and again, evidence of how everyday people changed language just by using it, I think is found here. And I really think that's cool. I also love data's use of it in the star trek episode. It reminds me that we are all humans and in perfect and his misunderstanding of the phrase highlights the way in which we all grasped concepts but sometimes still managed to kind of miss one another in life. Um, I love the way that idioms bring us all together and this one represents the truth that all of us has experienced in one way or another.
Shauna:                               23:43                    Well, that about wraps us up for today. I'd also like to say a big thank you to those who've posted reviews for the show. It's the easiest way to support your favorite podcast. Best of all, it's free. If you have a suggestion for an idiom or other turn of phrase, or if you just want to chat, you can catch us on twitter and instagram and occasionally even on facebook, all @bunnytrailspod.
Dan:                                     24:05                    We also post most of our additional content on Patreon and you can follow along there for free. Of course, if you want to support the show through monetary means, we're okay with that too. Either way, do us a favor and head on over to for all the latest content. Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week and until then, remember, words belong to their users.

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