Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Episode 41: No Spring Chicken Transcript

Click on “Read More” for the full transcript.

We used Temi to auto transcribe this, then Dan went through and checked it based on the show notes. He tried really hard on it, but this kind of stuff isn't his specialty. So if you notice anything confusing, please comment on this post so Dan can look at it and clarify anything.

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 we 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. And this week is no exception. Today we are talking about how young I am.
Dan:                                     00:23                    (Laughter)
Shauna:                               00:24                    Hey!
Dan:                                     00:25                    Sorry.
Shauna:                               00:25                    I turned 36 last month, which is the second half of my thirties. So it's like I'm halfway to 40 now. I'm like, yeah, I'm basically almost, almost 40
Dan:                                     00:37                    Almost almost 40. Nice.
Shauna:                               00:39                    Yeah. So anyway, I've decided to face the music. I'm just no spring chicken anymore.
Dan:                                     00:44                    (imitating someone) "No, let's face it, your no spring chicken."
Shauna:                               00:49                    So spring chicken is a way to say that a person is no longer young or that they are past his or her prime. Um, it's sometimes used in a negative way, but is just as often used as a way to gently say that a person is older.
Dan:                                     01:03                    Cause... Does that mean a spring chicken is young?
Shauna:                               01:05                    It's a long story.
Dan:                                     01:07                    Okay. Annnd, there you go. Thanks for joining us on bunny trails, uh, peace. Wait... that's not how we end the show.
Shauna:                               01:15                    The short answer is yes.
Dan:                                     01:17                    Alright, perfect.
Shauna:                               01:18                    So there you go. And that's our show. We're going to go back. Okay. Uh, all the way to the early 1700s
Dan:                                     01:26                    To the time machine.
Together:                           01:30                    (making sounds like the transition music in the old Batman TV show)
Shauna:                               01:30                    Why did we make the same noise? What is that from?
Dan:                                     01:33                    Batman.
Shauna:                               01:34                    Oh yup, okay.
Dan:                                     01:35                    (Singing) Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na.
Shauna:                               01:37                    Nope, I don't think you can do that.
Dan:                                     01:37                    We can't get the rights to that. That's alright, I did such a horrible job. Nobody knows what I was doing. Except that I just told them. Crap.
Shauna:                               01:45                    Ah, who's our editor? I was going to say...
Dan:                                     01:47                    Hi me, I edit it.
Shauna:                               01:50                    Alfred, Alfred cut that part!
Dan:                                     01:52                    Alfred! Ha.
Shauna:                               01:52                    He was not a Butler...
Dan:                                     01:54                    No, he was a valet.
Shauna:                               01:54                    Sorry. Okay. It early 17 hundreds. At that time, farmers sometimes had a tough job of selling their wares, particularly chickens. Uh, customers seemed to prefer chickens that had not lived through the winter or a winter at all, claiming the meat was more tender if it were younger or if it hadn't seen winter at all. Um, so farmers would try to claim that all of their chickens were born in the spring, hoping that the townsfolk would buy them and not be able to tell the difference. Thus the town's people started announcing when a bird was no spring chicken.
Dan:                                     02:31                    I don't believe you.
Shauna:                               02:32                    No, that's not it. Wouldn't that be nice if we just looked them up, and the whole thing for all of them.
Dan:                                     02:38                    And that's it!
Shauna:                               02:39                    Annnnd there we go. Uh, there's no actual evidence that this is, this is the origin and definitely like not at that time frame. So, but it's a fun story, you know. Um, so I guess, you know, the question is how did we really get our phrase, uh, and this is one that we can track all the way back to its individual words and how they all kind of came together.
Dan:                                     02:57                    Nice.
Shauna:                               02:58                    So, uh, yeah, I'm about this one and it's really awesome. Especially if you're a giant word nerd, like a the two of us.
Dan:                                     03:06                    Yes. We also purposely did two spring episodes back to back because last week we did spring chicken or no spring fever. And, uh, and since we both still have spring fever because it's still, eh, is not fully spring yet, then uh, we are doing another episode on spring trying to usher it in here. Like just getting a push it along a little here cause "it might as well be spring"
Shauna:                               03:30                    Ahh... you should sing,
Dan:                                     03:31                    no, I, we can't get the rights.
Shauna:                               03:35                    So as I was researching no spring chicken, I discovered that it had a precursor, which was simply no chicken. And I thought well that's weird.
Dan:                                     03:45                    That's no chicken!
Shauna:                               03:47                    I was like why did they say that?
Dan:                                     03:51                    Why would you? Like now random I'm going to, I'm going to infuse some of the earlier fake story and just say, and I'm going to walk into every market and just point at everything and be like, yeah, that's no chicken!
Shauna:                               04:02                    Right.
Dan:                                     04:02                    That's no chicken!
Shauna:                               04:03                    Or like if you attribute that to a person, he's no chicken. But it didn't mean that he's not scared it like...
Dan:                                     04:10                    Which is oh yeah. Cause that's how we would use, if we call somebody a "chicken" now we'd be a "scaredy cat"... wait... Or afraid of things I guess. I just used another one. That's like describing a color with another color. It's like "I don't know what that means!"
Shauna:                               04:21                    Oh, it's like "that doesn't mean anything!" All of this sounds really crazy until we look at the way that the word chicken was used at that time. So, uh, we're going to walk through kind of each step here. The Oxford English dictionary gives the definition for "chicken" and "no chicken" as "chicken, a youthful person, one young and inexperienced", or to be "no chicken" as "no longer young". And it adds "also as a slang chiefly in the us, a term for girl or a young woman is a chick".
Dan:                                     04:54                    Oh yeah
Shauna:                               04:55                    Yeah. So, and this was not, uh, more recently when it was used negatively, but as like actually a young girl or,
Dan:                                     05:03                    yeah, I always thought it came from the Spanish... I've been, I grew up in Texas, so I just thought it came from the Spanish slang, but now, I mean, it probably occurs to me that they all probably came from the same root. Okay. Keep going.
Shauna:                               05:13                    Yeah, so. Well then we have to figure out, I wanted to know, uh, how chick at, how all these things made sense. Like, why was chick a slang for girl or young woman? Right. Um, did it start there with the chicken part of it and what, what the heck's going on here?
Dan:                                     05:28                    That's exactly what I was just wondering, but yes. So carry on.
Shauna:                               05:30                    Yeah. So it did, it did come from the use of "chicken" as a term for human offspring or in other words, a child.
Dan:                                     05:39                    Wait, did we use to call children...a Chickens?
Shauna:                               05:43                    No, no, no, no, not in place of, but it was just like an alternative term for children. Like people often call the...
Dan:                                     05:49                    We do that for "kids".
Shauna:                               05:49                    Yeah.
Dan:                                     05:49                    Which are Baby goats.
Shauna:                               05:50                    It's the same concept. So, and for awhile there chicken was also the young of the chicken, like the, their, their chicks were, are the babies, right?
Dan:                                     05:59                    Yeah. Okay.
Shauna:                               06:00                    So that's where a lot of that...
Dan:                                     06:01                    Like Baby puppies and baby kitties,
Shauna:                               06:03                    baby chick, baby puppy
Dan:                                     06:05                    Cause it's the certificate of redundancy certificate.
Shauna:                               06:06                    Oh, can I say? I have this weird thing where the smaller something is the cuter it is in general. And, um, unless we're talking about bugs or something.
Dan:                                     06:13                    I was gonna say... spiders?
Shauna:                               06:16                    No, no, no, no, but, but so if you add the word baby to something that already is little like baby chick, then I'm like, oh, it's like extra cute.
Dan:                                     06:29                    Oh dear.
Shauna:                               06:30                    Yeah. Okay. So we're going to go further back in time. Um, the word chicken to refer to children is going to take us all the way back to the 14 hundreds and the Morte Arthure, uh, this is a 4,346 line middle English alliterative poem and it's a retelling of the latter part of the legend of King Arthur.
Dan:                                     06:53                    Did you say 4,346 lines?
Shauna:                               06:55                    Yes.
Dan:                                     06:56                    That's, that's about half the lines of our website code.
Shauna:                               07:01                    It's not very many lines.
Dan:                                     07:03                    For just one page.
Shauna:                               07:03                    It is well told. Um, but it dates from about 1400 is about that timeframe there. There's only a single copy that exists and it is in the Lincoln Thornton manuscript in the early 14 hundreds English scribe, Robert Thornton compiled this manuscript and copied some other stories and things including Morte Arthure and it contains single copies of a few significant literary works from that time. So I thought that was pretty cool that he had taken the time to go around and find these important pieces of, of literature and
Dan:                                     07:40                    Yeah. Sounds like he maybe, put all of his eggs in one basket.
Shauna:                               07:43                    No. (laughter) Okay.
Shauna:                               07:50                    In Morte Arthure, there is a line that reads "“The churles chekyne hade chaungyde his armes.”. Churles is a descriptor. Um, it means rude and a mean spirited and surly way. Or in this case, maybe even something more sinister than that. And armes is a referring to arms and armor or a coat of arms.
Dan:                                     08:10                    Ah, okay. That makes sense.
Shauna:                               08:11                    Yeah. So I, I tracked down, um, a copy of the text and I read this section of the poem. And so this phrase is actually talking about Mordred ...
Dan:                                     08:23                    (Audible growl of disgust)
Shauna:                               08:23                    Yeah. When he was headed to face Arthur on the battlefield, Mordred tries to hide his identity by wearing a different coat of arms. Um, the, in this case, he switched to one that showed three lions that were white silver. And so it was not anything like his, his normal garb. And so, uh, but Arthur saw through the guise, uh, however, *spoiler alert*, if you haven't ever read anything about King Arthur, uh, he gets stabbed anyway. By Mordred, so,
Dan:                                     08:49                    right. Yeah.
Shauna:                               08:52                    So... a cool thing. This version...
Dan:                                     08:53                    He actually survives in the Monthy Python version. too. He gets arrested though.
Shauna:                               08:58                    Well, and that's the, uh, Jeffrey of mom Monmouth. I've not, that one's difficult for me. Uh, that's that, that was the one that Kinda had a more pleasant ending, uh, then than the more traditional stories for Arthur. So, uh, but this one did kind of bring in some of the roundtable stuff that wasn't in the original anyway. So...
Dan:                                     09:20                    Do you know which of King Arthur's knights he got to build his table?
Dan:                                     09:25                    Sir circumference?
Shauna:                               09:26                    Gosh, I knew it was something I'm like, okay, that's a pun, not an idiom.
Dan:                                     09:31                    Just saying...
Shauna:                               09:31                    So in that case Mordred was a kid. That's the traditional story there and that's why, so he was a chicken, he was a grumpy, mean chicken.
Dan:                                     09:40                    Oh Man. King Arthur, the greatest among us... Stabbed to death by a grumpy, mean Chicken.
Shauna:                               09:46                    Um, Chicken was used throughout the 1400, 15 hundreds all the way on a until the 18 hundreds when its usage dropped off some to refer to children in that way. Although people still call kids little chicken or chicken or whatever, occasionally in a playful way. Uh, it's sometimes seen in storybooks and things like that. And of course people say chick or little chicks sometimes too. Um, the transition to chick happened around the 18 hundreds time and naturally mostly in the United States, so. Gotcha. Yeah. Um, so now we found ourselves back at no chicken in reference to someone who isn't young. Okay. This came into play in the 17 hundreds, so that kind of overlapped that use of chicken for kids, um, at the end there. So in 1711, uh, issue number 216 of Spectator, Sir Richard Steele writes, "You ought to consider, you are now passed a chicken. This humor, which was well enough in a girl, is insufferable in one of your motherly character."
Dan:                                     10:48                    I don't know what we're talking about, but I want to hit Sir Richard Steele.
Shauna:                               10:51                    I had trouble finding quotes for no chicken that I didn't get, just kind of really angry about. So, um, yeah, unfortunately a lot of them were extremely political or, uh, not very kind to women in general.
Dan:                                     11:09                    Well, the 17 hundreds...
Shauna:                               11:11                    Yeah. Uh, there was another quote
Dan:                                     11:13                    Or 2011, whatever
Shauna:                               11:15                    There was another quote that I enjoyed though, that was from Cabbot's Weekly Political Register from 1809, uh, William Cobbett writes, "An infant at law" A mere chicken"
Shauna:                               11:25                    And uh, then later there was a reference to a lawyer who was ended up being nicknamed "Chicken Taylor" because he'd been called that in papers several times. And so they...
Dan:                                     11:39                    Did he look young?
Shauna:                               11:40                    He was small of stature
Dan:                                     11:43                    Oooh, I see.
Shauna:                               11:43                    So I think it was Yeah, And he was, and he was not (just) young, but new to law. And so that was where that came from.
Dan:                                     11:51                    Tiny and inexperienced. So tough combination to have to deal with
Shauna:                               11:56                    and "no chicken" was use this way extensively even through the early to mid 19 hundreds. So that just kind of kept... Continued for people. Um, and again, that overlap. Um, so now then the question is how did we get spring thrown into this mix and uh, we get that part from the term "spring chicken" and spring chicken is defined by a Oxford English dictionary as "a small chicken, especially one for eating and specifically it chicken of this type available in the spring". Um, people still purchase spring chickens, particularly for certain cultural or religious ceremonies or meals. Uh, spring chickens are defined by specific age ranges that vary regionally, but it's generally, I think like three to eight months is, is a good range for spring chicken. And the, you know, once they've reached their ideal size, the younger they are, the more tender they are. So that's something that people generally agree on.
Dan:                                     12:52                    So that is a true part. And that's probably where somebody formulated that, uh, earlier story that you talked about because there is some truth to it, but that's just not the real story,
Shauna:                               13:03                    Right, because people were saying no chicken well before they were talking about spring chickens. So, um, in the March, 1765 issue of the Public Advertiser, we find the quote, "On the landlord saying they could get him a fowl and Bacon, he swore at them and said, could they get him no spring chickens".
Shauna:                               13:24                    So it's from this and other uses of spring chicken in the 17 hundreds that the popular origin story, like you said, is for the idiom came from. And then, um, obviously, you know, language is a fairly complex and nuanced and so it changes and kind of melds over time. And that's, that's how we got our phrase. So now, finally, we are are to our idiom as it's used today. Uh, no spring chicken is defined as "to be no longer young". That's just the all around, uh, across the board definition there. And the first time we see it in print, not exactly in that format. The no spring chicken at varies slightly either. Uh, he's no longer a spring chicken. She's not a spring chicken anymore, but it's still that concept of no spring chicken, uh, that gets repeated. And we see that in print in 1857 in the February 25th edition of the Newport Daily News out of Rhode Island, "Mr. S. K., an habitue of the Fifth Avenue, has feathered his nest by espousing a spring chicken only fourteen years old who has $200,000 in her own right.”.
Dan:                                     14:34                    Eww.
Shauna:                               14:36                    Yeah. Uh, it goes on to talk about how he is 'not a spring chicken' and uh, and, and yeah, it just continues from there. So in 1895, the Anaconda Atandard out of Montana has great story about Dr. Carver. I, it never shares his first name, but he is a...
Dan:                                     14:57                    Doctor.
Shauna:                               14:57                    He's a doctor. Doctors, his first name, it says, "Carver is champion. The crack shot carries a number of elegant trophies, Pleased Crowned Heads."
Shauna:                               15:08                    Um, and this is "a brief record of his prowess with the rifle and shotgun. The doctor is also a horse trainer at the gardens."
Shauna:                               15:17                    Uh, yeah. So this doctor a traveled all around the world and apparently has just done a sharp shooter, whatever. And uh, he gained a favor from lots of kings, uh, in the, in the area. So "the doctor is a superb specimen, a physical manhood, and has taken such excellent care of himself that he looks at least 15 years younger than he really is. He refuses to tell his age, but he knows the record of Buffalo Bill from personal knowledge and Bill is no spring chicken"
Shauna:                               15:50                    Also in the Kosciusko Star out of Mississippi. I'm certain I'm saying that one wrong. Uh, in 1895, "What business do you propose to embark in Mr. Sullivan?" And Mr. Sullivan replies. "Now I tell you, I ain't no spring chicken anymore and my sporty days are done. I want a quiet business. I want to settle down. I think the hotel business is about my lay."
Shauna:                               16:14                    So he went from being a boxer and stage performer to decided he wanted to go into the hotel management business, which does not sound relaxing to me.
Dan:                                     16:24                    No, not really.
Shauna:                               16:24                    Uh, so in later on here in 1922, the Seattle Star out of Washington, uh, "Eugene Criqui is a European featherweight champion..". Uh, so again, a, a boxer... "who will meet Johnny Kilbane for the world title on May 30th, 1923 he is no spring chicken in pugilistic circles."
Shauna:                               16:46                    I liked that. That's intense.
Dan:                                     16:49                    He's experienced
Shauna:                               16:49                    yeah.
Dan:                                     16:49                    Oh, I like it.
Dan:                                     16:50                    Well, today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon. You make Bunny Trails possible. We'd like to thank all our patrons and especially our lagomorphology interns, Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig. You can also join the Bunny Trails community on Patreon. You'll get access to exclusive patron only conversations, show notes, early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, and you can even have a monthly bonus episode about more colorful turns of phrase. Like Charlie, Pat and Mary, you can get top billing is one of our featured patrons. Go to for more information.
Shauna:                               17:25                    No spring chicken, uh, has been used for a couple of movies titles and one of those was released in 1996 and this is an Italian comedy film. Uh, it was only an hour and 30 minutes. And, uh, I, I, I really want to know what it's about to the point that I might try and find it and just watch it and not know what they're saying, but I couldn't find it. I couldn't find a synopsis anywhere at all. I see. Yeah. But the, but the cover, the movie poster is a, just a, a lady in red heels and there's a flower there on the ground. So it's like, Hey, I have just no clue what this is about and I can't, I'm so curious. I can't stop. Uh, one of my very favorite, uh, animated features of all time is Emperor's New Groove and it was released in 2000 has some really great characters, one of which is Kronk. He's a assistant to the big baddy Yzma, and he's not real bright. Um, and Yzma is trying to steal the throne. And there's one point in the movie when Kronk is talking to her and he says, "I mean let's face it, you're no spring chicken"
Dan:                                     18:31                    I actually quoted that when we started this episode!
Shauna:                               18:35                    You did. And I was like, wait, don't
Dan:                                     18:39                    I saw the look in your eyes when I did it. So I mean I don't do a very good Patrick Warburton but it's fine.
Shauna:                               18:44                    Yeah, me either. Oh it's such a funny scene though cause she's just talking and Yakin and he says that
Dan:                                     18:51                    90% of the scenes in that movie are great.
Shauna:                               18:54                    Yeah, they really are. There are quite a few people online who use no spring chicken in reference to beauty products. One woman chose it for the title of her beauty blog and she says, "hi, my name is Maria and I'm a 43 year old mom who has been obsessed with skincare and makeup for decades. After spending more than a mortgage or two on products, I'm here to share how products work on my skin, which isn't young and bouncy anymore and hopefully give you some advice and save you wasting your money." So...
Dan:                                     19:23                    Wow. A mortgage or too, Huh?
Shauna:                               19:26                    Yeah. I mean I good for you Maria, and I hope that you're doing well.
Dan:                                     19:30                    I'm just thinking that I spent more than a mortgage on student loans. So I hope it's been more helpful to Maria than it was to me.
Shauna:                               19:40                    It might be about the same. I mean, she's got a successful blog go and so
Dan:                                     19:45                    Way to go Maria, knock knock your socks off.
Shauna:                               19:47                    Yeah. Uh, so, uh, one of the results that popped up when I started searching, uh, was urban dictionary and you know, sometimes avoid that, but it has a listing for spring chicken with the definition, "A young and naive person, especially a young woman, usually in the negative"
Dan:                                     20:04                    I feel like urban dictionary is just phoning it in these days.
Shauna:                               20:08                    Right? Uh, so that was interesting.
Dan:                                     20:09                    Nothing even remotely offensive about that. That's just right. When urban dictionary is more factual than most news stations, we've got a problem. Right?
Shauna:                               20:20                    Ah, okay. Twitter was, was doing its thing this, this week. It was fantastic. And uh, Sabrina on Twitter @_Saaaabz shared, "I need to stop drinking or at least stopped turning up. Like, I'm still 21. You are not no spring chicken no more Sabrina".
Dan:                                     20:40                    That's uh, that's probably, you know what, she probably wrote that to herself after she'd had a couple, so probably. Good. Good Job Sabrina. Hope. Uh, I hope you take your own advice to heart.
Shauna:                               20:50                    Yup. Me Too are also on Twitter, a humane society of North Texas, which is
Dan:                                     20:56                    What what!
Shauna:                               20:56                    All right...
Dan:                                     20:57                    Sorry, I'm from north Texas.
Shauna:                               20:57                    So, and this is @hsnt1 on Twitter. "Woody may be an old fella, but boy does he have some life left in him at nine years young. He ain't no spring chicken, but don't bother telling him that" And a, you can visit woody daily. Well, I don't know if he's still there. Somebody must've grabbed him up and taken him home. I think he's a cutie pie, so
Dan:                                     21:19                    right. Yeah. Also your thing that you pulled up says February 19th, so, well sure. It was a smidge bit ago. So Woody's probably been claimed by now
Shauna:                               21:28                    probably. He's adorable.
Dan:                                     21:30                    But I bet there are lots of great animals at the humane society in North Texas. Go check them out. If you're, you know, in Denison or Sherman or Whitewright or Tom Bean or Van Alstyne or Bells or McKinney
Shauna:                               21:41                    shout out to all those places.
Dan:                                     21:43                    Pottsboro, Whitesboro
Shauna:                               21:44                    outside, outside of Dallas
Dan:                                     21:48                    On the North End. Um, I bet. I bet. I Bet Tom Bean doesn't get called out very often on podcasts.
Shauna:                               21:56                    Probably not. I mean, how many people are there
Dan:                                     21:59                    Uh, probably Like I dunno, maybe up to 900 now.
Shauna:                               22:03                    Oohhh wow.
Dan:                                     22:03                    Yeah
Shauna:                               22:03                    No spring chicken is in general, just a great idiom. It's fun and playful without being mean for the most part. And I love that the concept has been in use for so long and I love that we can actually watch the phrase change through history. I think that seeing people hundreds of years ago use banter to casually dismiss the passing of time or gently let someone else know that they are just not as young as they once were, is sort of representative of one of the greatest human traits, which is growth. And I think accepting and even embracing the change that we experience is really amazing. And getting older should be celebrated. I'm 36 remember, I'm trying to like encourage myself here.
Dan:                                     22:45                    You are very young. You don't get old until you're like 103. I think.
Shauna:                               22:48                    Yes. That, Yeah, that, that's a good one. 103. That's when you're old, right?
Dan:                                     22:54                    Or maybe at that point you're young again. I don't know. I'm really bad at ages.
Shauna:                               22:57                    I don't know how that works. Does it start over at 100?
Dan:                                     22:58                    I know that. I know that I'm middle age because my life expectancy is a little under half of my age now, so, oh gosh. I have definitely middle age.
Shauna:                               23:09                    I'm like third age or something. I don't even know. Probably, uh, there are some unpleasant consequences of aging to be sure, but I think we can find humor in those consequences and then, you know, take joy in all of the awesome stuff that we did on the road to becoming "no spring chicken". And if you're still young and stuff, take it from a former spring chicken. You should get out there and enjoy your childhood or adolescence or young adultness...
Dan:                                     23:37                    (Snorts in laughter)
Shauna:                               23:42                    Words are hard. 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 podcasts, and 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, or you can get links to everything we do
Dan:                                     24:07                    This week we'd like you to find two people or 10 or 40 or whatever, but two would be great. So find two people who either love podcasts or love words and language and tell them about Bunny Trails. I realize I'm an introvert asking you to speak to actual humans, but maybe it'll be fun? Maybe? They'll appreciate that you said, hey, here's the thing you can do and no one else has to do it with you. They'll like that. Anyway, thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. And until then, remember...
Together:                           24:38                    words belong to their users.

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