Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Episode 42: Look Before You Leap 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:                               00:06                    and I'm Shauna Harrison. Today we are going to just jump right in or... Wait, maybe we should be more cautious, you know, look before we leap,
Dan:                                     00:15                    oh I think I see what you've done here.
Shauna:                               00:18                    Clever, right? Look before you leap, means that a person should think about dangers and possible ramifications before acting. Sometimes people get excited and get into a hurry. This can lead to some nasty consequences. So this phrase is supposed to help remind us to stop and think before jumping in. My favorite definition is possibly one of the simplest. "We should know what we are getting into before we commit ourselves."
Dan:                                     00:47                    That does seem simple and good advice.
Shauna:                               00:50                    Yes. Okay. I, I don't like this one because there is anything spectacular about it, but rather for that opposite reason, I think it's simplicity actually highlights why idioms and metaphors and other phrases like this stick around for so long and why they often maintain their original intent and it's that same process we see from like parables and fables. Their meaning is upheld because the moral isn't plainly told, but because a concept is represented within the words when used together as a tale for a bunny trails even a short phrase,
Dan:                                     01:24                    I think as we study a lot of the great teachers of the past, they often times spoke in parables. You think of Aesop's fables are parables or stories where a concept was brought forth and to you get to understand the point of the story, like a moral of the story as we would say now and that helps you understand the whole concept. But the great part about telling stories like this like an Aesop's fables is you can, well basically the moral of the story can change over time as society changes.
Shauna:                               02:02                    Yeah, and that actually is a wonderful transition into the origin of this phrase. Many of the idiom and phrase pages that are, that are online source. Aesop's fables for this quip. While the moral of one of the fables definitely expresses the concept of look before you leap. It doesn't seem to have actually been in the original story, at least the specific words.
Dan:                                     02:26                    Okay, Gotcha.
Shauna:                               02:27                    Aesop's Fables is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller, believed to have lived in ancient Greece between six 20 and five 64 BC. The tales weren't recorded for approximately 300, three centuries after Aesop lived.
Dan:                                     02:44                    Wow. That actually tracks with most things of that time.
Shauna:                               02:47                    Yes. Uh, and there's a lot of contention around this and I wish we had time to like really delve in cause it's cool story. But there were fables that had similar characters in them as a Aesop's fables that were from other regions that were being told long before this.
Dan:                                     03:07                    So it really sounds like something that maybe the concept of like Aesop's Fables and stories that were told before. Maybe a little bit of The Story Behind podcast or maybe a Your Brain on Facts podcast, maybe something that they could jump into.
Shauna:                               03:20                    Get on it. I want to know. So the fable in question is the Fox and the goat. So this fable tells the story of a Fox who has found himself trapped in a well. When a goat happens by he convinces the goat to jump in, then he uses the goat to jump out and leaves the goat trapped.
Dan:                                     03:40                    Jerk.
Shauna:                               03:40                    Yeah. Morals were not originally included as the lessons were intended to be learned from the experience of the story. Um kind of the way that, um, those, those fables and stories happen throughout history is to give the listener or the reader an opportunity to gain their own lesson from it.
Dan:                                     03:59                    Probably should have read the script before I started talking, huh? You talk about a lot of this!
Shauna:                               04:03                    All good. That's cool. Uh, but that said, I wondered if the addition of morals to these stories could still be the origin of the phrase.
Dan:                                     04:12                    Sure.
Shauna:                               04:12                    Various interpretations definitely ascribe different lessons to this fable often with political or social implications throughout history. So now we were going to look at fables, Babrius and Phaedrus. This is a Loeb classic classical library, a number 436. That's a series of books that were, you know, anyway, and maybe not everybody, but my, my dad and my grandma -my Granny Dee - had like books, just all kinds of reference type books and had Loeb classical library, uh, books, hardcover books in, in their houses. I think it came from maybe Harvard or one of the universities kind of deal. The Loeb classics.
Dan:                                     04:54                    My family's not very learned. So your family does, your family has a ridiculous amount of degrees to their name, all things considered, when you look at your maternal and paternal families, like they're all really well educated people. That is not the case with my family.
Shauna:                               05:13                    My family does, does like, uh, like the learning.
Dan:                                     05:17                    Well good. Good for them.
Shauna:                               05:20                    So this book tells us Babrius is the reputed author of a collection discovered in the 19th century of more than 125 fables based on those called "Aesop's" in Greek verse. He may have been a hellenised Roman living in Asia minor during the late first century of our era. Phaedra's born in Macedonia flourished in the early half of the first century of our era. Apparently a slave set free by the emperor Augustus. He lived in Italy and began to write Aesopian fables. So this 1965 book translated by Ben Edwin Perry, um, was that collection of those two off or those two previous authors, fables or interpretations of them. And it gives the moral of the Fox and the goat as, "As soon as someone clever gets into trouble, he tries to find a way out at someone else's expense."
Dan:                                     06:17                    I always hate, actually I didn't go into this beforehand, but I hate the so-called morals of a lot of the stories because the, once you ascribe morals to it, they no longer hold up as fables or parables.
Shauna:                               06:30                    Well that 's exactly the point. And I think a lot of times these older, um, interpretations of the fables were they provided the moral there or that lesson learned as a way to highlight an issue in society or a political concern that they had. So I don't know that it was necessarily intended to be kept with the story long-term in the way that it's, that it has been over time. So there are various examples of our alternative morals for this fable throughout history. But the most common, uh, currently is our idiom. And the, my favorite version of this is, it comes from the library of converse, converse? The library of converse. My favorite version of this comes from the Library of Congress. They have a beautiful interactive version of Aesop's fables available online and it's called the Aesop for children. And um, I'll be sure to share this links that you can take a look at it.
Dan:                                     07:28                    It'll be on Patreon site,
Shauna:                               07:34                    Thank you, voice.
Dan:                                     07:37                    It was my voice. I didn't do anything weird.
Shauna:                               07:40                    It was like, um, I dunno commercial, what's that guy's name that does the beginning like intros to movies and stuff?
Dan:                                     07:49                    Don Lafontaine
Shauna:                               07:51                    Hey!
Dan:                                     07:51                    Your brain on Facts podcast just talked about, uh, voiceovers recently and that was one of the people they talked about <Dan imitating Don LaFontaine> "In a world where things happen, blah, blah, blah." That was, I mean, that was all it right? It was Don LaFontaine.
Shauna:                               08:07                    That's so fantastic.
Dan:                                     08:07                    Good job Moxie! Shout out. Check out the Your Brain on Facts podcast if you like a trivia.
Shauna:                               08:14                    Okay. But my very favorite voiceover, uh, for the beginning of a show is uh, for, it was for Earthsea and it's like in a place where land meets water. Earth Sea. And I was like what?
Dan:                                     08:28                    That's your favorite? That would be the thing that drives me the battiest insane,
Shauna:                               08:33                    Oh my goodness it's so funny. I was like this is the, are you serious right now? And Wizard of Earthsea is a great, book series. Like...
Dan:                                     08:41                    No, I already hate all of it. I think this was a Sci-fi channel thing, right?
Shauna:                               08:46                    I don't even remember
Dan:                                     08:48                    Like, S-C-Y-F-Y, Scyfy?
Shauna:                               08:50                    No it was was like S-Y-F-Y or something terrible. That's when it all went downhill.
Dan:                                     08:57                    It's probably exactly the same and we just never will get picked up by Syfy now, NOOOOOOOOO! Wait, I write Scifi. NOOOOOOOO!
Shauna:                               09:07                    The version of the Fox and the Goat on the Aesop for children shares our idiom look before you leap as the moral. So despite our idiom being used in nowish times as the main moral of this fable, it is not where that, uh, where our idiom originated. This was noted in enough places though that I felt like we had to include a Aesop's Fables and that connection. Oxford English dictionary classifies look before you leap as a proverb, and a proverb is "a short pithy saying in general, use stating a general truth or piece of advice."
Shauna:                               09:42                    The meaning of our proverb look before you leap and variants is "one should not act without first considering the possible consequences or dangers. One should avoid acting rashly or impetuously."
Shauna:                               09:57                    I love that word. Impetuous. Yeah, that's a good word. Look before you leap was often used to warn against jumping into marriage without careful thought and or planning, particularly in the 18 hundreds. Uh, but we're actually going to step back to the first time that the OED has this attested in print, which is in 1450.
Dan:                                     10:18                    Wow. Okay.
Shauna:                               10:21                    I did my best to translate this title. It was a combination of German and middle English. So I'm pretty sure it is, "12th commemorative German new philosopher days in Munich".
Dan:                                     10:32                    Fair.
Shauna:                               10:33                    Yeah. I found this text, actually referenced in a few middle English etymology books. So that was kind of cool. Uh, the excerpt, "first look, and afterward leap" is most likely the predecessor of our phrase, this was a piece of advice that was shared in various writings around the same time. And, uh, it transitioned into look before you leap over time in 1528, we see the phrase explained in William Tyndale's, The Obedience of a Christian Man, which reads "“Loke yer thou lepe, whose literall sence is, doo nothynge sodenly or without avisemente”.
Shauna:                               11:09                    And advisement means careful consideration. So while the phrase was in use in the mid 14 hundreds, Tyndale still felt it necessary here to give clarification of its meaning.
Dan:                                     11:20                    So the point would be that it is not in the common vernacular, or at least he felt like there might be people who don't know what that means. Yes. Okay. That's good knowledge actually.
Shauna:                               11:33                    I also enjoyed a quote from and a Heptamerone of Civil Discourses by George Whetstone from 1582, "look before you leap least you be wet before you be aware."
Shauna:                               11:48                    I tried to get access to a copy because I really wanted to find the context of this quote, but you know, alas, we'll just have to guess.
Dan:                                     11:56                    I see. All right, look before you leap or you will leap into the water and be wet.
Shauna:                               12:02                    But that's what I was thinking. I'm like a or are we jumping like is this like stone to stone hopping or
Dan:                                     12:08                    literally like jumping to conclusions and getting soaked by it?
Shauna:                               12:11                    Yeah, I don't know
Dan:                                     12:13                    A wave of conclusions.
Shauna:                               12:15                    Oh my goodness. Okay, so side note, what is a Heptamerone?
Dan:                                     12:21                    I actually had that exact question, but I didn't want to sound like an idiot.
Shauna:                               12:24                    So the heptemerone... The hept part if you are a math person, seven right? So this is a collection of 72 short stories.
Dan:                                     12:33                    Wait, does heptemerone... merone mean two?
Shauna:                               12:38                    It's, no.
Dan:                                     12:39                    Okay. I'll stop now.
Shauna:                               12:42                    This is a collection of 72 short stories written in French by Marguerite of Navarre. And that was somewhere between, she lived between 1492 and 1549 it was published, it was published posthumously in 1558 it has the form of a frame narrative and was inspired by, The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio.
Dan:                                     13:07                    Boccaccio.
Shauna:                               13:07                    Okay. You're better with the Italian than me. Marguerite's story, the heptemerone, was originally intended to contain 100 stories covering 10 days just as the Decameron does. But at Marguerite's death, it was only completed as far as the second story of the eighth day. So that's where the 72 short stories came from, so it was renamed. And then the idea of the heptemerone became kind of a thing too. So, um, but you see that Deca and the, there's like the day's... So 10 stories a day for 10 days. I thought that was kind of a cool thing. In 1629 we find Frances Quarles, uh, who is the author of Argalus and Parthenia , using our phrase as a rejoinder of sorts, "The sickle that's too early, cannot reap a fruitful harvest. Look before you leap."
Dan:                                     14:00                    It makes good sense. I get that as a gardener, you, if you cut it too early, it will not, um, do what you want it to do.
Shauna:                               14:08                    Yeah. Mary Susanna Pilkington’s 1793 novel, Rosina shares this advice. "There's no good in being in a hurry. People should always look before they leap."
Shauna:                               14:21                    I can confirm this. Um, I am clumsy and sometimes when I get excited, I trip on things.
Dan:                                     14:28                    You should look before you fall down.
Shauna:                               14:31                    I mean like maybe if I look before I do the thing that caused me to fall down.
Dan:                                     14:34                    Oh, if your just watch what you're doing?
Shauna:                               14:36                    Yeah. Yeah. In general,
Dan:                                     14:37                    So you're just taking it a little bit, step further where they're like, look before you leap, you're just like, look for before you do anything. Actually pay attention.
Shauna:                               14:44                    Go back. Even further.
Dan:                                     14:45                    Actually look before you leap is so advanced. I'm still at the phase where like I just need like pay attention,
Shauna:                               14:51                    Just general pay attention.
Shauna:                               14:54                    So now further along here in 1966 linguist Mario Andrew Pei's, How to Learn Languages and What Languages to Learn uses the phrase for advice again but with a slightly different purpose. "Look before you leap and browse before you buy."
Shauna:                               15:11                    That's probably pretty decent. In the Southern Argus and Lowndes County Adviser from October 22nd, 1839 out of Columbus, Mississippi. We find "Look before you leap or in other words, examine the doctrines of your party before you cast your votes at the ensuing election."
Shauna:                               15:29                    Also good advice. In the February 20th, 1845 edition of the Jefferson Republican, which is out of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, there is a section called Alphabetical Advice and it shares some really wonderful, a fairly alliterative suggestions and L is "love the ladies, look before you leap and eschew loaferism"
Shauna:                               15:54                    Having read this one, I had to figure out what loaferism is and I could make a guess, but I just needed to be certain. And so this led me to the Brownstone detectives and their website says "Like the cracking of a cold case mystery the brownstone detectives investigates the history of Your House. We'll track down every available fact story, person, photograph and official document until with all of the evidence laid out before us, we've solved it's mystery."
Shauna:                               16:24                    And in a post from June 2017 they shared a story called the Hipsters of Wartime Fort Green in which loafers in a Brooklyn neighborhood were discussed. So in the researching of somebodies house, they uh, found this information. "I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."
Shauna:                               16:45                    Walt Whitman wrote this line at the beginning of the poem that later became song of myself. "Whitman was a self styled loafer and in the mid 18 hundreds, loaferism was not a very popular pastime. Accepting of course with the loafers..."
Dan:                                     17:02                    I'm a big fan
Shauna:                               17:03                    "...Loafers to bring the term into a modern day focus were the rowdy hipsters of their times. Nonconforming, proudly different, and not at all afraid to show it."
Dan:                                     17:15                    I just like being lazy.
Shauna:                               17:16                    Right. I, it sounds actually like they kind of just stood around on street corners and made fun of people,
Dan:                                     17:24                    And stand on their corrugated fiberboard soap boxes?
Shauna:                               17:28                    Well I don't think they did that. I think they just stood around smoked cigars and like yelled insults.
Dan:                                     17:33                    So nothing changes, I hear.
Shauna:                               17:39                    It's pretty similar to today. Uh, so, uh, in the May 25th, 1919 issue of South Bend and News Times of South Bend, Indiana, there is an advert for the Brandon Durell store and it's titled, Look before you leap, I am not going to read this whole ad because the entire page was a, that was the title of this ad and it filled up the whole page. But it started with, "Remember the old Irishman who undertook a flirtation with a bumblebee? Remember how his ardent admiration of its bright yellow wings turned to acid as he exclaimed. Ouch!"
Shauna:                               18:18                    So then it goes on, "Look before you leap would've saved the old Irishman a painfully swollen palm."
Shauna:                               18:25                    And it just continues and then tells you why you should come back to their store and how they appreciate return repeat business. So...
Dan:                                     18:32                    Oh, so you've looked before you leaped by shopping with them and now you should come back here because it's familiar and you're not going to get stung.
Shauna:                               18:39                    Yeah, you're not going to get, yeah, I'm going to get stung. Yep. So yeah.
Dan:                                     18:45                    Well today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon. Special thanks to our lagomorphology interns, Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe, and Mary Halsig 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
Shauna:                               19:19                    In 2003 in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, there is an article about the American Butterfly Fish <Show note, this should be the African Butterfly Fish>
Dan:                                     19:27                    That's a thing?!
Shauna:                               19:28                    It is, it's found only in west Africa. I know this fish has been described as a fresh water flying fish because it leaps out of the water as an escape behavior. It has a bizarre appearance for a fish with distinctive dorsal and anal fins that act almost like vertical stabilizers and its lateral or pectoral fins are especially wide like butterfly wings. And uh, that was actually on the cover of that month's issue of the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
Dan:                                     20:01                    How interesting.
Shauna:                               20:03                    Yes. And so after reading this introduction, I wanted to know why this article held the title of look before you leap of flying or jumping fish is cool and definitely fits the leaping portion of our idiom. Uh, but I was trying to place the, the, the looking, uh, part of that. And as it turns out, this fish lives just below the surface of the water and it eats insects there and on the surface and it just above that, above the surface of the water. And it also has threats from predators who are lower than that. And it says "pantadon...", which is the scientific name for this fish "is a strong leaper and we'll actually soar out of the water to seize its prey. But it apparently not developed a consistent mechanism to neutralize the refraction at the water surface as it cannot always accurately target its prey above the water surface"
Shauna:                               20:56                    Which I kind of imagined in my head is this really cool flying fish with, you know, like it looks like it's got wings but it leaps out of the water and can't catch whatever bug it's going after.
Dan:                                     21:07                    Just needs, it needs glasses.
Shauna:                               21:10                    So it has really cool eyes that are delineated like halfway through. So the top half of the eyes are uh, have pigmentation that's appropriate for sunlight. And then the bottom half is, has less pigmentation so that it can like see under the water. I thought that was really cool,
Dan:                                     21:29                    Yet it still can't quite make it out.
Shauna:                               21:31                    Right, right. Yeah. Some still not got things figured out.
Shauna:                               21:35                    So the article ends with "Pantadon, then, must look very carefully before it leaps."
Dan:                                     21:39                    Oh, I get it.
Shauna:                               21:40                    That was it. Yeah.
Dan:                                     21:42                    Cause it it, it's not very good at it. Right, right. It's got to get all its stuff figured out
Shauna:                               21:48                    In the 2010 book Transformational PHIL-ann-throp-ee
Dan:                                     21:54                    Philanthropy?
Shauna:                               21:55                    And that was good. Transformational Philanthropy: Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits, author Lisa Dietlin, "Look before you leap: there is a lot more to running a foundation and administering a grants program than meets the eye.”"
Shauna:                               22:09                    Innovative public relations, @InnovativePRNC on Twitter, shared "When incorporating #publicrelations look before you leap" linking to his April 5th blog post, which reads "When incorporating public relations look before you leap. There are way too many horror stories out there about businesses engaging PR firms or consultants expecting one thing but getting another resulting in a waste of money, time and resources. Here is a short but sweet entrepreneur primer on what public relations is and is not." And in his blog post he links to an April 3rd article, The How-To: Harnessing the Power of Public Relations on
Shauna:                               22:50                    Urban dictionary always gives us the best insight displaying that most basic of commonalities from all walks of life. Just bringing everybody together. And uh, here we find probably, maybe, I don't know, the concept of look before you leap at its simplest "when taking a dump, ensuring that there is sufficient toilet paper available *before* commencing the evacuation."
Dan:                                     23:13                    That is actually probably the simplest way to say, look, before you leap, make sure you got what you need before you do the things.
Shauna:                               23:23                    Right I typically avoid urban dictionary definitions, but that one was, was pretty good
Dan:                                     23:29                    Pretty spot on, frankly
Shauna:                               23:31                    Yup. So, in general look before you leap as a great piece of advice. Um, I'll go back to that clumsy, clumsy me. Uh, I could take this to a step further and say, look, before I, before I walk or as you said, just in general, pay attention. Um, but isn't it great, uh, that this one has such a long history? It's been around for hundreds of years and it's just as common today as ever. And but my favorite moment probably in researching this episode was that discovery of Walt Whitman's connection to loaferism. I love that word now and I just want us to bring it back.
Shauna:                               24:04                    Well, that about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. I'd also like to say a big thank you to those who've posted reviews for the show. Leaving a review is really the easiest way to support the show. Best of all, it's free throughout the week. You can catch us on Twitter and Instagram and sometimes on Facebook all @bunnytrailspod.
Dan:                                     24:23                    If you have a suggestion for an idiom or other turn of phrase, catch us on social media or head over to Patreon and let us know. We 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, head over to for all the latest content. Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. And until then, remember,
Together:                           24:48                    Words belong to their users.

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