Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Episode 46: On The Lam 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 is on vacation this week. Well, vacation for the podcast. Anyway, as we've mentioned before, Shauna works in public information and communications for a school district, so between the end of year stuff and our perennial spring storms here in Kansas, it's been a busy time for her. In fact, I think we're still under a flood warning as I record this, so this week is just you and I. As always, we're going to take an idiom or other turn of phrase and tell the story of its beginnings or at least as close as we can get to them and all the way from there to how it's used today. This week it's "on the lam". Before I jump in, I want to revisit what an idiom means for our purposes. We're using the Oxford English dictionary s version, "a form of expression, grammatical construction phrase, etc. used in a distinctive way in a particular language, dialect or language variety, a group of words established by usage as having a meeting, not deducible from the meanings of the individual words"
Dan:                                     01:07                    Which basically means if you read the phrase and are not a native speaker, you may have difficulty understanding what that phrase means and that's what an idiom would be. While we usually stick to idioms, we sometimes wander into metaphors, similes, allegories and many other turns of phrase. We're less concerned about what form of speech, the phrase is, and more concerned with following its story from origins to current use. Another definition of idiom from the Oxford English dictionary is "a distinctive style or convention in music, art, architecture, writing, etc" Basically the "characteristic mode of expression of a composer, artist or author"
Dan:                                     01:46                    And since the podcast is our art, I suppose you could say idioms are our idiom.
Dan:                                     01:51                    So let's talk about the meaning of "on the lam". First I should note the word lam is spelled L A M. There is no B at the end of it and as nothing to do with baby sheep. On the lam, from the Oxford English dictionary means "to run off, to escape, to 'beat it.'" And it is US slang.
Dan:                                     02:12                    When used today it's a way to describe a fugitive, someone that is on the run. I think you'll find its origins make decent sense, especially when compared to some of our other phrases. So let's start with the root of our phrase. The word Lam. It comes from an old Norse word “lÄ™mja”. I think that's how you say it, which means lame. However, this Norse word was used as a verb, so it'd be more accurate to say it means to lame as in to lame someone. It passed through old English with this meaning though not pronunciation intact and became lam in the 15 hundreds. So the Oxford English dictionary says lam means "to beat soundly, to thrash or to whack." And it is now used colloquially or sometimes as a vulgar word.
Dan:                                     03:04                    This is attested as well in Thomas's Dictionary, which was written in 1596 and had versions printed throughout several years after that. And they define lam as "Defusto, to lamme or bumbast with strokes".
Dan:                                     03:19                    Now this brings us to the late 18 hundreds with our first attested usage of the word lam being used to run. So lam before meant to beat or to lame someone, and now it's being used to run in the late 18 hundreds in 1886 in Pinkertons, 30 years At Detective, he was writing about a pickpocket and said, "after he has secured the wallet, He will utter the word Lam. This means to let the man go and to get out of the way as soon as possible."
Dan:                                     03:51                    We also see this in Sherwood's Petrified Forest in the 19 hundreds (1936) it is used four or five different times. Some examples "Say, boss—we better lam out of here", meaning run out of here. Or, "I hear a car coming, boss, we better lam". "When they get around we'll lam" all meaning runaway.
Dan:                                     04:09                    Which sounds funny to me because that's not how I would use it these days. Uh, but definitely how it was used in that timeframe. And then in addition to running with lam, lamster or lammister, means "a fugitive or a person on the run."
Dan:                                     04:25                    I should note just so that you understand my pronunciation there, lammister is L a m m i s t e r, not Lannister like Cerci. So this lamster or a lammister was used in the early 19 hundreds with examples like in the Number 1500: Life in Sing Sing, "Lamaster: Fugitive from justice, one who forfeits bail bonds"
Dan:                                     04:50                    Or in the magazine Clues in November, 1926 where they write "Lamster, fugitive. Also a member of a pickpocket gang that leaves with the loot. "
Dan:                                     04:59                    So it'd be easy to see how one could use running away like on the lam to avoid being beaten lammed and that may very well be the origins of the phrase and the way this transition happens, a sort of thieves cant use to describe the situation. I'm on the lam because if I get caught I will be beaten and that would be bad.
Dan:                                     05:18                    But there is another explanation that warrants discussion as well. Another transition of sorts. So lam of course means beating as in to make one lame and then it transitioned to running using the transition "Beat it" seems too easy. And in fact it is the phrase beat it meaning to get out of here or to run off didn't actually take off until the 19 hundreds, but there's another more logical explanation besides beat it, meaning to get out of here or run away as being the transition. So while "beat" has meant to repeatedly strike since the time of old English, so too has a figurative meaning of beat been used.
Dan:                                     06:02                    From the Oxford English dictionary, "Said of the action of the feet upon the ground in walking or running; hence, to beat the streets : to walk up and down. to beat a path or to beat a track : to tread it hard or bare by frequent passage; hence , to open up or prepare a way."
Dan:                                     06:20                    this is often used figuratively, which this actually makes good sense. Uh, it uses modes that we have seen in language frequently and it gives us that most logical transition from lam, meaning to beat and beat, meaning walking or running to lam, meaning running to on the lam, meaning a fugitive, someone who is running from something which is how we use the word lam today.
Dan:                                     06:45                    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. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and to follow along if you're in a financial situation that allows for monetary support, you can get additional perks for as little as $1 a month. Features like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, bonus episodes, and more are all available at
Dan:                                     07:22                    I found a song from English musician Kele off his 2010 debut solo album. The boxer, it's a a dance electronic style song. The words, "There's a voice in my head that I probably should have trusted from the start. From the start, I finally flipped out and I'm hiring a detective to find out where I've been, where I've been. "
Dan:                                     07:45                    It continues later in the song I'm here. "I've been hoping you would find me. I'm here. I've been waiting, waiting for you. I'm here. I've been hoping you'd find me on the lam, on the lam."
Dan:                                     08:01                    While dance and Electronica style songs are not my favorite. The lyrics here are very poetic. Uh, I'm not sure if Kele wrote the lyrics or just performed the song, but the lyrics themselves are, I liked it. I thought it highlighted the knowledge that he's a little out of control in his own mind and he's trying to figure out who he is and someone important comes along to help him discover himself. And that's a, that's a very sweet story.
Dan:                                     08:36                    In a 2013 book on the lam, based on a true story, you'll find this true story of Stanley Grauso. so here's the synopsis. "Based on the testimony of real events. A compelling story that takes a look into the life of a young Stanley Grauso, raised in a middle class Connecticut Italian family during Prohibition years. Stanley's life soon spirals out of control, landing him in the company of some of the most reputed mobsters of our time, including Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Arthur Flegenheimer (aka Dutch Scultz), and F. Donald Coster (aka Phil Musica). "
Dan:                                     09:15                    There's also a 2018 book called on the lam and here's its synopsis. This is a book I am definitely going to be getting. "From the hilarious, oft-irresponsible travel enthusiast, Auguste Gravel, comes the first installment of travel stories that will make you shoot milk out of your nose and then shock you back into your seat with the next paragraph. On the Lam is about leaving your comfort zone and stepping into a world of travel and the unknown. It's a funny book that provides advice for new or experienced travelers of any age. Each chapter is a story full of adventures - or mishaps - that take place in five different countries: Mexico, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Germany and China. The reader will learn about some of the norms of the country, as well as tips and advice that make for a more efficient and street-savvy globe trotter. A perfect read for a plane ride or while sitting waiting for a bus or train to another destination. Quick, easy, funny and informative. The ideal book for when you're On the Lam!"
Dan:                                     10:15                    There's also an artist agent company called Artists on the Lam, which is a play on the founder's last name and our phrase. "Based in Chicago, Jenny Lam is an artist, artist agent, independent curator, writer, and troublemaker. Here at Artists on the Lam, she represents the most talented, exciting, and passionate fine artists you haven't heard of yet--but will."
Dan:                                     10:41                    You can find more about Artists on the Lam at or on their blog,
Dan:                                     10:49                    I love phrases that come from cants. And this particular phrase seems to come from a thieves cant style. A Cant is a jargon or a language that is used by a group of people usually to mislead someone who might overhear it.
Dan:                                     11:05                    I think many people might be familiar through some, uh, role playing games where a cant, is used like a thieves can't, like in dungeons and dragons or many other role playing games that are out there. Uh, but it's also used by many marginalized groups, uh, had their own cants and of course some criminal elements as well. On the Lam is popularized through thieves cant, it provides a dramatic and interesting background for this phrase. And I know that I'm romanticizing language history a bit here, uh, but sometimes I think we need a little romance in our lives and when it comes to words, I guess I'm just sappy like that.
Dan:                                     11:40                    Well, that about wraps us up for today. I'd like to say a big thank you to those of you who posted reviews for the show is the easiest way to support your favorite podcast. Best of all, it's free.
Dan:                                     11:50                    If you want to talk, the best place would be on patreon, at or you can hit me up on Twitter @bunnytrailspod.
Dan:                                     11:59                    This is our 46th episode and we're nearing a huge milestone for us, Episode 50, and we need your help. Is there a turn of phrase that means something important to you? Maybe a family phrase or a regional phrase you know and love. Well, we want to hear about it. You can reach out to us on social media or email us that's We'd love to hear about your favorite phrase and why you love it. The deadline to send your stuff to us is Sunday, May 26th it can be written or you can send an audio file, or if you just send us a message, we'll reach back out to you and we can talk about it. And I want to say a special thanks to everybody who has already sent stuff in, I am looking forward to episode 50 a lot. It will be a very fun episode.
Dan:                                     12:46                    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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