Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Episode 56: Pick Your Brain 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. Dan, I struggled to come up with an idiom this week, so I was hoping I could pick your brain
Dan:                                     00:20                    Um... that's... We... Don't normally wing it on the show, so, oh wait, I get it. I see. I see what you did there. Yeah, so we're doing, pick your brain.
Shauna:                               00:31                    yeah. Yeah. Pick your brain. If a person asks to pick someone's brain or brains, they are seeking ideas or information from that, someone in order to use it for themselves. So when I really started thinking about this idiom, I wondered why this specific combination of words, why not pluck or pull or collect, gather, harvest or any other words?
Dan:                                     00:53                    Did you just go to the thesaurus and look up...?
Shauna:                               00:56                    No, I'm... Only a little bit, but also why brain rather than head or mind? We've seen head used a lot to kind of have that same meaning. So I started with the word pick. And here's something really cool. At least if you're, if you're a word nerd
Dan:                                     01:16                    and if you're not a word nerd, why would you even be listening to the show?
Shauna:                               01:18                    yeah, I know why you're here. But Hey, we welcome you anyway. Yeah,
Dan:                                     01:22                    Yeah, that's cool. You do you. That's fine. We're pretty accepting..
Shauna:                               01:24                    Oh, so according to the Oxford English dictionary, this is the entry for the word pick. Ah, this is p-i-c-k pick "origin apparently formed within English by conversion etymology apparently from the word Pike. And this is the word for a point or spike or an implement having this." So this is kind of rare. Most of our, uh, wonderful English words are, that are as old as this one actually came to us by way of another language or maybe several. So I thought it was really cool. So when exactly did we first see the word pick? A pick was attested in English text around 1200 meaning to apply a pointed object to, and related senses. It often was used in discussing birds or other animals and it meant to pierce or strike with its beak or mouth parts. Uh, kind of like to peck or peck at,
Dan:                                     02:15                    Oh boy, this gives a whole different concept to pick your brain. Oh no!
Shauna:                               02:20                    Yeah. You know what it... Actually we're, we're good here. Uh, so this reference was in a, this is about 1200 in the Ancrene Wisse, also known as the Ancrene Riwle... I can't say that... R-I-W-L-E, or guide for anchoresses. And uh, this is an anonymous monastic rule or manual for female anchoress that was composed or eh, again, around 1200.
Dan:                                     02:49                    What's an Anchoress?
Shauna:                               02:51                    Ah, okay. So that's, this is the kind of a female version of a monk, if you will, or somebody who's essentially removed themselves from society in order to live like a committed, pious, whatever life like committed.
Dan:                                     03:04                    At first I thought you were describing a hermit or a hermit-ess? I assumed a monk and hermit and those types of words were gender neutral. But apparently it, well, at least sex neutral on that front. Not Gender so much, but apparently an anchoress is an old timey word for lady monk.
Shauna:                               03:23                    Yeah. Sorta not necessarily a monk. So it was just that like
Dan:                                     03:26                    Oh, just somebody who's pious.
Shauna:                               03:27                    Somebody who's well retreated from society, Like geared towards mindfulness and prayer type thing. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. SORTA hermit monk, uh,
Dan:                                     03:39                    a hermit monk? Wait, is that a character... I think I might play a hermit monk in one of my DnD campaigns.
Shauna:                               03:49                    So here's our quote, "The backbiter… beaks with his black bill of quitch carrions, as he that is the devils corbin of hell; what would he pick and to tear with his bill stinking, rotten flesh."
Dan:                                     04:03                    Ah, well black bill of quitch carrions? Wow, that's a mouthful.
Shauna:                               04:09                    Yeah. I actually think this was referring to just crows, like black crows. Cause quitch is sort of a like grass, so carrions of the grass and black bill... I dunno.
Dan:                                     04:20                    Well yeah, carrion is something that would eat stinking, rotten flesh. So yeah, I mean it makes sense. Like turkey vultures.
Shauna:                               04:24                    So, but I, I just, I love this whole quote though. I like all the words that are in it. So this was also used to refer to pick axes and tools at that time at pike was a Dutch middle Dutch word for pickaxe.
Dan:                                     04:39                    Sure. I know what a pickaxe is, I've, I've played Minecraft. I have a diamond pickaxe that has Fortune III on it. It's the great... And Unbreakable II. It's the greatest.
Shauna:                               04:49                    That's all very, that is pretty awesome.
Dan:                                     04:51                    I know, right?
Shauna:                               04:52                    I have to say aside, no. As a graphic designer, Minecraft is like the best as like the simple design. Like you know, that's a pick ax. It's awesome. Interestingly to me, the figurative uses for pick to mean gather or harvest or select things like that or were actually older than some of the literal uses. So aside from pickaxes and tools like that specific literal meaning, the other literal uses like separating by pulling as in pick apart or something like that. Those didn't show up until the 15 hundreds
Dan:                                     05:24                    gotcha. I can't think of a gathering and harvesting now without thinking of the segment in our 50th episode that The Endless Knot did on carpe diem. And so that always pops into my mind and literally anytime I hear the word gather and harvest together, it makes me think of that. So yeah, absolutely. You should check out our 50th episode if you haven't already. And listene to that segment by well all of the segments frankly, but especially the one by, by The Endless Knot about carpe diem cause it was great. So good.
Shauna:                               05:54                    Around 1325 in the glossary of W. de Bibbesworth, (Laughter from Dan)
Dan:                                     06:00                    I shouldn't laugh at people's names, sorry.
Shauna:                               06:03                    This is a volume of...
Dan:                                     06:04                    Ramsbottom.
Shauna:                               06:07                    That's terrible. A volume of vocabularies, we find the phrase 'pick the flax'. In this case and continuing through to now, pick was used to mean: "To detach and take (something) from where it grows, lies, or is attached"
Dan:                                     06:24                    Oh yeah, yeah. That's how we, we still use that word. Yeah. Picking flowers and stuff like that. Picking your nose, that is a different thing. You're picking things out of your nose but not your nose itself.
Shauna:                               06:36                    So interestingly then picking your nose would be a literal use of picking where picking a flower is a figurative use of it.
Dan:                                     06:43                    oh boy.
Shauna:                               06:49                    So today it's used more commonly to pick with fingers, like you were saying, to pluck or gather growing flowers, fruit off of a tree. Um, and so the figurative use of pick to mean taking and gathering, um, and, and the way that it's used in pick your brain came out of this definition. So the other key word in our phrase is brain. And, uh, this question was actually way easier to answer. Uh, the concept has been around for centuries, millennia, even two and a half kilo years, if you will. I just wanted to say kiloyears
Dan:                                     07:23                    Kiloyears is a thing?
Shauna:                               07:26                    Yeah. Like a thousand years.
Dan:                                     07:28                    Really?
Shauna:                               07:29                    I don't know. I could have made it up or I saw it and decided it was good. Um, I mean, words belong to their users, so...
Dan:                                     07:34                    All right, good point. You've got me there.
Shauna:                               07:38                    So Hippocrates believed the brain was the seat of intelligence and that was in the fourth century BCE.
Dan:                                     07:46                    I mean, in fairness Hippocrates believed a lot of stuff that not all of it was true, but I'm going to give him this one. Yeah,
Shauna:                               07:52                    another millennium. And then some prior to this, the ancient Egyptians had a hieroglyph for the physical object of the brain or that region of the body. That space,
Dan:                                     08:03                    like the, Oh, okay. Like wait, the region of the body or like the actual brain itself?
Shauna:                               08:07                    the brain itself, like they didn't, I mean, okay. The concept of it being the seat of intelligence or the mind and that kind of thing wasn't there for the Egyptians, but they did have a hieroglyphs specifically for that body part, which I thought was pretty cool. That's a long time.
Dan:                                     08:21                    Yeah, don't they? Well, yeah, don't they? Wouldn't they like do somebody special there when they did mummification or something?
Shauna:                               08:27                    Yeah. Okay. They didn't think brain was that...
Dan:                                     08:28                    Talk about picking your nose, right?
Shauna:                               08:30                    Ugh. That's picking your... brain
Dan:                                     08:33                    THAT'S picking your brain. That's literally picking your brain.
Shauna:                               08:36                    Okay I did all this research and I didn't get to that but thank you Dan.
Dan:                                     08:41                    Yeah. You're welcome.
Shauna:                               08:45                    That was like 1700 BCE. So a long time ago that we had identified the brain as a thing and then, you know, the fourth century BCE is when the concept of it being the area of where our intelligence or our consciousness is kind of seated. Isn't that it's a good word for it I guess.
Dan:                                     09:04                    Sure. Yeah. Seems Fair.
Shauna:                               09:06                    So, uh, so, but the brain, the English word showed up in the mid eight hundreds, uh, with this definition, "the human brain considered as the center of mental activity, the organ of thought, memory or imagination. Also in plural as brains." Uh, it was around the same time that the, the physical body part, the brain showed up in the English lexicon as well. So thanks to King Alfred, we can track this usage, uh, back to about 850 or 900 common era in Gregory's Pastoral Care, "that thickening dark hair on head that brings forth in purifying counsel that growth shine over the brain and his evil actions not any, be aware." Okay. This is a whole lot and this is a translation of a translation, uh, because this is old English old/middle English. But, uh, the way I interpreted this, and, uh, some other scholars too who are experts, unlike me, they read that as essentially saying, so this, uh, the child that is, that is yours that you've brought up or are bringing up and you provide ongoing the purifying counsel. So you are giving them a clear, uh, path, uh, then the growth that raising up that you provide enlightens the mind in essence, and then their evil actions are not seen. They don't... They don't do bad things.
Dan:                                     10:37                    Yeah. The Bible has a phrase like that too. The Christian Bible or something about train a child on the way they should go and when they are old, they'll not depart from it. Which is crap. It's crap. But I mean it's whatever,
Shauna:                               10:49                    Yeah, you know. So this was just a real flourishy way to say it.
Dan:                                     10:52                    Sure. Yeah. I do feel obligated now to say that. Ah, well, yes, true, teach kids when they're young, you know, to be good people and that kind of stuff. And that's great.
Shauna:                               11:03                    Oh yeah, don't teach them to be bad.
Dan:                                     11:03                    It's just that when they're older, there's so many other things that can, uh, influence them throughout their lives and livelihoods. So I don't mean to diminish the roles of parents or whoever's raising kids, but definitely the implication that the child will stick with that their whole life regardless of what else happens to them or what are the things that go through. I don't know if that's, that's where I think that's crap.
Shauna:                               11:30                    Here's the deal...
Dan:                                     11:31                    It's the 'when they're old, they will not depart from it' part that I think is crap.
Shauna:                               11:34                    They're humans, so they get to choose stuff.
Dan:                                     11:37                    You need a citation on that.
Shauna:                               11:39                    Ah, Citation needed.
Dan:                                     11:41                    All right. Sorry. Let's go ahead. Get back to the idiom.
Shauna:                               11:44                    Well, actually here, here we are. We're ready for our idiom, we've established 'pick' and 'brain', and that brings us to pick a person's brains. "Uh, this is to elicit ideas, information, et cetera from a person, especially for one's own use." The first attestation of the brain picking Combo is found in 1681 in James Scudamore’s Homer Alamode: 2nd Part.
Dan:                                     12:11                    is that like, would that be like homer with a side of ice cream or something?
Shauna:                               12:14                    Yeah. Well, okay, so Scudamore I, yeah, that is what alamode. ALAMODE. Um, or I think, oh gosh, no, I'd have to look it up. I, if I remember correctly, alamode was more about presentation than specifically ice cream?
Dan:                                     12:27                    Oh, probably. I have no idea. I don't even know why I thought about the side ice cream and you said that. But that's, that's exactly what we do with My brain
Shauna:                               12:33                    No, there is a phrase for it, like apple pie alamode or whatever is with ice cream.
Dan:                                     12:37                    My Dad used to put like Kraft cheese.
Shauna:                               12:40                    Cheese... I know you were gonna say that. I worked at a diner and people would do that and I'm just like, I can't do that.
Dan:                                     12:43                    Put like a slice of cheese on their apple pie. And I just want to be like, that's what are you doing? That's, ugh. I want to be accepting. But even I have my lines. Oh, what's the weirdest thing, listeners? What's the weirdest thing that you've ever seen put on apple pie? It definitely is cheese for me, but I love ice cream on my apple pie, but I don't, I'm a guy who could put cheese on pretty much anything but not apple pie.
Shauna:                               13:11                    Yeah. It doesn't do it for me. Um, yeah. I mean, yeah, I, I worked at it at a diner that, that their specialty was pie So I'm, I'm curious to hear what you guys have to say on this one.
Dan:                                     13:22                    Huh? Interesting. Anyway, what was a Scudamore saying in his mock poem?
Shauna:                               13:25                    Ah, yes. "Twas well for them the Boar was slain; 'Cause from his Head they might by stealth Pick Brains, for use of Commonwealth."
Dan:                                     13:34                    That's probably rhymey. I bet.
Shauna:                               13:37                    Yeah. I don't really know if it was rhymy.
Dan:                                     13:40                    Did he mean this literally or figuratively?
Shauna:                               13:41                    Well that was a like unclear actually, if he intended it to be a literal picking of brains or figurative. But most of the people, most of the experts agree that the jest applies best if it's read figuratively,
Dan:                                     13:58                    yes, I would. Yes, I would think so. That's why I wanted to know if he meant it. Literally. I'm like, oh woo woo.
Shauna:                               14:03                    Oh, he, he, he was definitely though commenting on, uh, the political situation. And so, you know, maybe who knows. In 1770, Charles Burney wrote in Music, Men, and Manners in France and Italy, "I had young Oliver to dine with us to day to pick his brains about conservatorios. "
Dan:                                     14:25                    What's a conservatorios?
Shauna:                               14:28                    Okay, so I don't know, but my guess is that a conservatorio is a person who attends, leads, uh, or some things, a conservatory.
Dan:                                     14:41                    Oh, like a person who would maintain or takes care of, why
Shauna:                               14:44                    not take care of? I'm thinking more of like the master of said Conservatory or maybe just like, uh, leaders in there
Dan:                                     14:53                    to be clear. We have no idea. She may be 100% right, but do not answer your test question with that.
Shauna:                               14:59                    You might not even use it for trivia. If there's a better in, in the multiple choice answers. That sounds better to go with that. A conservatory though is a, is a place where people generally study music, arts, things like that in a very focused and intense manner. And there are everyone involved, lot of times they live on a campus or live in that conservatory and it allows for this really dedicated, like nonstop training in, um, in music. All right. Edward George Earl Lytton Bulwer
Dan:                                     15:35                    Nice name.
Shauna:                               15:35                    Wrote Alice or The Mysteries in 1838,
Dan:                                     15:39                    I thought that was Lewis Carroll
Shauna:                               15:41                    A different, different, Alice. Can I say though, Edward George Earl, whichever name you go by that I appreciate. Since your name was so long, you did not take to the, the normal, uh, titling of your book in the 18 hundreds. Uh,
Dan:                                     15:58                    Oh, right. Yeah. Yeah. You can only, you can either have a long name or a long title, but not both.
Shauna:                               16:02                    Exactly. So good job. "His success in picking the brains of Mr. Onslow of a secret, encouraged him."
Dan:                                     16:11                    Gotcha. Yeah, that's exactly the way that we would use it now.
Shauna:                               16:14                    Yes. All right. So I love this one from 1904, Richard Harris's Auld Acquaintance gave us this glorious quote. "He picked your brain with the same dexterity that my youthful patrons of other days would have picked your pocket. That is to say if either of those receptacles had anything in it."
Dan:                                     16:36                    Well done, sir. Oh, that's beautiful.
Shauna:                               16:40                    Insulted himself at the same time. So I can't even be mad at the guy.
Dan:                                     16:43                    Yeah, no, that's the best way to do it. If you're going to insult somebody is to insult yourself while you're at it and then they're like, I'm offended, but also fine. I guess I, uh, so, so basically what I'm hearing is that once we got to about the 18 hundreds then pick your brain is pretty much just been exclusively used like this in the way that we're using the phrase now. Meaning trying to learn something from someone.
Shauna:                               17:07                    Yes, absolutely. The phrase really transitioned over time from being used figuratively, but to apply to multiple things to the meaning now, which is generally specifically related to... Generally specifically? It's very general in its specificity. Now it's mainly used to reference asking for advice or information and a, that is what it's like you said, been used for since the 18 hundreds.
Dan:                                     17:38                    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 Lopez. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and follow along. Now when, don't want anyone to break the bank in supporting our tiny little podcast here. But if you're able to spare a few cents a day, you can get great perks like early access to episode, show notes, behind the scenes content, and even a bonus episode that's a little less kid friendly. Check out our free content at And if you want to become a patron of our art, that's where you make that happen too.
Shauna:                               18:22                    In 1997, Bardo Pond released the song, pick my brain on their album Lapsed and fans described this music as psyched out blues. Uh, I listened to four different tracks before I realized that I wasn't finding corrupted files, but that, that was the style of the song. Uh, so thank you fan for adding your review cause I was incredibly helpful to me. Got It. Also, thankfully the lyrics were posted online. Uh, I shared this one just because I did a really enjoy the, the lyrics quite a bit.
Shauna:                               18:54                    Live around the lake Go in trance to cure Your own drink is the best Kicking out the house Pick my brain Your own drink is the best Ancient veins drink their own The smell is left Together the same Pick my brain
Dan:                                     19:20                    Yeah. I, there's enough craziness going on in my own brain that I don't need to pick someone else's brain who obviously has some of the same, um, thought processes the way they work that, uh, that would, would not mix well with mine.
Shauna:                               19:35                    Yeah. I, it's fascinating though, for sure.
Dan:                                     19:38                    Oh, absolutely.
Shauna:                               19:39                    Yeah. In 2014 there was a campaign ran called pick your brain, and this was in Toronto, a pub trivia night. Uh, it was held to benefit brain tumor research.
Dan:                                     19:50                    Oh, that's a, that's a clever title. Yeah. I could pick your brain. One is very good for, yeah. Pub Trivia challenged bef benefiting brain cancer. Research. To fight brain cancer, not help it.
Shauna:                               20:01                    Right. Well, specifically tumors, so,
Dan:                                     20:04                    oh, brain tumors.
Shauna:                               20:04                    Yeah. Some of those are cancerous, but you know. Sure, yeah, yeah. Anyway it was a cool campaign. Yeah.
Dan:                                     20:10                    Fighting tumors
Shauna:                               20:10                    Yeah, fighting them. Right.
Dan:                                     20:11                    Not being like, hey tumor, here's a hundred bucks. Go, spend it on yourself.
Shauna:                               20:14                    Just trying to get to know him better. In 2005, the book, pick your brains about Ireland written by Mary O'Neill was released "At last, a series that tells children what they want to know about Ireland, whether they are visiting on holiday, learning about Ireland at school, bored at the airport or want to learn more about their Irish heroes. Pick Your Brains about Ireland and find out its: Vital facts and figures * History in a nutshell * Local customs * Fabulous builidings and sights * Great inventors, artists, writers and scientists * Food and drink * Incredible festivals and the stories behind them * Sport * Good books and wicked websites * Phrases in gaelic such as ''my parents will pay!''.
Shauna:                               21:02                    If you can’t tell, this is just one in a series from publisher Cadogan Guides. There are books about many countries available online and they look fun and educational. Total bonus! I thought it was totally cool. So it's just a guidebook to these countries for kids, which is pretty awesome. Nice. In the 2019 article, stop asking, can I pick your brain? Harvard researchers say, this is how successful people ask for advice. This article is by Gary Burnison on The article begins: “Can I pick your brain?” Five words that make up the most thoughtless, irritating and generic way to ask for advice — and any person who is a rock star in their industry has heard it more than a dozen times. The phrase, while well-intentioned, is overused, vague and way too open-ended. When conversations start this way, there’s no telling where it’ll go or how long it’ll take. I’d like to point out, though, that the quotes from Harvard individuals didn’t specify our idiom, such as this quote: “The whole interaction is a subtle and intricate art. It requires emotional intelligence, self-awareness, restraint, diplomacy and patience,” Harvard Business School professors Joshua D. Margolisand David A. Garvin wrote in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article. After reading this article, The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice… I’m going to recommend it over the former… though it doesn’t use our idiom today, it’s got some great info!
Dan:                                     22:32                    So the Harvard Business School one definitely over the Gary Burnison CNBC one.
Shauna:                               22:37                    Yeah. It just felt inflammatory. Yeah.
Dan:                                     22:40                    Yeah. I'm just, I mean, like, of course, I only see what you put on here for the show notes, but as I look at it, it looks like another journalist or so-called journalist just wanting to complain about something with, with an audience.
Shauna:                               22:54                    Yeah, I was kind of sad, but I will say that it led to an article that's got some really great information. So, you know, check that out. Finally, I have to mention podcasts. There are a plethora of pods, uh, with some sort of play on the words or the phrase pick your brain. Uh, but instead of giving you this extensive list, I am going to recommend my favorite brain pod, Dan, do you know what it is?
Dan:                                     23:20                    Um, probably, uh, in Moxies podcast, Your Brain On Facts, which I think, um, I always assumed, I dunno, Moxie, you'll have to let us know. But I always assumed that it was a little bit of a play. I think Moxie and I might be somewhere of the same age on the nineties campaign. This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? Huh? But you know your brain on facts way better. Oh definitely. Yeah. But I, yes, I love I your brain. I'll facts It's, it's a amazing podcast.
Shauna:                               23:48                    Absolutely. So, and here's a little description. Your brain on facts is a half hour podcast of things you didn't know, things you thought you knew and things you never knew. You never knew. Covering topics as diverse as science fiction, funerals, food origins, heroic animals and their strategic butter reserve. Nice. Nice. Yeah. I'm going to say a moxie doesn't pay us to advertise or anything. She's just really awesome. Uh, you don't have to ask. She is picking the brains for you.
Dan:                                     24:18                    Nice. Thanks. Yes. Regular listeners to our show. Of course. Heard moiey on the show several times.
Shauna:                               24:23                    Yeah, she is. She's amazing. Awesome. I love the sharing of knowledge. So it's the total no brainer why I love this phrase.
Dan:                                     24:32                    Okay. All right.
Shauna:                               24:33                    Is that too much?
Dan:                                     24:34                    Yeah. Yep.
Shauna:                               24:37                    So I think this phrase has stuck around for such a very long time because it makes it easier for people to connect and easier for them to ask for help. Um, so the, the comfort of pick your brain and that ease of using that phrase highlights my favorite thing about language and that's the platform that it creates for us to better understand ourselves and others and to both receive and give support. That about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. Don't forget to find us on your favorite podcasting app and leave a review.
Dan:                                     25:08                    If you have a suggestion for an idiom or other turn phrase or just want a chat, you can catch us on social media mostly on Twitter, @bunnytrailspod or on Patreon at or catch us at our home Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. Until then, remember,
Together:                           25:28                    words belong to their users.

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