Thursday, August 29, 2019

Episode 60: At Wit's End 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. So we're on episode 60 and that's a nice round number and I've written about almost close to maybe half of those. Uh, and so I got to tell Ya, Dan, I'm exhausted. Like my dogs are tired,
Dan:                                     00:26                    Your dogs are tired?
Shauna:                               00:28                    Yeah. Have you heard that expression?
Dan:                                     00:30                    Yeah. And actually I have that. Yeah. My Dog's are tired. Yeah. My grandpa used to say that meaning his feet hurt.
Shauna:                               00:35                    Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so I, I couldn't come up with an opener this week. Uh, not that mine are usually awesome, they're kind of more on the punny side.
Dan:                                     00:43                    Yeah, you're definitely a dad joke kind of person.
New Speaker:                    00:45                    Yeah. But I couldn't come up with even a good pun. Uh, basically I'm at my wit's end. Yeah.
Dan:                                     00:52                    Was that your, was that your pun?
Shauna:                               00:54                    Like I got all the way there. I was a lot of work.
Dan:                                     00:56                    You're right. You couldn't come up with a good time.
Shauna:                               00:59                    It wasn't a good one. It wasn't a good one.
Dan:                                     01:01                    I just, as I put you down there, all I could see in my head is that that scene in Mary Poppins, when Dick Van Dyke and the Uncle Albert and Dick Van Dyke's character, which is eluding me at the moment,
Shauna:                               01:13                    Bert, cause they are all named Albert.
Dan:                                     01:15                    Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Never did I put that together. All right. So Burt and no collaborate are floating, right? And, and Burt tells a joke and he's like, I always say there's nothing like a good joke. And Albert's like, yes. And that was nothing like a good job. And then they laugh and then they cry and then they come back down off of the ground. And that's exactly what went through my head as you told that really, really bad pun just now. And I was like, and that was nothing like a good joke.
Shauna:                               01:40                    Like I don't even know if it qualified as a pun. I guess. So bad. Yeah. All right. So to be at one's a wit's end. It means that it's somebody that a person's absolutely confused or they're at a total loss as to what the next step or decision should be.
Dan:                                     01:56                    Really?
Shauna:                               01:57                    Oh, what do you, what do you think being at ones wits end means?
Dan:                                     02:03                    I would not have defined it that way. When I have used, I'm at my wit's end, I would have said that it meant that I've just, I cannot keep going here. This is just, I'm, I'm either exhausted or I just running into a wall and I just cannot, I mean, I'm using other idioms to describe this idiom. It's like describing colors, using other colors. So I get my, I get the frustration here. Yeah. I mean, okay. I guess I see that that's not how I would have defined it, but I guess at the, I mean if you go down the Why Staircase, you can get to the fact that it's confusion or not knowing what what you should do next. So, all right. You know what, now that I listen, thanks everybody for sitting here as I talked myself through this, I agree, that is what that means now that I think about it.
Shauna:                               02:49                    Dan has now met up with society on this one topic,
Dan:                                     02:53                    Listen, we're, we're three minutes into this episode and I've already learned something new about Mary Poppins and at wit's end. So I would consider I have met my quota for things to learn in the day. Great.
Shauna:                               03:05                    Wow, this is my best episode and that's a wrap.
Dan:                                     03:10                    No one else has learned anything, just me.
Shauna:                               03:12                    Oh okay, Gotcha. So no, I really refers to that like not knowing what to do next. So that's the key piece of it. But a lot of times people use it to refer to that utter confusion or being perplexed maybe more than confused. So it's sort of stuck and you Oxford English dictionary has which end or at wits end, that phrase actually in two separate entries, one under wit and the other under end, which I thought was kind of interesting. So under wit it shares, "At wit's end or occasionally with the 's' ends, utterly perplexed at a loss of what to think or what to do. So to bring drive or put two one's wits end, which means to perplex utterly"
Shauna:                               03:56                    And then under end "To be at the end of one's resources or et Cetera, whatever thing, uh, to have no more to spend, to be at one's wit's end, to be utterly at a loss, to be quite perplexed."
Shauna:                               04:10                    So way back in 1377 in William Langland’s The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman , he writes: “Astrymyanes also aren at her wittes ende.”.
Shauna:                               04:21                    So going back to look at this text, it references just prior to that sentence, shepherds and shipman and it talks about that "neither can they know one course before another".
Shauna:                               04:33                    And then the very next entry is that Astrymyanes, which is actually astronomers is talking about, uh, people who know about astronomy. And uh, so it's saying that they are at their wit's end. In 1420 John Lydgates Assembly of Gods says "when they were driven to her wits end."
Shauna:                               04:58                    I found it interesting that these early references oftentimes said her wits end as though there were this collective of people that they, when it's referencing them, it says her wits end. Or if, when it references a ship or any kind of a group of people just kind of interesting. All right. And the Coverdale Bible, which was published around 1535, it says "they shall be also at their wit's end and ashamed, one of another"
Shauna:                               05:28                    The Coverdale Bible was compiled by Myles Coverdale and published in 1535. It was the first complete modern English translation of the Bible, meaning it wasn't just the old testament or new testament. So it was the first translation of both. Respublica: an interlude for Christmas was written around 1553 and has been attributed to Nichols Udall.
Dan:                                     05:55                    Do we celebrate Christmas all the way back in 1553? Let me rephrase that. Was Christmas celebrated back then? I don't celebrate Christmas at all. It's not one of my holidays, but yeah, I mean nonetheless. Were they doing that back then?
Shauna:                               06:06                    I mean, I think. Sounds like.
Dan:                                     06:10                    The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 CE. This is during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. So it had been going on for what, 1200 years. If math serves me appropriately, which it rarely does.
Shauna:                               06:25                    Okay, so... In An Interlude for Christmas, he wrote "And she at her wits and what for to say or do."
Shauna:                               06:32                    In 1563 William Fulke wrote the book: A goodly gallerye with a most pleasaunt prospect, into the garden of naturall contemplation, to behold the naturall causes of all kynde of meteors
Dan:                                     06:47                    Have you ever seen the IG Nobel prizes?
Shauna:                               06:50                    I don't think I have.
Dan:                                     06:51                    There's so the IG Nobel prizes honor achievements that make people laugh and then think so it's like intended to celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative. But when your speech goes on too long, they start playing this like overhead music where it's like we're bored, we're bored or something. And I always imagine there's a literal hook that comes down and grabs them. I don't know if there is or not. But anyway, that is what I thought. Well, listening to William Fulke's book title, because in the 15 hundreds much like in the 18 hundreds they were like the longer the book title though better it's gonna beeeeee.
Shauna:                               07:27                    Yeah, pretty much. I just, I loved this one because it's like I didn't really know where it was going. It sounds like some sort of Christian or something.
Dan:                                     07:35                    Right! The name of the book is a paragraph in and of itself.
Shauna:                               07:39                    Right. But you know, you throw the last word in there, meteors and it's like, oh wait, okay, this is not what I was, what I was thinking was going to happen so high. The quote from this is "it would make men to be at their wits ends if they were not accustomed to such tumultuous tempest."
Shauna:                               07:55                    So maybe it's an intense book. I don't know. So that excerpt I think is a great example of the difference in how the phrase was used originally and what it transitioned into over time until it became what it is today. Of course, uh, it was very serious and pretty extreme. Uh, but as we'll see, it was used in a variety of ways as it continued in the lexicon started to be used in some comedy and things like that. All right, so next I'm going to introduce you to Publius Terentius Afer... Who is better known in English as... Terrence.
Dan:                                     08:33                    They call me Tim.
Shauna:                               08:35                    Right? I'm like, okay. It's been long enough we should just shorten it now to Terry. Terry, the philosopher, he was a playwright, but still all right. He's believed to be, have been a Carthaginian slave who was educated and freed by a Roman diplomat. And he would the basically his, um, owner, I hate that. I don't know how to word that, but I thought like, notice he was really smart and was like, I'm going to send you to school. And then was like, you're a good playwright letting you go to do your thing. So Terrence, uh,
Dan:                                     09:11                    Terry, as we call him nowadays,
Shauna:                               09:12                    Terry, he was a Roman playwright during the Roman republic. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170 to 160 BCE so right now he's like, this is the oldest reference, but this is actually a translation of his works, so he may not have used this exact phrasing, definitely not in English. This title is Terrance in English, translated by Richard Bernard and this was published around 1598 and it says "you bring him to his wits end."
Shauna:                               09:43                    Okay. The book I'm gonna reference now was written in 1681 by John Flavell and I don't want to play this up, but it's just got a really long title and I wasn't quite sure which part should be left out. So here it goes.
Dan:                                     09:55                    Oh my. I don't even know what's going to happen now, but given our conversation already if this isn't two paragraphs, I'm going to be disappointed.
Shauna:                               10:04                    All right, I've got it for you here: The method of grace and bringing home the eternal redemption, contrived by the father, and accomplished by the son through the effectual application of the spirit unto God's elect being the second part of Gospel Redemption, wherein the great mysteries of our Union and communion with Christ is opened and applied. Unbelievers invited false pretenders, convicted every man's claim to Christ examined and the misery of Christless persons discovered and bewailed... By John Flavell, the Minister of the Gospel.
Dan:                                     10:46                    That is just a whole lot.
Shauna:                               10:48                    Yeah. So then there's a, there's a, a quote from the Bible and uh, then I think some, it looks like Greek maybe. Uh, but my favorite part of this page is London printed by M. White for Francis Tyton at three Daggers in fleetstreet near the Inner-Temple-Gate.
Dan:                                     11:08                    Alright, so London listeners, if that means anything to you, let us know. Otherwise it just sounds like, did he print this like in the back of a pub? That's what I feel like
Shauna:                               11:20                    That's what it sounds like. Given this immense title... Or was it some sort of like underground type thing? You know, like publisher,
Dan:                                     11:25                    I want it to be a pub because like Jesus, his first recorded Miracle was turning water into wine, which is why I think he and I would get along. He always preached like loving one another and he wasn't into all this hate stuff that some people spout today. So definitely I think, Jesus and I would get along. So I want it to be a pub because I want to think that this guy is just like, you know, throwing a couple back as he's running the printing press down there at the publicans house,
Shauna:                               11:47                    although I can decide either because it sounds a little fire and brimstone-y, and the quote is "What shall we do is the doleful cry of men at their wit's end."
Shauna:                               11:58                    So I just, I'm not sure. But yeah, like you're imagining and Joseph Addison in Spectator in 1712 writes, "I am at my wit's end for fear of any sudden surprize."
Shauna:                               12:10                    Later on in 1782 Francis Burney wrote in Cecilia or memoirs of an heiress, "two ladies are quite as one may say at their wit's end."
Shauna:                               12:21                    And then later on in 1826 John Galt Last of Lairds “The old Laird..fairly finding himself driven to his wit's-end.”.
Shauna:                               12:31                    And again, a similar quote in 1853 Charles Kingsley in Hypatia; or, New foes with an old face “Raphael, utterly at his wits' end.”
Dan:                                     12:41                    So Raphael's at his wits end? Cause I, I watched the teenage mutant Ninja turtles of the 80s and then again of the 90s and I would say that Raphael was exactly the turtle that would be at his wits in the fastest. He's always so broody and upset or I could just see him getting like overwhelmed very quickly and just being very angry about it. So yes, if I were going to say one of the turtles would be at their wits in the fastest, it would be Raphael,
Shauna:                               13:05                    That's fitting. I mean I don't think this was talking about the turtle.
Dan:                                     13:08                    Oh, well... whatever. You don't think they had teenage mutant Ninja turtles in 1853?
Shauna:                               13:14                    I think they probably did. It's just that nobody knew about it
Dan:                                     13:17                    Because they lived in, they lived in the sewers and we didn't have like, you know, tape recorders and stuff. VHS to record with.
Shauna:                               13:23                    Yeah. All right. So, uh, by this point, the phrase was being used in reference to love a lot. That's what a lot of those last couple of quotes were. Uh, and but hey, you know, as the 18 hundreds, uh, sort of what humans did at that time, every story is a romance.
Dan:                                     13:42                    So sort of what we still do now,
Shauna:                               13:45                    pretty accurate actually.
Dan:                                     13:48                    I've been on the Internet. It's either love or hate and there's no in between.
Shauna:                               13:51                    Yeah. So moving on from there, it was used in, in more comedies and common language printings. Uh, and it continued to morph into referring to any situation that seemed difficult to maneuver. So kind of more commonplace themes. Uh, there's one more material that I want to share. In 1875, Benjamin Gillette's book was released and it was called the dialogues of Plato translated into English with analysis and introductions. So technically this would have been originally said and or written by Plato around like four 29 BC.
Dan:                                     14:28                    Well, it depends. Like many things, how we translate other people's quotes, so I highly doubt he would have, it would have it translated into wit's end, but it definitely probably wasn't said at wits end like that by Plato.
Shauna:                               14:42                    That's quite possible.
Dan:                                     14:43                    Even if he meant the same concept of very confused.
Shauna:                               14:46                    Yes, but if he did, then he might've been the first one to use our phrase.
Dan:                                     14:52                    Yeah, no, absolutely not.
Shauna:                               14:54                    Well, in any case, a, the translation quote reads simply, "I am at my wit's end."
Dan:                                     15:01                    Today's show is sponsored by our patrons. According to the Oxford English dictionary since the 13 hundreds, the word patron has meant a person standing in a role of oversight, protection, or sponsorship to another. Patron comes from the Latin word for Father, Pater, then becoming patronus, meaning champion or protector, then to patron, meaning one who sponsors something like a patron of the arts, Leonardo de Vinci, not the teenage mutant Ninja Turtle, but the painter, inventor guy had patrons like Medici and Cesar Borgia. Bunny trails has similarly awesome patrons, including Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe, and Mary Lopez. If you want to become a patron of bunny trails and get cool perks like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, monthly bonus mini episodes and more, you can visit us at or find links to it at
Shauna:                               15:58                    Next up is one of the best movies maybe of all time, which is Aladdin by Disney. I don't know who the original story is by. It's by a lot of people morphed into, and Disney wrote their own version of it. In 1992, the movie was released. Uh, if you remember that had Gilbert Godfried as Iago.
Dan:                                     16:19                    I know exactly this line you're going to say too, because like Jafar is all like, ah, or the Saltun somebody who, well, somebody who was like, I'm at my wits and Iago was like "Bwack, Wits End".
Shauna:                               16:25                    Yes. He was like so helpful. Iago was the most helpful character of all time.
Dan:                                     16:33                    I will say that Aladdin is still to this day, one of my top three favorite animated movies of all time.
Shauna:                               16:41                    Yeah. It's pretty fantastic.
Dan:                                     16:42                    Number one is emperor's new groove.
Shauna:                               16:44                    Oh I love that one!
Dan:                                     16:44                    Number two is Aladdin and number three is the Robin Hood one with like the all of the animated animals. Those are my top three favorite animated movie.
Shauna:                               16:59                    Nice. Nice. I like it. Um, you know, I'm one of those like you asked me what my favorite is and I can't think of anything I've ever seen.
Dan:                                     17:07                    Momentary panic? What's your favorite movie? AHHH!!! What's your favorite book? I've never read, I don't know! I don't even know.
Shauna:                               17:18                    Oh, there's also a board game called Wit's End. It was released in 1995. "Wits end is a fun and challenging game that takes a collection of brain teasers, mind riddles and Trivia and makes your brain really work. This collection of brain teasers, mind riddles and trivia come from a variety of categories including popular culture, history, geography, arts, science and many more." That is their official slogan or the a summary of the of the game.
Dan:                                     17:45                    Yeah. They need to hire a writer.
Shauna:                               17:48                    Or a thesaurus.
Dan:                                     17:48                    They could hire a thesaurus, but all of the dinosaurs are extinct at this point so it won't let you then he know when that happened. Not even the smart ones with glasses.
Shauna:                               17:59                    Dang it. Wit's End is also a book released in 2009. "Wit's end. What wit is how it works and why we need it" by James Geary. All right, I'm going to go out of order. We're jumping back two years to 2007 but it's because this is probably my favorite usage that I didn't realize existed at wit's end is the theme for Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End 2007 movie. Uh, so the song is composed by Hans Zimmer.
Dan:                                     18:29                    What song isn't composed by Han Zimmer though that like Disney did honestly name one. I'll wait. Our, our audience have literally like half of them have named one already and I'm like, Oh God,
Shauna:                               18:41                    you're just being a, you're doing this intentionally.
Dan:                                     18:45                    I am. It's very funny to me. But like I'm pretty sure Hans Zimmer did like all of the lion king stuff and did he do knows that was Tim Rice and Elton John.
Shauna:                               18:55                    Oh, there you go I named one.
Dan:                                     18:55                    No, I named one. Danny Elfman does a lot of stuff. John Williams did the bond stuff and wait no.
Shauna:                               19:03                    He did star wars.
Dan:                                     19:06                    Did he do bond as well? It was Monty Norman who did the James Bond theme, composed that and then John Williams did the scores for star wars and then...
Shauna:                               19:18                    yeah, I knew that part. John Barry made, did the arrangement for the bond theme and then he's the one who did the score for all, like for a bajillion of the other bond movies. So, uh, yeah, that Norman guy just did the one song.
Dan:                                     19:35                    yeah, but Hans Zimmer did the OH OH OH!!!
Shauna:                               19:38                    what?
Dan:                                     19:39                    He did compose the score for the 1994 film. Lion King. Yeah. This is from the Wikipedia article, "On the strength of his work. Walt Disney feature animation approached Zimmer to compose the score for 1994 film the Lion King. This was to be his first score for an animated film. Zimmer said that he had wanted to go to South Africa to to record parts of the soundtrack, but was unable to visit the country as he had a police record there for doing subversive movies after his work on the power of one. Disney studio, bosses expressed fears that Zimmer would be killed if he went to South Africa. So the recording of the choirs was organized during a visit by somebody else." But Zimmer won numerous awards. I was not crazy. He did report. Yes. He also did crimson tide, the thin red line, the prince of Egypt.
Shauna:                               20:25                    Oh, see, that's the one I was thinking of. Prince of Egypt. Such a good, great music,
Dan:                                     20:31                    gladiator, Blackhawk Down Hannibal, the last Samurai Madagascar, the Davinci Code, this Simpsons movie angels and Demon Sherlock Holmess. Yeah. Anyway, this guy is amazing. Anyway, all right. Moving on. Crazy.
Shauna:                               20:46                    So I really like phrase, uh, I think it's a way to say the things that feel impossible, but it does. So in like this lighthearted way. For the most part, it's like using a little bit of self deprecating humor to ease the tension of unfortunate circumstances. Like the fault must be in us, we are somehow lacking and there's a solution. We're just too dimwitted to see it.
Shauna:                               21:09                    that about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. Last week we asked if you'd help us out with two special tasks. Thank you to our listeners who've rated us on your favorite podcasting app and left a review. If you haven't had a chance to do that yet, there's still time or if you've already done this, go do it again on your second favorite app.
Dan:                                     21:28                    Yeah, leave us all the reviews on all the places. It's not like voting twice. It's like, okay, it's exactly like voting twice, but it's not illegal here or immoral. It's just helping more people know about the shows you love so that they don't get canceled. Absolutely. Like some of the things Netflix has been canceling lately, which is a different podcast story, but I'm still frustrated about it. I'm a giant squid of anger.
Shauna:                               21:57                    yeah. Okay. So help us not be canceled by Netflix please. Whatever. Yes. Uh, so we also asked you to tell at least two people about the show who you think might like it and hey, you can do that again this week too, right?
Dan:                                     22:10                    I mean, if you know two more people, or at least do it on the Internet.
Shauna:                               22:14                    Yeah. Or you can tell those two people again if they didn't listen to it yet.
Dan:                                     22:18                    Ooh, good point. I only know three people in real life and two of them are my kids, so I don't actually know a whole lot. So, but I know a lot of people online, so I'm going to tell them about the show too.
Shauna:                               22:28                    There you go. So think about book lovers and writers and just somebody who likes humor or dimwittedness with their word history. And if you do mention us to your Twitter followers, then please tag us with #BunnyTrails.
Dan:                                     22:45                    Word of mouth is still the best way to grow a podcast and your help is greatly appreciated. If you want to join the community and chat more about the show or phrases and their stories in general, you can join the community on Patreon. You'll find the link to that and everything else we do at Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. Until then, remember,
Together:                           23:06                    words belong to their users.

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