Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Episode 95: Finders Keepers Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 95: Finders Keepers

Record Date: Jan 11, 2021

Air Date: Jan 13, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week, we are talking about lost stuff. I lose things all the time… mostly my wallet and keys. Dan, what about you? 


I’m a predictable guy, which helps because I put things in one of just a few places almost every single time. So it’s only when my routine gets thrown off that I lose something. However, I do lose things when a new item becomes an everyday item so I don’t yet have a routine for it. Like in the case of reusable face masks. I’m still not entirely sure where to put them.  

Do you ever lose change? Coins? 

Well, I was cleaning out the couch and now I’m a couple bucks richer… because, as you know, finders keepers.    



This is a phrase I heard a lot growing up. I have 4 siblings, so someone was always keeping something they’d found. And I believe there are a few variations. 

Dan, have you heard any other versions of this phrase? 

Dan: The full phrase I grew up with was a sing songy, almost mocking phrase: “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers”

Miriam-Webster provides the definition: 

finders keepers (losers weepers) 

—used especially in children's speech to say that a person can keep what he or she has found and does not need to give it back to the person who has lost it

According to Oxford English Dictionary (, Finders Keepers means: 

whoever finds something is entitled to keep it.”

OED and other dictionaries list this phrase as a proverb. Oxford Languages tells us that a proverb is 

a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.

Proverbs are often considered to have ancient origins or to come from older stories or traditions. 

Just how long have you been able to keep the change you find in the couch? 

As is true for much of our wisdom, it seems this may have come to us from an ancient playwright… in this case, there is a link to Plautus. 

Encyclopedia Britannica ( shares the following:  

“Plautus, (born c. 254 bce, Sarsina, Umbria? [Italy]—died 184 bce), great Roman comic dramatist, whose works, loosely adapted from Greek plays, established a truly Roman drama in the Latin language.”

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs includes the phrase Finders Keepers is accompanied by a cross reference to Plautus.  (file:///Users/spugh/Downloads/Oxford-The_Concise_Oxford_Dictionary_of_Proverbs(2003).pdf - originally published in 1982, compiled and edited by John Simpson - Oxford University Press.) 

PLAUTUS Trinummus (again, this would have been around 200 BCE)

“habeas ut nanctu's” which was translated to “he may keep that finds.”

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs also tells us: 

“The principle was current in England before the present formulation”

1595 Country Errors in Harley by Alexander Cooke

“That a man finds is his own, and he may keep it.”

The concept certainly seems to have been around for a very, very long time. There is a book from the mid 1600’s that allows for slightly more in-depth consideration of the idea that one may keep what he finds. 


The Jesuits Morals. Collected by a Doctor Of the Colledge of Sorbon in Paris. Who Hath Faithfully Extracted Them Out of the Jesuits Own Books, which are printed by the permission and approbation of the Superiors of their Society. Written in French, and Exactly Translated Into English by Ezerel Tonge... (


This particular quote comes to us from Article IV: Of Theft

This certainly implies that keeping items that one has found was not actually the common practice. At least not in the 1600s. 


Miscellanea Critica - Essays & Comment on Current Topics : Excerpts from Edinburgh Foreign Quarterly & Quarterly Reviews · Volume 2. 

I was unable to access or obtain a copy, however, the following text was identified by google books to contain some keywords that we will recognize:  

“To get over the difficulty , we agreed to go on the principle of every man keeping his own findings , our bonds of unity as a party to extend merely to mutual protection and defence .”

The use of keepings and findings was interesting to me and, as it turns out, was the predecessor to Finders Keepers. 

The OED includes a cross reference for finders keepers - finding (is) keeping 

This is also listed as a proverb - finding (is) keeping. Also findings (are) keepings. 

1807 William Carew Hazlitt · Reply Ess. Population

I [sc. Malthus] have a short answer to all objections, to be sure I found it in an old political one Wallace, a man not much known, but no matter for that, finding is keeping, you know.

Proverb. finders keepers: whoever finds something is entitled to keep it. Cf. finding (is) keeping at finding n. Phrases.Quots. 1825   and 1828   show earlier forms of the proverb.

[1825 John Trotter Brockett Glossary of North Country Words at Halfers 

No halfers—findee keepee, lossee seekee.

1828 David Macbeth Moir · The life of Mansie Wauch, tailor in Dalkeith   

According to the auld Scotch proverb of ‘He that finds keeps, And he that loses seeks’.]

1831 London Weekly Times 30 Oct.   

He had picked it up from the floor of the shop, and contended that he had as good a right to it as anybody else, by the old rule ‘finders keepers’.

1848 Puppet Show 9 Sept. 154/2 

I need not pay for it, on the well known principle of our school-boy days, of ‘Findings, keepings’.

1852 Dublin Univ. Mag. Apr.   

The game of ‘Finders keepers, and losers seekers’, is played by more than children.

1861 The Dublin university magazine: a literary and political journal   

The vulgar proverb, ‘Findings are keepings,’ may come too true.

1863 John Hanning Speke · Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile  

The scoundrels said, ‘Findings are keepings, by the laws of our country; and as we found your cows, so we will keep them.’

1895 V. F. Bernard Français Idiomatique 70   

Qui va à la chasse, perd sa place. Finders, keepers; loosers, weepers.

Whoever goes hunting loses his place. 

27 Sept. 1904 Daily Chronicle out of London    

Harsh sentences of imprisonment for ‘findings-keepings’ offences.

1961 B. E. Wallace Death packs Suitcase vi. 60   In this game it's going to be finders keepers.

1992 I. Rankin Strip Jack (1993) vii. 139   It was, you know, like with treasure. Finders keepers.

2015 Santa Fe New Mexican (Nexis) 21 June   Foul balls are free. Home run balls are valued possessions that cost nothing. Finders keepers, losers weepers.

1953 Irish Times 20 June 8   The ticket was Hennesy's property; and the law doesn't recognise that findings are keepings, you know.

1959 I. Opie & P. Opie Lore & Lang. Schoolchildren viii. 134   Articles may be ‘finding-keeping’.

1963 G. Greene Sense of Reality 38   ‘I found them in the passage..’ ‘Finding's not keeping here’, he said, ‘whatever it may be up there.’

1982 PN Rev. No. 26.   To read my hand and find I have no heart is doubtful palmistry but honest thieving and true. I have no heart if finding's keeping.

A Quick Thank You

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Pop Culture and Modern Examples

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers - 1965 Song by Elvis Presley

“Finders, keepers, losers, weepers

I won't weep, and I won't moan

'Cause I found you and your love so true

And I'm keeping you for my own

Heads, I win, or tails, I lose

I bet my heart to win your love

The day you kissed me, good luck was with me

And I thank my lucky stars above” 

Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook by Barbara Park · 1997

2006 • Art and Cultural Heritage Law, Policy and Practice By Barbara T.. Hoffman

Finders, Keepers, Losers, Weepers is a 2014 novel by Robert S. Levinson. The publisher, Five Star, shared an overview of the titled which begins, quote:

“FINDERS, KEEPERS, LOSERS, WEEPERS is richer, darker, and more hard-boiled than any of bestselling author Robert S. Levinson's ten previous novels. Characters come and go in a struggle to find love, success or survival in the music business, where backstabbing is an art limited only by the number of available backs.” - end quote

Wrap up...

Finders Keepers is a lot of fun - with a long history. I actually like the idea that we should try to return the things we find and if we cannot, we give them to someone who needs it. How wonderful is that idea? 



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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.


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