Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Episode 100 - 100th Episode Celebration! Show Notes & Transcript

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 100: Episode 100 Celebration!

Record Date: February 16, 2021

Air Date: February 17, 2021





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


I’m Shauna Harrison



And I’m Dan Pugh


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 celebrating our 100th episode! 




That was a soundboard, not real. I always feel like laugh tracks and applause tracks are rather disingenuous, so I wanted to be clear :-)


But onto our 100th episode! 


Shauna: First things first, we have to thank you, our listeners, for making 100 episodes possible. And we’d especially like to thank our Patrons over the years, including our logomorphology interns Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez, as well as our very first Patron who is still going to this day, Charlie Moore. 


Dan: If you want to join Pat, Mary, Charlie, and many others, head over to to support this educational artform for as little as $1 a month.


Shauna, do you want to kick off the fun? What’s one of your favorite phrases and why do you love it?



Choosing favorites is so tough! But here’s one phrase I love:

“I feel a chill as though someone’s just walked over my grave.”


I think what’s great about this phrase is that it’s so evocative. I have a fondness for the strange and macabre and the thought of one’s grave being walked upon is… well, creepy. In the most wonderful way!


There are similar phrases from Dutch folklore, French writings, and other regions of the world. The most popular origin story is that people have long-held the belief that if you feel a shiver or chill run down your spine or you get a sudden sense of foreboding - it meant that someone had just walked on the ground in just the spot which was to be your future final resting place. 


According to Oxford English Dictionary, the first time this is seen in print is in


1738 in Jonathan Swift’s · A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, according to the most polite mode and method now used at court, and in the best companies of England

Miss [shuddering.] Lord! there's somebody walking over my Grave.


1853  Zanoni by Edward Bulwer Lytton

“You must often have felt, gentlemen, each and all of you, especially when sitting alone at night, a strange and unaccountable sensation of coldness and awe creep over you; your blood curdles, and the heart stands still; the limbs shiver; the hair bristles; you are afraid to look up, to turn your eyes to the darker corners of the room; you have a horrible fancy that something unearthly is at hand; presently the whole spell, if I may so call it, passes away, and you are ready to laugh at your own weakness.


A little further on, a gentleman adds,

“According to one of our national superstitions,” said Mervale, the Englishman who had first addressed Glyndon, “the moment you so feel your blood creep, and your hair stand on end, some one is walking over the spot which shall be your grave.”


The character who gave the blood-curdling description goes on to discuss many similar tales and beliefs from cultures around the world. 


1859 Henry Kingsley · The recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn

Sometimes somebody would walk over my grave, and give me a creeping in the back.


Isn’t that just deliciously eerie? 


My favorite modern usage of this phrase?


The 1993 movie Tombstone in which Val Killmer plays Doc Holliday, who gets this fabulous quote, 

I’m your Huckleberry. … Why Johnny Ringo. You look like somebody just walked over your grave.”


Coincidentally, the scene Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo first meet includes another of my favorite phrases… In Vino Veritas.

Next up, let’s move to our friend in podcasting Moxie LaBouche from the Your Brain on Facts Podcast

Moxie: Hey, it's Moxie from Your Brain On Facts sticking my nose back in into the language podcast world to tell Shauna and Dan, Mazel Tov on their big one oh oh. I wouldn't want to detract from their excellent etymological expeditions through our wondrous world of words. But I'm going to.

There are lots of nonverbal communications out there, from formal sign languages to the whistling languages.

<Sample clip of a person communicating in a whistling language>

Moxie: Whistling languages? Never heard of them, you might say. Well, there are more than 70 of them. In fairness, they're not truly languages, in an According To Hoyle sense, but a fascinating way to speak a language from a long way off. Historically, whistled languages have almost always developed in remote mountainous villages or in densely forested areas, where environmental conditions require some form of communication to travel long distances. In addition to traveling well, as far as six miles or 10 kilometers, whistles don't echo as much as shouting does, so you're less likely to scare away potential prey if your hunting and whistles don't get as distorted as words can. Plus they're free. Unlike using a horn or a drum, you don't need to own or carry anything to communicate all the way across the valley. Researcher Julien Meyer hypothesizes that whistling might actually have been a precursor to spoken language, a sort of musical proto language. According to Meyer, regions of the world with tonal languages like Mandarin, tend to produce whistled languages that replicate the melodies of the spoken sentences. Other languages like Spanish and Turkish, produce whistled versions that imitate the resonance of different vowel sounds, and use rests or breaks in place of the consonants.

<Clip of a person using a whistling language and then translating the sounds into spoken syllables>

Moxie: Whistled languages can also reveal how our brains process language. It's traditionally been understood that the left hemisphere does most of the work when it comes to processing language. But recent studies have suggested that whistled languages are handled equally by both hemispheres.

In the mountains of northern Turkey, their whistling language, known as bird language, is clinging on in a single village Kuskoy.

<Sample clip of the bird language in Kuskoy>

Moxie: Though the bird language had once been prevalent throughout the mountain region, it's only spoken mostly by shepherds today. And that's because they can't get cell signal. No joke. Text messaging has really threatened to completely obviate the bird language. But even though fewer people in each generation learn it, it's still important to the people of Kuskoy, culturally. They hold a bird language festival every year, and UNESCO recognizes bird language on its list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.

In the Himalayas, the Hmong people use whistling language for workaday things like farming and hunting topics, but they can also use it in a form of courtship. Though increasingly rare, boys would whistle their favorite poem when walking through neighboring villages. If he caught a girl's fancy, she would whistle back and the flirtation was on. Some couples would even come up with their own personal code within the whistling language, so nobody else can understand their breezy DMs.

Thank you, Dan, and Shauna for inviting me to be part of the festivities. I look forward to being on episode 200. Remember, my name is Moxie and this is Your Brain On Facts.

Dan: Thank you Moxie. 200 seemed quite daunting back in April of 2018 when we started this show, but now it seems totally do-able!

Next up are Aven and Mark from Endless Knot…

Aven: Hi, I'm Aven

Mark:  and I'm Mark.

Aven: And we're from The Endless Knot, a podcast about etymology, about language, about history, about cool stuff and the connections between all of those things.

Mark: An we are delighted to help celebrate the hundredth episode of Bunny Trails. You guys are awesome. Congratulations!

Aven: Phrase, we decided to go with more than one phrase because we're not good at following directions, but we chose as sort of the basic phase "between Scylla and Charybdis".

And then some words or phrases that mean about the same thing and are similar to it, like "between a rock and a hard place" or "between the devil and the deep blue sea". So let me start with Scylla and Charybdis. And we chose this because it has a nice classical etymology and our podcast talks a lot about the ancient world and the medieval world, so let me give you a couple of words about Scylla and Charybdis. These are two mythological creatures that turn up in the Odyssey. That's the earliest discussion of them we have. And in the Odyssey, as Odysseus is telling the story about the many trials and tribulations he had in trying to get home from Troy when he was lost in the ocean , he describes at one point going past two terrifying dangers on the ocean.

"There lives Scylla. Howling and barking horribly, her voice is puppy like, but she is dangerous. Even a God would be afraid of her. She has 12 dangling legs and six long necks with a gruesome head on each and in each face three rows of crowded teeth pregnant with death. ... She snatches one man with each mouth from off each dark-prowed ship."

 And then across from it, so close that you could shoot an arrow from Scylla to the other side is Charybdis. " Beneath, divine Charybdis sucks black water down. Three times a day she spurts it up, three times she glugs it down."

And from that comes the idea that you're between Scylla and Charybdis, two impossible dangers. If you avoid one, you run into the other. So Scylla is this monster.  In art she's depicted as fish tailed with a cluster of canine fore-parts surrounding her waist, dogs' heads around her nether regions . So that's Scylla and then Charybdis is this Whirlpool and also described as a daughter of Pontus and Gaia, that is the sea and earth So I'll stop there, but I have one last thing I want to tell you that the Greeks had a verb or one Greek had a verb, ekcharubidzo, which meant to swallow like Charybdis. So to gulp something down just like the whirlpool did. And that is the mythological origin of the phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis".

Mark: And that phrase is used in English at least as early as the 16th century. The etymology of Charybdis, the Whirlpool, is unknown; Scylla might be related to the Greek verb, "skyllein" to tear from the Proto Indo European root *sker- to cut, which among many other words is the source of the words shore and skerry, S K E R R Y, which means "isolated rock in the sea". First used an English in the 1610s, but from the old Norse word "sker". Now, moving on to the very similar phrase "between the devil and the deep blue sea". The origin of this phrase is unknown, but perhaps nautical, as you might guess. The word devil might refer in fact to the seam on a ship's hull, though, it probably is just devil, but let's pursue this. There is a sense of the word devil. That means "any of various seams in the planking of a wooden ship, especially either of the long seams running along the keel, which are considered difficult to caulk". It's first recorded in 1857. this particular use of the word devil. Therefore this might thereby be connected with the idiom, "the devil to pay". And the full expression is "the devil to pay and no pitch hot " which is recorded in writing since at least 1500. It means service expected and no one is ready to perform it. So the word, paying is another word for filling a seam. In other words, doing that job of caulking, but  the phrase "devil and the dead sea" is recorded as early as 1601 and "devil and the deep sea" recorded as early as 1627.

So the dates for the phrase seem to go way before this use of the word devil, unless it's just not recorded for quite a long time. The word devil comes ultimately from Greek "diabolus", meaning slanderer, which is made up of "dia", meaning "across" and the verb "ballein", "to throw", think English, "ballistics". And it's a loan translation of the, Hebrew source of the word, "Satan". "Deep" on the other hand comes from the Proto Indo European root *deub-, meaning "deep or hollow", which by the way is also the source of two Greek serpentine, mythical monsters, Python, and Typhon.

The word "sea" originally seems to have meant "Lake" and early on the words for sea and Lake seem to have been used rather indiscriminately. So they didn't make a strong distinction between those two types of bodies of water. But the etymology of the word "sea" is somewhat uncertain. It may be related to the word "soul " because of the belief that souls came from and return to a sacred Lake.

And ultimately they may come from a Germanic root *saiwaz  that means sea or Lake, which might come from the proto Germanic route *sihwanan which means "percolate or filter", which would then come from the Proto Indo European root *seikw-  to flow out, also the source of the words, "desiccate" and "sack", as in a dry Sherry. Or the root may come from the Proto Indo European root *sai- , which means "suffering", which had the suffixed form *sai-wo- meaning “to be fierce, or afflict”. And that could be the sense of the idea of the sea kind of a fierce thing.

Also the source of the Latin word "saevus", which means "wild" or "fierce". And of course the phrase "between the devil and the deep blue sea " is also well-known from a song, the title of a song written by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen , first recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931. But my favorite version, I think is the posthumously released recording by George Harrison on his album Brainwashed.

Now, finally the similar phrase "between a rock and a hard place". This one is a more recent expression from the early 20th century. The earliest citation is in the year 1921 in an American dialect society journal  in which they record the phrase as "to be between a rock and a hard place, to be bankrupt , common in Arizona in recent panics, sporadic in California." Now these recent panics seem to refer to the US bankers panic of 1907, which was damaging to the mining and railroad industries of the Western States. And this kicked off a huge labor dispute problem between the copper mining companies and the mine workers in places such as Bisbee, Arizona. They organized into unions, but their demands were refused and the workers were deported to New Mexico.

So perhaps this expression "between a rock and a hard place" it may be the choice of those workers between the hard underpaid work at the rock face or poverty.

Aven: And that's a very quick rundown of three related phrases. We hope it contributes to your celebratory anniversary episode.  Again, congratulations to Bunny Trails from the Endless Knot your fellow podcast in word nerdery

Mark: Woo hoo! Word nerds unite!

Shauna: We love our fellow word nerds! Thank you Aven and Mark. 

Next up are two brilliant women who don’t take no crap from nobody, Carrie and Megan of the Vocal Fries podcast. Quick warning, there is a swear, so if you are listening with little ones Carrie warns you that she’s about to do it. 

Carrie: Hi, we're the vocal fries and I'm Carrie Gillon,

Megan: I'm Megan Figueroa.

Carrie: And we wanted to congratulate Bunny Trails for making it to the 100th episode!

Megan: 100. That's a beautiful number. I don't know why, but it is. And it's just really amazing.

Carrie: Yes, it's a nice round number.

Megan: It is it is.

Carrie: And we're here to talk to you about our favorite idioms or phrases. So what's yours, Megan?

Megan: So mine is, after a lot of thought, to spill the beans, which I guess basically means that you say something that you shouldn't, Perhaps it's because it you know, like, it wasn't your news to tell or it was, you know, never supposed to be known. So there are different reasons why you shouldn't have been told. But anyway, you spill the beans, I actually don't really know where it comes from. I guess that's the idea. But if you were to spill a bag of beans, that would really suck.

Carrie: Yeah, yes it would.

Megan: As someone who grew up with a mom who made homemade pinto beans and having to go through a bag of beans, you don't want to drop that on the floor. So I can really see that being the issue. I don't get to use it that often. But I do use it and I really like it. I like the imagery of it. And I think it just helps that I love beans.

Carrie: You know you did that reminded me of one of the cold opens in the office where Kevin makes a big pot of chili…

Megan: Oh my god, yes!

Carrie: then he spills it all over.

Megan Exactly. You would not want… that is like a worst nightmare situation.

Carrie: It upsets me just thinking about it every time.

Megan: It's a great gif, though, or gif if you will. So what about you, Kerri?

Carrie: Okay, so once again, mine. Well, actually, this one actually involves swearing last time, the interpretation involves wearing but this time, it's just sort of swearing, so I apologize. F*ck around and find out.

Megan Yes, that is so good. You're right. Can I change mine? I'm just kidding.

Carrie: We've been… it's been used a lot in the last little while. Today, in particular. Stock stuff, the hedge fund shorting? I'm not gonna go into…

Megan: Like Robin Hood app. All this, sure. Yeah.

Carrie: So basically means you know you, I don't know, do I even have to describe it? You do something silly. And then what are the consequences? You find out. So I don't know. It's been very entertaining the last few months to see it be used so often.

Megan: And you mostly other people would use it about someone doing something,  right? Or would you use it about yourself?

Carrie: I guess you could. I haven't seen anyone refer to themselves. But that but technically one could. Yes.

Megan: Yeah. I feel like both of ours are related to some sort of central theme that I can't quite put my finger on.

Carrie: So thank you so much for letting us talk about our favorite phrases or idioms.

Megan: Yes.

Carrie: And once again, congratulations.

Megan: Congratulations.

Shauna:We did talk about spill the beans in episode 18 back in July of 2018. It has a bit of a dark and sinister vibe to it once you learn what “spilt” was used for in old english. So go find episode 18 so you can learn more about spill the beans!


Dan: Next up are Amy and Ryan from Lexitecture.

Ryan: Hello Bunny Trails listeners. My name is Ryan,

Amy: I’m Amy

Ryan: and we are the co-hosts of Lexitecture at etymology podcast and we would like to offer our congratulations to Dan and Shauna for reaching the 100th episode milestone. We love what they do we do something similar to them, except we take a pair of words each episode as opposed to an idiom or phrase, but we're delving into their territory, because we've been asked to contribute a phrase and its story that we find particularly interesting, and I have a Scottish cohost. So I'm going to pass it over to her for an interesting phrase from the Scots language.

Amy: Ryan, I need you to prepare yourself here. 

Ryan: Okay

Amy: This phrase is a kind of a follow on from another commonly mocked phrase from my hometown of Dundee. 

Ryan: Okay

Amy: And but, but I like this one better for reasons that will become clear. So the phrase that I don't want to talk about is a plehn bridie an' an inyin in an' a'

Ryan: Right…

Amy: You can start here to make quizzical faces and confused noises. But I want to talk today about the beautiful interaction of eh a’ i’ ah.

Ryan: Yeah, that's… uh… yes, go.

Amy: Something that is curious about Dundonian Scot, and people, first of all, like to say that Scots is not a language. It is. And they also think that it's all one language. It's not. For such a small country, there's an astonishing number of dialects and quirks and Dundee, a city in the northeast of Scotland that I am from… born and raised and bred, has this very peculiar… sound… syllable. It's really, really useful and nowhere else in Scotland to my knowledge uses the sound “eh” the way that Dundonians do. So eh, which is generally rendered, e-h, but it's quite hard to kind of write that down is a sound, that can mean  “I” first person singular, it can also mean “yes”, it can also mean “ocular organ on the front of your head”. And if your glottal stops are in place, it can also mean “ate”. So the phrase “eh a’ i’ ah” translates to “I ate it all”. And the previous phrase, Dundee is famous for its baked goods, because we love have meat pies. And just up the just up the road from Dundee and the county of Angus, there's a city – a town sorry – Forfar is not a city, a city called Forfar and they make bridie’s, which are sort of like Cornish pastries. Same shape but slightly different vibe. And bridies come in two main types. You get plain bridies plain bridies and you get onion bridies, onion bridies. So you can have a plehn bridie an' an inyin in an' a'. A plain one and an onion one, too.

Ryan: Okay

Amy: So this phrase is a sort of, it's like a Shibboleth of how well you understand Scots. And you'd find it on merchandise t shirts, and costers and things like that. But I really love eh a’ i’ ah, which can be used in the same conversation since it's talking about foodstuffs. But also it's so beautifully incomprehensible. It makes eyebrows raises and yeah, makes beautiful use of that very peculiarly Dundonian sound, eh.

Ryan: Yeah, that's, this is like the Scots equivalent of that, that Mandarin poem that is essentially just the Shī-shì. shí shī shǐ,. And it's like the different tones and I'm not meaning to be disrespectful. I just don't know the tones and I, but the idea where it is the whole poem…

Amy: I’m not disrespectful, I just don't know.

Ryan: I’m just, I’m ignorant. I'm just dumb. I'm not disrespectful. I'm just stupid. But it's that the one where it's all the same character in the same word, but just depending on how you pronounce it. It's a different word entirely. And it's an entire poem, but I didn't know that Scot's had one of those.

Amy: There are a few phrases like that in Scots, another one that people enjoy is a braw bricht moonlicht nicht taenicht. And which again, I think it's more about the sounds than the individual words or the phraseology itself, but…

Ryan: it really is

Amy: Yeah, I could do this all day. And…

Ryan: That’s amazing

Amy: … many a mickle makes a muckle, which is a much misunderstood phrase. And it's usually translated as meaning lots of small things will make a big thing.

Ryan: Oh, okay

Amy …but it's one of the words in there is mistranslated, and I don't remember… That's…  this is the reason why I didn't choose that phrase, because I couldn't remember the story. But yes, eh a’ i’ ah, I ate it all. And it's great. I love it.

Ryan: That's fantastic. That's it for our contribution and congratulations from Lexitecture to Bunny Trails and we hope that we're still around to help you celebrate episodes 150, 200, 250, and 3872 hurray!


Shauna: 3,872 might be pushing it, but there is a phrase “never say never”.


Dan: I did the transcript on this one for our website and I hope I got it all correct, Amy. If I missed anything, I trust that any of our Scots speakers will let me know.


The poem Ryan mentioned is, in English, “Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den”, which is an amazing linguistic demonstration if you want to check it out. 


Shauna: Dan, why don’t you share with us one of your favorite phrases?


Dan: Okay, well I will share the phrase “armchair quarterback”. It’s not that I love the phrase, but I do appreciate how aptly it describes the whole situation. 


From the OED - armchair quarterback  n. North American colloquial (depreciative) a person who offers comment or criticism on something (esp. a sporting event) in which he or she is not actively involved, or about which he or she lacks first-hand or specialist knowledge.


We aren’t sure where it came from, but it certainly feels like it came from an American football, or possibly rugby, background.


We see numerous examples of its use in the 1930s along with the contemporary phrase “Monday Morning Quarterback”.


I’ll read one from 1948 as it seems to capture the gist of the usage. 



While the phrase is still commonly used regarding American Football. Which is a weird name for a sport in which the “ball” is shaped more like an egg and only special people are allowed to use their feet and they aren’t even on the field for most of the game. But I digress… this phrase is also used for any sort of situation where someone claims they would have made different decisions in the moment. It comes up quite a bit relating to crisis decision making. But as someone who is a bit of an expert on crisis decision making, I can tell you it’s usually better to make a decision with what you have and make course corrections as you get new information, rather than waiting until you have all the information until you try to make a decision. And armchair quarterbacks have the benefit of having much of the information now - but the decision maker did not necessarily have that information. 


But I hear this phrase used quite often and I think it aptly describes the action being taken by someone sitting comfortably in their living room, far away from the situation at hand, picking apart the actions of others.


Shauna: It seems fitting to end the show with Dustin from Sandman Stories Presents. Dustin’s voice is perfect for relaxing at the end of a hard day while learning from folk tales and ancient stories. Thank you Dustin for all you do to spread the word about great podcasts out there, including our own. And thank you for adding a wonderful podcast to the list of our regular downloads.


Dan: Thank you again to Your Brain on Facts, Endless Knot, Vocal Fries, Lexitecture, and Sandman Stories Presents. If you aren’t subscribed to each of these podcasts, go do it now!


Shauna: As they say, take us home, Dustin!

Dustin: Hello, this is Dustin Steichmann from the Sandman Stories Presents Podcast, where I read folk tales from around the world that are in the public domain. I often add music or sound effects from the stories home region to give it a little more feeling.

The phrase I'd like to bring to you for this show is sleep tight. I remember as a little kid my mother would often say to me, good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite. It is a bit of a comforting phrase for me. And if and when I finally have kids, I'll be sure to say it to them.

I've looked around a few places online and Gary Martin on his puts the earliest sighting in Susan Bedford Epps diary titled, “Through Some Eventful Years” in 1866:

“All is ready, and we leave as soon as breakfast is over. Goodnight little diary, sleep tight and wake bright. For I will need you when I return.”

The OED doesn't have it until 1933. But Michael Quinion of found an antedating in “Rinky Tink in OZ” by L. Frank Baum dated to 1916. And the same sighting of Susan Epps in 1866. All of the places I look rejected the idea of tightening ropes under the beds as being the source of the phrase as tight is just a shortening of tightly so that it rhymes with night. Essentially, it means sleep safely.

So on behalf of Sandman Stories Presents, I say good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite


Dan: 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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