Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Episode 131: Every Rose Has Its Thorn Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 131: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Record Date: November 6, 2021

Air Date: November 10, 2021



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

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take a group of words and try to tell the story from their entry into the English language, to how they are used today.

Recently while I was traveling, one of my favorite classic rock songs came on the radio. I hadn’t heard it in awhile. Then, while at the conference I was traveling to, I heard it again during one of the presentations. The phrase is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and I realized how applicable it is to life today. And I suppose kind of, always? 


What does this phrase mean? Here are a few different ways the phrase Every rose has its thorn is used. 

Every rose has its thorn" is a famous proverb generally used to teach an important fact about human nature-nobody is perfect. Even the rose, beautiful and enticing, is not without its flaws; the prickly thorns of the rose can poke and pierce the flesh. In fact, there is a type of plant in the Rose family, Hawthorn, whose thorns are toxic to the eye, and scratching of the cornea with it often leads to loss of vision. Even something as beautiful as a rose has its flaws.

Alternatively, "Every rose has its thorn" can be understood to speak of life situations, teaching the valuable life lesson that even the best situations have their down-sides. It follows, therefore, that even the bad situations have their positive sides.

Every good thing has something to look out for - one minor thing about it that isn’t so good. One of the best examples is from the ever popular song by Poison. 

On a VH1 Behind The Music special, Bret Michaels explained the metaphoric meaning behind the rose and thorn in this song. He said that the rose was his career taking off, and the thorn was the fact that it was costing him his relationship with his girlfriend Tracy. (

Where did the phrase originate? My first clue was from an article in a medical journal. Yes, that’s what I said. 

The article ‘Every rose has it's thorn!’ was published in the July 2011 issue of the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. We’ll look a little closer at this later in the episode. The article ends with this excerpt, quote: 

The famous proverb “Every rose has its thorn” originated as a French or Italian saying (Pas de rose sans epine; Non i.e rosa senza spine). Closer to home, is a Persian saying “He who wants a rose, must respect the thorn.”

Similarly, pioglitazone, too, may have its thorn. Respect the rose, but be cautious about the thorn. 

So, were the authors right about this one? Possibly… There are other sites claiming this is the origin, but no similar phrases appear in English during the time when many other phrases were being adopted. The first time we see it in print is in the early 1800s. Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t actually have it identified individually as a phrase. So we are going to have to start with what we have.

The first time seen in print is from The Monthly Magazine or, British Register in January 1802. Quote: 

That is a great excerpt. And it shows clearly that the writer expected people to know what he meant by using the phrase. It also isn’t being used in poetry and isn’t the title of the story. There is nothing highlighting the phrase. This is typically an indicator that it is a part of the lexicon or the concept is at least commonly referenced. At this time in America, roses were pretty popular, both those from England and the ones found by settlers. Roses have been symbols of romance, love, and beauty since ancient times. Their thorns have been depicted in art for centuries. So the concept of thorns - a thing of pain - tied to roses - beauty and love - is nothing new.

The phrase continued regular use, growing slowly through the 1800s. 

From an October 17 1840 article in The native American out of “Washington City”, now Washington, D.C. is a continuation of remarks included in the editors section. I was unable to access the primary page to find out who had written this or if it was a response, but I found it to be interesting. 

The Camden journal out of Camden, South Carolina March 21, 1850 has a sectioned titled “The Olio” In it is the story: 

Let’s move to a small joke section of the October 19, 1906 edition of the Hartford republican out of Hartford, Kentucky. 

The Arizona republican January 26, 1907 edition out of Phoenix, Arizona has an ad for suits and overcoats from The Hub. 

From the Brownsville herald. January 24, 1937, FINAL SUNDAY EDITION, out of Brownsville, Texas, we find a fun comic titled: 

This depicts a man wearing one of those false flowers on his lapel, spraying in the face of another man. The first man is labeled Mild Weather and the water being sprayed into the other man’s face is labeled Flu. 

Before we get to our modern uses, we’d like to take a short break to say thank you to our patrons… 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons.

And speaking of our patreon, we’ve added a new tier! They start with our Exclusive Access at $3 a month, which gets you access to our polls and community only discussions, early access to the podcasts, and access to the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. The next tier is the new one, which is $10 a month and gets you original digital artwork from Shauna! Once a month you’ll get exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. And as always, all the perks from previous tiers. Special shout out to Jan for being the first to join the new tier!


At the $15 tier, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez do every episode. Because they are awesome! 

Our $35 tier allows you to make us your personal research machines! Dan and I will research any English phrase for you, up to one a month. Even if we don’t feature it on the show, we’ll send you what we find in a digital show-notes style packet. 


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We are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. That’s

Modern Uses

The article ‘Every rose has it's thorn!’ that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode is definitely a modern use of the phrase. The authors are Ambika Gopalakrishnan Unnikrishnan, Sanjay Kalra, and Ganapathi Bantwal. It was published in the July 2011 issue of the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. The article discusses drugs used to treat metabolic syndrome and diabetes. One drug, pioglitazone is a focus, as the risks are potentially significant. They wrap up with the following statement, quote:  

What should India do? Clearly, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of therapy, and discuss findings with our patients, and make the right decision. It is important that the link between bladder cancer and pioglitazone be studied in India based on scientific evidence of the association in people of our country. Till such evidence is made available, we will continue to rely on the international evidence. We must continue to recognize the benefits of pioglitazone, and use it judiciously, but with caution. A difficult task, but isn’t the combination of knowledge (read: science) and wisdom (read: experience) familiar to every practicing physician?

The famous proverb “Every rose has its thorn” originated as a French or Italian saying (Pas de rose sans epine; Non i.e rosa senza spine). Closer to home, is a Persian saying “He who wants a rose, must respect the thorn.”

Similarly, pioglitazone, too, may have its thorn. Respect the rose, but be cautious about the thorn.

-End quote 

Let’s take a moment for Shauna to fangirl. I am a child of the eighties. And like many of us from my generation, we love hair bands… give me guitars and speakers maxxed out, too much eyeliner - on everyone - and spikes on leather. Most of all, give me the power ballad. Naturally, I had to include more detail on the song that has given this phrase a boost that continues today. 

The Poison song Every Rose Has Its Thorn is from the album Open Up and Say...Ahh! , released in 1988. From, here is a little more background on the hit, quote: 

Poison lead singer Bret Michaels wrote this in response to a failed love affair with his girlfriend, Tracy Lewis. After playing at a bar in Dallas, Texas, Michaels called Lewis at her Los Angeles apartment and heard a man's voice in the background. The next day the disconsolate Michaels took his acoustic guitar with him to a Laundromat and wrote the song right there. He explained in Rolling Stone June 10, 2010: "I remember using a pay phone to call this girl I was dating. We were on the road, touring in our Winnebago, and my relationship was falling apart. I still have the yellow legal pad I wrote it on. There are, like, a bazillion verses that I later edited down."

-End quote

Here are a few of the lyrics: 

We both lie silently still

In the dead of the night

Although we both lie close together

We feel miles apart inside

Was it something I said or something I did

Did the words not come out right

Though I tried not to hurt you

Though I tried

But I guess that's why they say

Every rose has its thorn

Just like every night has its dawn

Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song

Every rose has its thorn

Yeah it does 

Miley Cyrus covered this song on her 2010 album Can't Be Tamed. I really like the idea of this. She’s got a fantastic, gritty voice. I wish I could hear her sing this in 2021 because I feel like her voice just keeps getting more powerful and impressive. But my favorite performance of her doing this song is when she sang live with Bret Michaels live in Central Park at the Summer Concert Series. That video was added to Michaels’ YouTube page in 2014. 

The TV show Supernatural Season 3 Episode 9, Malleus Maleficarum, aired January 31, 2008. Here’s a synopsis of the episode: 

“The seemingly harmless practices of a group of neighborhood witches goes bad when one of them kills a woman. Ruby offers her assistance... but she has a few secrets of her own.”

During the episode, a side character - Paul - has the song Every Rose Has Its Thorn playing on his car radio. Now, you may be wondering how I know this tiny detail? 

Is it because I’m a crazy obsessed fan of the show? 

No. Well, I am a fan, but not THAT kind of fan. On the website, you can search for any song that’s been referenced or played or included in some way in a movie, show, or game. 

They claim to be “The Internet’s best source for TV, movie, and video game soundtracks since 2005.” 


This is an excellent phrase. I always loved the song by Poison. It’s a fabulous karaoke choice. Just close enough to the genres of pop and country, but still rock. You can yell it, cry it, scream it… and in the midwest, most people in the joint will join you for the chorus. I think that’s because whether it is in love or in life, most people know this feeling. That the things we love and want are so good, but they always come with things that aren’t so good. And we make choices. Which good things do we want? Which roses? Which not so good things can we live with or manage? Which thorns hurt the least? Which thorns are we most willing to manage the pain of? This idiom can apply to so many areas of life. We all have to learn balance. To me, this phrase is just real enough to be truly beautiful.

And not to be too cheesy… but by the end we’ve made this beautiful bouquet and we are the only one who knows about the thorns. So balance it. Cut out the roses with thorns too painful to bare. And make your bouquet for you. 


That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page! 


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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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