Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Episode 135: Cool as a Cucumber Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 135: Cool as a Cucumber

Record Date: December 4, 2021

Air Date: December 8, 2021


Intro


Dan:

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


I’m Dan Pugh


Shauna:

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.


Dan are you cool? 


But like, how cool are you? 


Are you as cool as a cucumber? 


Meaning


Cool as a cucumber is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as

Quote: 

“very calm or very calmly, especially when this is surprising:

Example: She walked in as cool as a cucumber, as if nothing had happened.” 

-End Quote

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/as-cool-as-a-cucumber 



How do we get to this phrase at all? Why does it make any sense? Let’s start with the word cucumber. According to Oxford English Dictionary, the cucumber has been in use in English since the late 1300’s. It’s first attested use is in an early version of the Wycliffe Bible published in 1382 with the definition, quote: 

“ 1. A creeping plant, Cucumis sativus (family Cucurbitace√¶), a native of southern Asia, from ancient times cultivated for its fruit:”

-End quote


The phrase itself doesn’t show up for a bit, but there are some pretty decent theories as to why the phrase was started. 


Dictionary.com shares this definition of the phrase, quote:

“Calm and composed, self-possessed, as in Despite the mishap Margaret was cool as a cucumber. This idiom may be based on the fact that in hot weather the inside of cucumbers remains cooler than the air.”

-End quote

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/cool-as-a-cucumber 


The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shares information about various Florida products. On the page concerning cucumbers, the various health benefits and fun facts are included. It begins, quote: 

“Cool as a cucumber” isn’t just a catchy phrase. The inner temperature of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature due to the cucumber's high water content.”

-End quote

https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Health-and-Safety/Living-Healthy-in-Florida/Healthy-Learning/All-About-Florida-Products/Cucumber 


As is often the case, this phrase seems to have shown up in the lexicon well-before it was used in print. Before deciding on cucumber as the official correct spelling of the word, other versions existed, most commonly cowcumber


In the 1675 book A Directory for Midwives: Or, A Guide for Women By Nicholas Culpeper, there is a weird side-commentary on this word, quote: 

-End quote 

https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Directory_for_Midwives_Or_A_Guide_for/OX2Ph067MjQC?hl=en&gbpv=0 


When even the pronunciation of a word is being called out as vulgar, it is a reasonable guess that various phrases using the word may be seen as scandalous. 


The first time we find the phrase in print further hints that it was in use for some time before being printed. 


The first attestation of cool as a cucumber in print comes from a collection of songs published by and for John Watts in 1730. The work is titled: 

The Musical Miscellany: Being a Collection of Choice Songs Set to the Violin and Flute · Volume 4


From the piece A New Song of Old Similes, we find these lyrics, quote: 

-End quote

https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Musical_Miscellany/t-BWAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=cool+as+a+cucumber&pg=PA81&printsec=frontcover 


According to Oxford Languages, the word pert is an adjective meaning, quote: 

“(of a girl or young woman) attractively lively or cheeky.” 

-End quote

https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Musical_Miscellany/t-BWAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1 



The book The Life and Adventures of Commonsense: An Historical Allegory By Herbert Lawrence was published in 1769. In it, we find the following excerpt, quote: 

-End quote

https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Life_and_Adventures_of_Commonsense/HkhAAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22cool+as+a+cucumber%22&pg=PA114&printsec=frontcover 



From the December 18, 1826 edition of the Phoenix gazette, out of Alexandria [D.C.]., we find the following quote: 

-End quote

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025006/1826-12-18/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1825&index=11&rows=20&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&words=cool+cucumber&proxdistance=5&date2=1850&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=cool+as+a+cucumber&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 



By the early 1900s, our phrase was being used in advertisements such as one from The Pensacola journal from July 07, 1916, out of Pensacola, Florida. Quote: 


Here is another ad in The Dermott news, August 14, 1919 edition out of Dermott, Arkansas. Quote: 


-End quote


We just love selling to people’s vices, don’t we? 


How are we using the phrase today? We’ll find out…


But, before we get to our modern uses, we’d like to take a short break to say thank you to our sponsors... 



A Quick Thank You


Dan:

This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons.


And speaking of our Patreon, we’d love your support! Tiers start at $3 a month, which gets you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcasts, and the behind-the-scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez do every episode. Because they are awesome! 


We also have higher tiers available. Whatever your budget, you can help create Bunny Trails week after week to continue this educational artform. 


We are @bunnytrailspod on Patreon. That’s patreon.com/bunnytrailspod


Modern Uses



First up we have the song Cool as a Cucumber by Stephen Bryan. It was released in 2015 and it’s this sort of folksy? Maybe a spoof song. Anyway, the lyrics begin, quote: 

I saw her standing in the produce section 

She looked so fresh and good, she got my attention

Well, she took a tomato, she picked up a peach 

She might be a little bit out of my reach 

But I’m cool… as a cucumber 

-End quote 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rslGz17n6U 



Perhaps my favorite thing I found is only about cucumbers, but everyone who shared it knows it’s the coolest. This is a song by the artist and activist Macka B. Macka B, is a British-born Jamaican reggae artist, performer and activist with a career spanning thirty years in the United Kingdom and Jamaica. He released the official music video Cucumba To Di World which premiered on youtube on August 7, 2020.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYN9Ilm-IbM&t=0s 




The book Cool as a Cucumber by Sir Michael Morpurgo was published May 10, 2017. The synopsis reads, quote: 

At first Peter isn't too keen on his teacher's plan to dig a vegetable garden to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Then he starts to dig up some interesting things – a huge worm, a big beetle, bits of china … and what looks like a giant cucumber but turns out to be something a lot more exciting!

-End quote

https://www.amazon.com/WALKER-READERS-COOL-CUCUMBER-NULL/dp/1406378720 


To the Twitter… normally, I would shared who said what and tag them, but today I’m just going to share the quotes. These are people responding amidst what seem to be either arguments or at least slightly heated discussions. 




So our idiom is alive and well and still be used a lot today! 


Outro

This is one of those idioms that really makes absolutely no sense on its own. Unless you’re familiar with cucumbers, you won’t know that they’re that cool. Even then, what does a person mean by “cool”. I kinda love it, though. It’s a chill phrase. My favorite part of this idiom is the scientific fact that cucumbers really are cooler than the air around them. It’s awesome! 



Shauna:

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


This week, I’d love to hear whether you think you are as cool as a cucumber? 


Dan:

Poll time! 


In a recent poll, we asked Patrons the yes-or-no question: Is cereal soup?


66% of respondents say “No”


One Patron, Jan, points out. 

“Don’t the nutrition details show with milk and without milk? 


Yes. But without the milk, it definitely doesn't seem like soup. So with the milk is probably the only way it would even make sense as a question.


Shauna:

Multi-time New York Times Bestselling Author John Green eats his cereal with water instead of milk. Which we declare to be gross. But I guess he can do him.


Dan:

I knew a foreign exchange student from Germany who poured Coca-Cola on his cereal. Which I feel the same about as I do water. But I haven’t drunk cow's milk in ages. Due to some food allergies, we switched to almond milk over a decade ago. Which is really just almond pulp and water. So maybe I shouldn’t be so judgy. 



If you want to join our polls, head over to patreon.com/bunnytrailspod where Patrons at all levels can participate in our weekly silly polls that mean absolutely nothing and aren’t even scientifically valid. But they are fun to talk about in the thread!

Dan:

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


Together:

Words belong to their users.


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