Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Episode 137: Running Around Like a Headless Chicken Show Notes

 Click to read more

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 137: Running Around Like a Headless Chicken

Record Date: December 12, 2021

Air Date: December 22, 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 an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Have you ever felt like you have way too much to do? Like you are rushed or surprised by something and now you’re just in a frantic rush? 

Some describe this as: 

Headless Chicken - Running Around Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off 


When a person is likened to a headless chicken, it is typically at a time when they are rushed - hurrying around, oftentimes in a flurry of ineffective actions. They may be in the midst of a stressful situation or perhaps they are someone who gets easily worked up. Either way, the behavior usually looks the same… someone going way too quickly and sort of freaking out without actually getting much of anything done. Basically, it looks like panic. 

Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition for the noun headless chicken. 

This is a colloquial term. Definition 1 states quote: 

In similative phrases denoting frantic, unthinking, and often futile activity, esp. in running around like a headless chicken and variants.

-End quote

1570 Sir Thomas North · Anton Francesco Doni's Morall Philosophy, also known as the Fables of Bidpai 

In the story titled, A tale of a Lover and a Gentilwoman, we have some folks who are generally not great people. There is a wife who enjoys the company of men who are not her husband, on a regular basis. She decides to create a hiding place in their well to keep her lover safe in case her husband shows up unexpectedly. Here is the continuation of the story. 


-End quote. (later version)

In this example, the text is using another creature rather a chicken. 

In 1602 a book by Francis Davison came out titled A Poetical Rapsody Containing, Diuerse Sonnets, Odes, Elegies, Madrigalls, and Other Poesies, Both in Rime, and Measured Verse

Neuer Yet Published

As is the case for many writings of this time, the text doesn’t always make a lot of sense to us today. In the poem I’m reading from, the focus is on love and women… not a surprise. Here is an excerpt, quote: 

-End quote 

Published in 1788, we have The Works of Aristotle. The Famous Philosopher. In Four Parts. Containing I. His Complete Masterpiece ... To which is Added, The Family Physician ... II. His Experienced Midwife ... III. His Book of Problems ... IV. His Last Legacy .. A Correct Edition


-End quote 

From the 1824 book Works of Maria Edgeworth, including Letters to Literary Ladies. Castle Rackrent. Leonora. - And - Essay on Irish Bulls. 


-End quote 

Las Vegas free press., November 04, 1892, East Las Vegas, N.M.


-End quote 

The broad ax, October 16, 1897, Salt Lake City, Utah

It says, quote: 

-End quote 

The Wichita daily eagle. [volume], November 07, 1897, Page 5, Image 5

About The Wichita daily eagle. [volume] (Wichita, Kan.) 1890-1906


-End quote 

The San Francisco call. [volume], May 26, 1901, (San Francisco, California.)


-End Quote 

Before we get to our more modern uses, we’d like to take a moment to thank our Patrons. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

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 podcast, 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

Modern Uses

We are now going to learn about a very special chicken. His name was Mike and people called him magical. But this is a different kind of Magic Mike. Mike’s head was cut off in 1945, but he remained alive and moving about apparently for months. 

You can read more of the story in the BBC article, The chicken that lived for 18 months without a head, a good amount of info is available including what actually happens when a chicken loses its head. 

A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off by The Magnetic Fields, released in 1999


[Verse 1]

Eligible, not too stupid

Intelligible and cute as Cupid

Knowledgeable, but not always right

Salvageable and free for the night


Well, my heart's running 'round like a chicken with its head cut off

All around the barnyard falling in and out of love

The poor thing's blind as a bat

Getting up, falling down, getting up

Who'd fall in love with a chicken with its head cut off?

Whoa, Nellie

-End quote 

On Twitter


Wrap Up

This phrase made me feel a little too seen. I don’t think I like it. But really, we all get a little worked up or frantic at times. This idiom is a good reminder to slow down and take a breath. There are very few situations that will benefit from rushing. I can’t actually think of one. This is one of those things I need to practice. Desperately. Stop the procrastinating… or at least reduce it… so I can reduce the rushing. It’s a solid plan.  



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 - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page! That’s



Poll time! 

In a recent poll, we asked Patrons the question: If you could time travel, which way would you go and how far?

50% said they would “Travel backward more than 100 years”

25% said Travel forward, but less than 100 years

And 25% said Travel forward more than 100 years

No one seemed interested in traveling backwards but only 100 years. I guess that seemed like a wasted opportunity. Though I could see the benefit to going back 20 or 30 years and spending more time with loved ones who’ve since died. But even that would be a bittersweet cause you can’t do it forever. .


If this is strictly in my imagination, I’d travel to any time and have a blast. However, if truly given the opportunity, I’d say thanks, but no thanks. I’m good here and now. My adventurous nature extends only far enough to make me wish it were possible, but not enough to have me actually choose to be the one to go... unless we’ve also found the cure to a lot of diseases and such that I can have on board. And then, maybe… 


Yes, fair point. Given my respiratory issues, I’d be dead if it weren’t for modern medicine. 

This seemed to get a bit deeper than our whimsical nature usually takes us. Which I suppose happens sometimes. But if you want to join our polls, head over to 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!


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


Words belong to their users.

No comments:

Post a Comment