Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Episode 139: Scarred For Life Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 139: Scarred for Life

Record Date: December 31, 2021

Air Date: January 8, 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, I was discussing the concepts of puppy love, first love, true love, soul mates - and so on - with a friend whose teenager believes their heart has been permanently broken. In fact, they said it had been shattered into a million tiny pieces like when someone hits safety glass but it doesn’t actually fall. He says that the pieces of his heart are still together - and maybe people are right and it will heal - but it will never be whole or complete again because there are all these lines and scars. If you will, he feels he’s been Scarred for Life.

Pretty deep for a 15yo. However, I think that age predisposes one to this level of intensity. 


Typically, I’d look at dictionaries first for a definition, however in my opinion, this phrase is best described in the article What Does Scarred for Life Mean? - on Credits are given to:

Medical Author: Karthik Kumar, MBBS 

Medical Reviewer: Shaziya Allarakha, MD

It was Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2021 

The article begins, quote: 

The idiom “scarred for life” may be used figuratively to describe an emotional wound or a trauma that doesn’t fully heal. In the literal sense, however, it means someone or something is disfigured by permanent scars received in an accident or mishap, or it means a person has had a traumatic event that they will suffer from or otherwise be changed negatively for the rest of their lives. Usually, the phrase “scarred for life” is used in a metaphorical manner that may describe mental difficulties for the rest of a person’s life. However, it is being compared with the way a physical injury will leave a scar on the body.

-End quote

To figure out where this came from, let’s go back a little and look at the word scar. 

Oxford English Dictionary gives an obsolete definition for the word scar as quote: 

A crack, chink; a cut, incision.

-End quote 

They also share the etymology that this may be an altered form of scarth from the Old Norse skarð, spelled s k a r and the symbol ‘eth’. This symbol looks a bit like a backwards numeral 6 with a small hash through the line that extends up from the circular base. The loss of this symbol eth (ð) may have taken place in the plural: compare clo'es /kləʊz/ for clothes . Compare also Old Norse skor score n.

We’ve spoken in a previous episode - Keeping Score - about the word score as a borrowing from Old Norse. It referred to the hash marks or indentations or scrapes made on an object.

Oxford English Dictionary shares another, current definition for scar, quote: 

Scar - noun:

The trace of a healed wound, sore, or burn; 

or in Pathology - The scar or seam remaining after a wound, sore, or ulcer is healed.

-End quote 

The first attestation of this use is in the Wycliffe Bible around 1325, but possibly the publishing from 1425. Quote: 

If it is blynd, if it is brokun, if it hath a scar [L. cicatricem]. 

In a glossary of the Wycliffe Bible from c1420–30, a description of the word scar is provided, quote: 

that is a notable fouleness dwellinge after the helinge of a wounde].

-End quote 

In figurative use, the entry for scar says quote: 

A fault or blemish remaining as a trace of some former condition or resulting from some particular cause.

-End quote 

We find this figurative usage in print as early as the late 1500s. In Gervase Babington’s 1583 work, A very fruitfull exposition of the Commaundements by way of questions and answeres for greater plainnesse we find the following excerpt, quote: 

Let no proofe be brought for it, and neuer so much against it, yet stickes the scarre of suspition still.

-End quote 

As for the other part of our phrase - “for life” - we find its usage around the same timeframe. 

Oxford English Dictionary shares the definition as quote: 

for life: for the remaining period of the person's life (both in general and legal contexts). for term of (one's) life

-End quote 

This was seen in print by the early 1400s. 

When do we see the phrase show up? 

Some searches showed results from the late 1700s, but the texts I was able to retrieve online were either incomplete, incorrectly labeled, or didn’t actually contain the phrase. Many works from the 1700s are still being cataloged and translated, though… so it’s definitely possible it was around this time or earlier that the phrase showed up in print. That all being said, there isn’t evidence or suggestion that it was being used figuratively yet, so I just moved forward with research from there.

The first attestations I was able to verify in print show up in the early 1800s.  

An example is in the January 20, 1836 edition of 

There is a news brief titled 

Which contains a , quote: 

-End quote 

Bury Times - Saturday 27 January 1866 

There is a rather sad story that was shared from a New York Paper. Quote: 

-End quote 

From the 1869 work Upward from Sin, Through Grace, to Glory by Beriah Bishop Hotchkin, is this rather depressing commentary, quote: 

-End quote. 

The phrase continued to be used figuratively and literally through the decades and still today. There are dozens, possibly hundreds of articles and references that I won’t include, as they are discussing fires, smallpox, war, and other terrible moments in history. However, here is one more example of figurative use. 

-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.

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

Modern Uses

Released in 1982, the album Scarred For Life by Rose Tattoo, an Australian hard rock band, also features a song titled Scarred For Life

Here are some of the hard-hitting lyrics, quote: 

I grew up fast on a working class street

First thing I learned was life don't come cheap

Technical school it was a waste of time

Makin' robots for some factory line

Got my first tattoo when I was 16

The rebel had lost his teenage queen

I'd taken a stand for an outlaw's life

My ma's words kept ringin', your scarred for life

She said you're scarred, you've been scarred

Scarred for life Scarred for life

I fought my way through the trouble and strife

I was scarred Scarred for life

My reputation it cuts like a knife

-End quote. 

Scarred for Life: Eleven Stories About Skateboarders by Keith David Hamm was released on November 4, 2004. The synopsis on Amazon reads, quote: 

Skateboarding is a means of transport, a pastime, a lifestyle, an artful expression, and an ethos. Some even call it a sport. But until now, the scene has lacked an appropriate -- and accessible -- tribute. Scarred for Life is an intimate, you-are-there look into the culture and history of skateboarding, as told through the voices and experiences of those who have dedicated their lives to riding a wooden plank with wheels. Eleven chapters take readers on a wild ride through the evolution (and revolution) of skateboarding -- reaching as far back as the 1950s -- and includes oral histories and terrain reports of the major styles and techniques as they emerged. One hundred dynamic photographs capture skaters doing what they do best in pools and pipes, on hills, ramps, streets, and skateparks. From the early proving grounds of California hills and pools to the chaotic streets of modern New York City, Scarred for Life offers street-level talk and eye-to-eye truth-telling about skateboarders, scars and all.

-End quote. 

Next is the Scarred For Life Project by Ted Meyer. Here is some information from a 2020 article, quote: 

16 years ago Los Angeles based artist Ted Meyer began an art project titled “Scarred for Life”. He began creating mono-prints of people’s scars and detailed them to make art prints that illustrate their current condition while reflecting their past injuries. He documents their emotional journeys and uses the art prints as a conduit to tell their stories and share with others their tales of survival and the rediscovery of personal strength that arose through these otherwise tragic and unexpected events.  

Meyer is now in the planning stages of the Scarred for Life Veterans Project. A new project that will focus on the scars of Wounded Warriors and the impact these injuries have had on their lives and others.

Meyer will pull body prints from their scarred skin, and document the entire process with photography, and for the first time, video. The resulting portraits are powerful documents to the dedication, persistence, and humanity of our troops who have fought and sacrificed in both the 20th and 21st centuries.  

An accompanying documentary will be filmed, capturing the entire creative process.  The film will give each Wounded Warrior a platform to tell their individual stories, detailing the specifics of their injury, their recovery, and how they came to find strength through this experience.

-End quote 

For sale on Etsy is the Scarred for Life pendant necklace from the shop Missy Industry out of Montreal, Canada.

This piece is described as a quote: 

Sterling silver pendant with a torn, melted texture and 7 stitches along the wound.

-End quote. 

It’s a really cool item. The shop is full of cool pieces with a bit of a macabre or goth flare. In addition to the Scarred for Life pendant, several other items have names using idioms or puns including an interesting Heads Will Roll guillotine necklace. 

At the time of recording, these were currently available items. 


Wrap up...

There was a time when physical appearance was not only important, but an almost inescapable determining factor in life. It is unfortunate, but true. It still greatly affects people’s lives today. In fact we say things like… despite her deformity… overcoming the obstacles of his disability… or similar platitudes. These statements hold their own truth and can have a meaning that is beneficial. We do have to overcome things, it is work. But it is sad that there has always been such focus on the physical - on appearance. At the same time, for many, physical appearance is important because it is a representation of the non-physical traits a person possesses. Our clothing choices, makeup, jewelry, how we carry ourselves, how loudly we talk or laugh, how often we smile or stand in superhero pose - so much of it is an outward reflection of how we feel or what we care about - what we want others to know about us. It’s an unrelenting sort of frustration and pain, even depression, when we are unable to express ourselves. Scars, whether physical, emotional, mental… those that stay with us, the permanent scars… they are part of what defines us or at the least, part of what guides how we define ourselves. When we say scarred for life, I’m not sure it matters if the scars are physical... There is a consistent result - the person is permanently altered. 



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! 



Poll time! 

In a recent poll, we asked Patrons 

Which of these baseball teams will win the "new mascot of the year" award? 

And we asked Patrons to describe the mascot’s costume. 

And a quick note: I made all of these up. Any resemblance to an actual team is accidental! But I did try to make the teams in what I thought were the most likely places to get the next Major League Baseball team. But I went more with the Triple A naming schemes, cause Minor League teams always have better names than Major League teams do. Anway, the finalists were…

Las Vegas Mobsters

Carolina Reapers

Portland Pale Ales

Montreal Monocles

And the winner of this tight race was…

The Montreal Monocles!


I liked Jan’s comment where he said,

Carolina Reapers - I hear the costume is pretty hot!


I kept imagining a ⚾️ head guy in a very fine suit and fedora for the Las Vegas Mobsters. But it turns out, Dan, that you had an idea for the winning Monocles team. 


Yes. I was thinking a giant anthropomorphized baseball with a top hat, oversized monocle, and baseball bat cane with an angry face.

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!


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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