Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Episode 151: Blood on Your Hands Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 151: Blood on Your Hands

Record Date: March 27, 2022

Air Date: March 30, 2022



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.

Opening Hook

Imagine you are reading a suspense novel and you can’t quite tell who the bad guy is. Is the person holding the weapon always the one responsible for a person’s death? What are the factors that determine who is responsible? Is it just one person or can it be many? 

Who really has the blood on their hands? 


According to Oxford English Dictionary, one use of the word blood, is


Responsibility or guilt for bloodshed. 

In later use chiefly in: to have blood on one's hands.

End Quote 

Simple. Straightforward. So where did it come from? 

Some folks think this phrase started with … wait for it … Shakespeare. 

In his popular and cursed 1606 work, Macbeth, there are many, many references to blood and there being blood on people’s hands. In one particular scene, Macbeth has just killed King Duncan and his wife is instructing him how to frame some other folks. He just stares at blood on his hands and says, 


"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?" "No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red" (2.2.57-60).

End quote 

Later in the work, when his wife goes mad, she sees blood on her hands that refuses to wash clean. 

This is an intriguing story, to be sure. However, the precise phrase does not seem to be in any of Shakespeare’s works. And the concept of blood representing guilt was also around well before Shakespeare. 

One example of such comes from Old English in the West Saxon Gospels as held by the Manuscripts in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The approximate date given is 1000-1099 BCE. 

The line reads 


“Sy hys blod ofer us & ofer ure bearn.” 

End Quote 

Now, to me, this doesn’t mean a lot… but scholars have indicate that this is assigning the responsibility for a death onto others by placing “his blood” on them. 

The concept is perhaps a little better established in writings further on in time. 

In the 1561 work by Francis Coxe titled Short Treatise Wickednesse Magicall Science, there is direction for some unpleasantness. 


If a man or woman haue a spirite of diuination or sothsaying in them: they shall dye the death, they shall stone them to deathe, their bloudde shalbe vpon them.

End Quote 

In this case, the instructions are to stone these magic-users, but that the guilt is to be placed on those who use magic, not the ones throwing the stones. 

We find a slightly different sort of blame happening in this next piece. This book published in 1714 is by Reverend J. Thomson and it has a doozy of a title, as expected from the 1700s. But it’s a good one, so the title is:

A Cloud of Witnesses, for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ - Or, the Last Speeches and Testimonies of Those who Have Suffered for the Truth, in Scotland, Since the Year 1680.

The excerpt reads 


End Quote 

This idea of someone’s blood on another’s head was very common and was used as frequently around this time as it was to say that someone’s blood was on another person. 

Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an heiress by Frances Burney or Fanny Burney was published in 1782

This is a short excerpt - just one sentence - but it sums up the usage quite well. 


Should his blood be on my hands, wretch as he was, never will my heart be quiet more! 

End Quote,+Memoirs+of+an+heiress&printsec=frontcover  

This is a good example of someone placing that blame on themself while using the phrase. And this is a great early example of the phrase being used without explanation. 

The next item we are going to look at may be disturbing to some. The article discusses war machines, mass casualties, and civil unrest. 

This is from the Wexford People out of the County Wexford, of the Republic of Ireland. The article The Wexford Election is from the Tuesday 17 July 1883 edition. 


End Quote 

In the March 15, 1912 edition of The Wheeling intelligencer out of Wheeling, West Virginia, is an entire section titled Blood on Your ….followed by a blank line… to indicate readers should “fill in the blank” These are all from a recent speech presentation that had taken place at a town hall type of meeting. This takes up a full page and also states that is continued from the first page. That’s a lot of real estate in a newspaper. Here is the excerpt. 


End Quote   

This article includes a series of segments like this one, all with some version of the phrase Blood on Your Hands. The usage of this phrase seems to have only grown over time. And things are not slowing down as we move into modern times. 

But before we get to our modern uses we want to say thank you to our sponsors…

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get 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 does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

We’re going to start with the TV Show Bones.

Bones is a character who is well-known for her very literal interpretation of things and also literal statements without much realization for how it might affect the feelings of others. In her case it is a social disorder that often was used as a source for humorous moments in the show. Here is one scene where this comes into play. I’ll be reading the lines of several characters and I will read their name first. And this is from the 2011 episode The Hole in the Heart. A colleague was shot and killed by a bad guy with a sniper rifle. 

Dr. Camille Saroyan : He meant to kill you.

Special Agent Seeley Booth : I'm the one who gave Vincent the phone. Told him to pick it up.

Dr. Lance Sweets : You didn't know. I mean there's no use...

Special Agent Seeley Booth : I don't blame myself, Sweets. I blame the guy who pulled the trigger.

Dr. Lance Sweets : Okay.

Dr. Temperance 'Bones' Brennan : You still have blood on your hands.

Angela Montenegro : ...Booth, she - she means literally. 



ARCH ENEMY released the song Blood On Your Hands in 2008. This is from the album Tyrants Of The Rising Sun. This is rock with a bit of screaming. 

Some of the lyrics include 


At the end of all this hatred lies even deeper hate

Their darkness has defeated you

Your lifeline running backwards

Remember, sins of our fathers

A requiem, for the countless dead

Blood is on your hands

The wages of sin

End Quote 

You’ve Got Blood on Your Hands is a song by Sator from the album Under The Radar, released in 2011, originally in Sweden. Here are some of the lyrics.


You’re in sticky situation

But you say it’s not your fault

Ain’t got no moral obligations

No you don’t wanna hold that thought

You didn't want the revolution

You didn't ask for the war

And all of this confusion

You just can’t take it anymore

OOOH-It’s all nothing to you

OOOH-But you don’t understand

OOOH-That you’re part of it too

OOOH-And you’ve got blood on your hands

End Quote 

On Etsy, there is a piece for sale called Blood on Your Hand. It is described as 

A creepy silver hand with a 2.5 mm faceted garnet set in the center.  

This is in the shop Missy Industry silver jewellery out of Montreal, Canada.




The book Blood on my hands: A surgeon at war by Robert Hillman was published in 2010.

Here is the publisher’s synopsis:


In 1999, scenes of Milosevic's 'ethnic cleansing' play out on television screens all over the world; haunted figures huddled behind barbed wire fences, bodies heaped in ditches. Leaving his wife and son in Adelaide, Craig Jurisevic flies to the Balkans under the auspices of the International Medical Corps. His determination to put his skills to the best possible use leads him closer and closer to the frontline, and deeper into danger. Blood on My Hands, co-written with award-winning author Robert Hillman, tells a story of terrible suffering, of extraordinary heroism, and of the savagery that lies coiled in the human heart.

End Quote 

Author Willo Davis Roberts’ book Blood on His Hands was released in 2014

The overview from the publisher reads


Somewhere in the distance, behind him, Marc heard a hound baying. He hesitated, breathing hard, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, straining to hear better. The hound bayed again, a lonely, fearsome sound. Marc Solie is on the run. He has been for what seems like forever, though it's been less than two years since his little sister died and his family fell apart, since he started running from his pain and despair and pure, desperate loneliness. This time it's different. Marc's not just running from himself this time; he's running from the cops. Marc's done something bad. He's not sure how bad -- maybe as bad as murder. Marc's only chance is to get to his father. His father will know what to do, how to get him out of this mess. But Marc hasn't seen or talked to his father for months, and he's not really sure where he is. So Marc keeps running -- following Interstate 5 north from northern California to Washington, hoping to find him. With only a runt dog named Rat for companionship, Marc has time to reflect on the last two years and come to grips with how his life has changed. For the first time, Marc begins to see how he's responsible for his own actions, and despite any wrongdoings to him, ultimately he's accountable for his life. As Marc sees this truth, he's finally able to stop running and face up to what he's done. Blood on His Hands is a gripping, taut novel about one boy's journey to manhood.

End Quote 

Wrap up...

This is not a lighthearted phrase, so it definitely makes it difficult to fit with our comedic style. However, this is a very common phrase that certainly has no indication of going anywhere. It serves a purpose in our language. Assigning responsibility without giving a breakdown of the specifics that lead to that blame or direct cause. It can be somewhat wide ranging but simultaneously has a very direct meaning. There is no confusion intended when someone uses this phrase. Without hesitation, this phrase places the entirety of responsibility for a death or deaths on a person or group. So while this isn’t one that I’ll plan to use a lot… I do think it is sticking around. 



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


Poll time! 


In a recent poll, we asked Patrons

“What's the best live-action/animated hybrid movie of all time?”

We tried to find something from many different decades, and these were the contenders:

The Three Caballeros (1944) - It stars Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles, and Jose Carioca as well as Latin American phenoms Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz, Carmen Molina.

Mary Poppins (1964) Stars Julie Andrews as everyone’s favorite magical nanny.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) Stars Angela Lansbury and tells the fantastical story of 3 children who were evacuated from London during WW2

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Stars Bob Hoskins as a PI investigating an underperforming actor, who also happens to be an animated rabbit.

Space Jam (1996) Stars basketball phenom Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Toons in a life and death basketball game against the Monstars. 

With nearly unanimous support, the winner was… Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 

Dan Pugh

My kids say the answer is Mary Poppins. I'm mostly inclined to agree, but I also remember seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit when it first came out and thinking - WOW. So I just had to vote for Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit. 


I also chose Mary Poppins out of this group!


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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