Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Episode 154: Stir the Pot Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 154: Stir the Pot

Record Date: April 24, 2022

Air Date: April 27, 2022



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

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

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

Have you ever worked or gone to school with someone who is always causing trouble? Maybe they argue with people all the time. Maybe they challenge everything. Those people might enjoy dissent as a form of entertainment. Or they could just learn more when they go against the status quo. But either way, we might describe them as someone who likes to “Stir the Pot”.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, stir the pot means


to cause trouble, esp. to provoke others vicariously; to incite conflict or controversy. Also in later use: to challenge the status quo.

End Quote

The first attestation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is from the Caledonian Mercury in the Saturday edition 3 June, 1826 out of Scotland. Though it should be noted the same meeting was also recorded in The Scotsman newspaper on the same day. But the microfilm from the Caledonian Mercury is in the public domain and the microfilm from The Scotsman is not, so maybe that’s why the Caledonian Mercury gets top billing with the OED. It’s certainly why we used images of it in our show notes rather than the other.

In any case, they were reporting on a meeting regarding Highland Schools. 


End Quote

Side note: You may know the term croupier (croup ee ay) as the person who collects money and pays bets at a gaming table. But in this context, it is being used as one at a public dinner party who sits at the lower end of the table and acts as the assistant chairman. So here, the croupier is what we might call the “vice-chair”.

We know the two players, the Chairman, Principal Baird and the Croupier, or Vice-Chairman, Dr Chalmers.

Dr Chalmers gives a toast to Principal Baird and says:


End Quote

He continues on in the toast to Principal Baird a little later with


End Quote

I wasn’t certain if the phrase stir the pot was being applied in a positive or a negative meaning here, but we get clarification in Bairds response.


End Quote

The Principal went on to talk of pepper and butter as flavorings, then moved to a more serious tone in thanking everyone for their support and work. 

I’m sure this is not the first time someone used the phrase, but it is the first time we see it in print, according to the OED. And searching through many newspaper and book archives, it was also the first time we found it in print - at least in a figurative usage. In this first case, it was being used to challenge the status quo. You may recall at the top of the show, OEDs definition asserts that challenging the status quo was a later development; however, it appears to be used that way from the first time we see it. 

Here’s one from 1845. This is from The Albion, a free-speech newspaper out of Liverpool, in the Monday 17 Nov 1845 edition. It’s from an article called

It is structured with a series of thoughts, each starting with the words, I Think”. This one is from the 5th out of 11 of such thoughts.

His spicy allusion to cayenne, plus his agreement with Mr. Rathbone that David is NOT the man, helps us understand he is using “stir the pot” as creating trouble, rather than challenging the status quo. 

This is one of the few citations I could find that using “stir the pot” as a means of someone just causing trouble - rather than challenging the status quo. At least until the mid 1900s.

This next one is from 1886. And it’s important-context to remember we didn’t have the internet back in 1886 <citation needed> so if you really wanted to share your opinions to random folks you only had a few options.

One of them was to put it in the newspaper. This one is from the:  

<Griggs County, Dakota Territory, USA in what is now North Dakota>

In this case, the pot is presumed to be the “melting pot”, a term applied to America due to its mixing of different cultures. But, as this unnamed person seems to imply, despite our mixture of races and cultures, many of those are underrepresented in politics and many other places in American society. And still are to this day.

In this usage, the author may be using stir the pot to implore us to mix it up a bit, which is closer to challenge the status quo than to cause trouble.

Join me now in the 1900s now as we look at an article from 1902. This one is from the Rocky Ford Enterprise, a periodical out of Rocky Ford, Colorado. 

And one more, this one from 1920 out of the Evening Star 22 October This one is out of Washington DC and is titled Film Board Independent with the sub heading Secretary Resents Inference It Is Controled {sic} by Producers

I think this one highlights where the OED definition of to cause trouble, esp. to provoke others vicariously; to incite conflict or controversy comes from. It is a point of view conflict. Every example we could find is from the angle of challenging the status quo if you are the one doing it, but for those who don’t agree with you, it seems like you are just causing trouble. So I think for this phrase, it depends on who is doing the talking, and whether or not they thought the pot should be stirred, to understand what exactly they mean by the phrase. 

English is fun. 

With that, let’s move to talking about our more modern uses of the phrase. But first… 

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

There have been a plethora of TV show episodes with a variant of “Stir the Pot”. I’ll read a few from a list on

From 1991, an episode of Fifteen

A 2006 episode of Fashion House

A 2008 episode of Survivor

2018 - Blue Bloods

Also 2018 - Teen Mom 2

2019 - Most Expensivest

2021 - Hell’s Kitchen

Each of these, according to their synopsis, seem to use the phrase as someone causing trouble. 

2005 Book

Stir the Pot: A History of Cajun Cuisine is a book written by Marcelle Bienvenu, Carl A. Brasseaux in 2005. The synopsis reads:


Stir the Pot explores how Cajun cuisine originated in a seventeenth-century French settlement in Nova Scotia and came to be extremely popular on the American dining scene over the past few decades. From debunking myths about Cajun cooking to exploring the fascinating place that food holds in everyday life and special occasions in Acadia, the authors present the complex history of this well-loved ethnic cuisine in a most palatable manner. Includes sections on "The Evolution of Cajun Cuisine," "The Role of Food in Cajun Society," and "The Cajun Culinary Landscape" as well as a glossary of terms and extensive bibliographic resources.

End Quote

Here’s a few songs using the phrase

Andrew Rudy has a track called “Stir the Pot” off the 2018 album Gold Blooded.

Here’s what he said about writing the song


Stir The Pot is a phrase that we use in my family to describe when someone is doing something to aggravate or bully someone else. The visual of a steaming, boiling pot being stirred by someone spoke out to me and I decided to write this song. The words are really aggressive and are meant to show that the bullies really don’t know who they’re messing with when they decide to come at you.

End Quote

Here is the chorus


It’s gets under my skin

Don’t start me I’ll begin

Seeing red in my vision

And I would hold myself back

But I do love to attack

You love to stir The Pot

End Quote 

Nate Mullins has song called “Stir the Pot” of the 2019 album Orderly Chaos, which has the lines


Stir the pot, don’t you want to

Make it hot, it won’t haunt you

Want a change, you’ve got to shake it

Rearranged, that’s how we’ll make it

Won’t take this status quo

I try to heal every day

You don’t really want to know

It doesn’t matter anyway

End Quote 

I found a 2021 song by Caroline & Claude called Stir the Pot. The chorus goes


I just like stirring the pot

And I do it quite a lot

Cause there’s nothing better to do

Then to start some shit with you

End Quote

We’ll link to the music video they made for it while in lockdown. 

Here are a few uses of the phrase I’ve seen around the internet:

The first is a fitness activity. According to Beau Beard of Beyond Normal Limits, Stir the Pot is:


A classic core drill that challenges anti-extension based stabilization while creating variability in multiple planes.

End Quote

I’m sure that means something to someone that isn’t me. But we’ll link to a video of Beau showing us how to do the move.

Stir the Pot is also a restaurant in Connecticut, USA specializing in breakfast and lunch. 

And Stir the Pot is a party game. It’s meant to “stir up your game night”. It’s from the creators of What Do You Meme? and the tag line is:


The adult party game that roasts your friends for you

End Quote

Let’s do a quick look at Twitter…

This is a common take on stir the pot in the entertainment sphere where it is meant as causing trouble, which some people love watching drama unfold around them in real time. 

I can’t watch those kinds of shows as it gives me second-hand anxiety so I skip them, but there are many people for whom that is how they unwind. 

Here’s one where K’Hood retweets a controversial take on abortion and parental abandonment, but it has just enough truth in the take that it could make people stop and think. I’m going to translate what K’Hood said about from social media slang she used:

“Let me stir the pot real quick - I don’t got no opinion, I’m tryna see what y’all think”

You can see the full post in the show notes if you’d like. The tweet in question is a little too deep for our whimsical show, but it does challenge the status quo regarding paternal abandonment. 

The last item I’ll share is in a March 17, 2022 article by Joelle Goldstein from titled SNL's Chris Redd Explains Why He Won't 'Stir the Pot' with Pete Davidson and Kanye West Feud.

I think this is a refreshing viewpoint, especially seeing how many people on social media stir the pot to get others riled up for entertainment value. Chris Redd said:


I was raised joking. You clown, you clown people. That's kind of how we come up. We're from the same place. We know the same people, but at the same time, there is a serious layer to that situation that I just won't make fun of… I'm not making fun of his mental health…

End Quote

Wrap up...

On the whole, “Stir the pot” would seem to have two different meanings depending on your agreement with the action or statement in question. If you agree with the action, stirring the pot is usually viewed as challenging the status quo. If you disagree with the action, stirring the pot is usually just causing trouble. And by that logic, “causing trouble” and “challenging the status quo” can frequently be applied to the exact same action, depending on who is watching. While the intention of the person doing the action should probably be the thing that makes the difference, it is often the opinion of the observer that will give it meaning. 

But even that explanation is a bit of an oversimplification, because the truth resists simplicity. Still, being a pot stirrer is sure to be a role that comes with controversy, no matter how pure your intentions might be. 



That’s about all 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! 

Recently, we asked our patrons: What is the best TV Cop Drama Universe?

The options were 3 long-running cop dramas with an extended universe of more than one show.

In 3rd place, CSI

In 2nd place, Law and Order

And the winner, with almost 2/3rds of the vote… NCIS

We also asked Patrons what other cop shows they enjoyed. 

Emily said “Honorable mention to Castle because, Nathan Fillion.


I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only seen a couple of things with Nathan Fillion in it, but I love them all. And the Nikki Heat book series written by the main character of the show, Richard Castle, were similar to the TV show as far as wise cracking but gritty cop procedurals. If you liked the show Castle and like to read, you’ll probably enjoy them. They were ghost-written by Tom Straw. I’ll link in the show notes to an article about Straw once he could reveal he was the writer behind Richard Castle. It’s a pretty good read. 


A couple other cop shows that got mentioned were Criminal Minds, Monk, Psych, Bones, and Life.

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


Words belong to their users. 

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