Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Episode 155: Look on the Bright Side Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 155: Look on the Bright Side

Record Date: April 30, 2022

Air Date: May 4, 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

Do you ever find yourself in a mood? Or feel like things just aren’t going quite right? Do you ever just have a bad attitude? Sometimes we may need to change our circumstances or find support from an expert. Occasionally, we find that it isn’t our situation that needs adjusting but our outlook. At those times, a shift in perspective can alter how we see our life and how we approach things. Some people use this idea as an entire life philosophy: stay positive, remember to look on the bright side


Look on the bright side means to find the positive aspects of a situation, to be in good spirits despite difficulties, or to highlight the good when things are mostly bad. 

Oxford English Dictionary provides the definition of to look on the bright (also positive, etc.) side as,


to be optimistic or cheerful, esp. in the face of difficulties. 

Frequently in imperative.

End quote

meaning it is often used as a sort of call to action or instruction by the speaker. 

Now, this has been in use since the late 1700’s, however it was sort of around before that. An earlier version is listed separately in dictionaries because it was used just slightly differently than the simpler form we see now. 

Oxford English Dictionary shares the phrase

to look on - or to - the bright - or dark - side of (something) means:

to consider a positive - or negative - aspect or facet of (something, esp. a situation or event); 

also, to regard (something) with optimism - or pessimism.

This version was seen in print in the mid 1600’s. In this form, it was used to contrast the positive and negative. So sometimes the negative was highlighted as a reminder. 

One early reference is from the work published in 1663 titled: 

The Second and last collection of the late London ministers farewel sermons preached by Dr. Seaman, Dr. Bates, Mr. Caryll, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Venning, and Mr. Mead ; to which is added a farewell sermon preached at Dedham in Essex by Mr. Matthew Newcomen ; as also Mr. Lyes sermon at the conclusion of the last morning-exercise at All-hallows in Lumbard-street, being a summary rehearsal of the whole monthly-lectures.

This quote comes from Thomas Brooks’ sermon,


Look as well on the bright side, as on the dark side of the Cloud; on the bright side of Providence, as well as on the dark side of Providence.

End Quote;firstpubl2=1670;rgn=div1;singlegenre=All;sort=occur;subview=detail;type=simple;view=fulltext;q1=bright+side 

I enjoyed the cynical nature of this next quote. It is from the 1787 work by Johann Kaspar Riesbeck titled Travels through Germany, in a series of letters; written in German by the Baron Riesbeck, and translated by the Rev. Paul Henry Maty, late Secretary to the Royal Society, and Under Librarian to the British Museum


It is very true, that when you look on the dark side of them only, great cities seem a disgrace to humanity.

End Quote 

How about some just really solid advice? Let’s take a look at the 20 May 1853 edition of the Cork Examiner out of County Cork, Republic of Ireland.


End Quote 

The next excerpt comes from the story Headingham Manor which was published serially in The Parochial (Oxford parochial) magazine in 1861.


End Quote 

The book Self-raised - Or, From the Depths. A Sequel to Ishmael; Or, in the Depths by Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was published in 1876. Here is part of a conversation between two characters. 


End Quote 

In the late 1800’s we start seeing the phrase in ads like this one from the 03 June 1897 edition of the Newbury Weekly News and General Advertiser out of Berkshire, England.


End Quote 

In the 5 January 1900 edition of the news publication Young Woman out of London, England, there is a section providing a series of ideals women look for in a man when considering what they find attractive.


End Quote 

A short piece titled Look on the Bright Side was published about staying positive as a people in the 23 November 1917 edition of the Bradford Weekly Telegraph from Yorkshire, England. 


End Quote 

In the October 05, 1939 edition of the Evening star out of Washington, DC is a cute bit from the comic Sonnysayings.

End Quote 

In a lifestyle article titled How to be an Optimist found in the Evening star March 20, 1955 edition out of Washington, DC, we find this call to action, 


End Quote 

I think we’ve got the idea down of how this phrase has been used over time. 

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


Perhaps one of the more well-known uses of this phrase was created by the indefatigably humorous Monty Python

The song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life was originally released in 1979 as a part of the Life of Brian soundtrack. Here are some of the lyrics: 


Some things in life are bad

They can really make you mad

Other things just make you swear and curse

When you're chewing on life's gristle

Don't grumble, give a whistle

And this'll help things turn out for the best


Always look on the bright side of life

Always look on the light side of life

If life seems jolly rotten

There's something you've forgotten

And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing

When you're feeling in the dumps

Don't be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing


Always look on the bright side of life

End Quote 

Another song that I thought had a nice message is by Never Shout Never  titled On the Brightside and was shared on YouTube in September 2009

Here are a few lyrics:


I met a man of two feet tall

This man was quite ambitious

In a world that is so vicious to us all

I said, "Hi," as he replied

He said, "Listen to these words

That I have lived by my whole life

"You're only as tall as your heart will let you be

And you're only as small as the world will make you seem

When the going gets rough and you feel like you may fall

Just look on the brightside - you're roughly six feet tall"

End quote 

Found on Saatchi Art 

One piece is an Oil on Canvas Painting by Michael McEvoy titled Look On The Bright Side 

The second piece that drew my eye is the Wood on Wood Sculpture Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life created by Thomas Will Whittaker. 


Anne on Twitter says,


“on the bright side look at all my cool sweaters”

End quote 

Nellie Spence shared an image of a lovely big red barn with the following,


“Our poor little WI barn was no match for some recent ND strength winds… but on the bright side, look at this beautiful new roof!!”

End Quote 

Wrap up...

I have some mixed feelings about this phrase. I think I like some of the older versions that encouraged people to consider the positives and negatives. Taking a balanced approach is healthier and more realistic. It can help one make better decisions. That being said, I’m also a huge fan of Mr. Rogers and I feel like he’d want us to see the positives whenever we can. Don’t ignore the things that need to be fixed… but focus on the good when possible and it makes for a happier day. For the times when this isn’t an option, let’s try to support one other. You know, be one of the helpers. And then maybe you can be someone else’s bright side. 



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 with our Patrons, we asked: 

Which childhood game(s) did you enjoy?

We put a few options out there, like Jump rope, Hopscotch,Hula hoop. Tetherball and Red rover. I have no idea why we didn’t include tag, a game that’s had forms of it being played since the 100s CE.,History,other%20by%20flipping%20a%20shell

Anyway, jump rope and hula hoop were the most popular, followed by hopscotch and tetherball. 

Coming in last, the only one not quite as popular as the others, was Red Rover. 


I’ll admit that I never really like Red Rover much. It just didn’t seem very nice. 


I liked Red Rover, because it was one of the games I would actually get my name called for. Of course, they only yelled for the weak folks cause they didn't want anyone busting through the line. But I didn't realize that. I just liked getting picked for a change.

Our Dean of Learning Mary shared, 

I absolutely loved tetherball and could play all day long if they would let me. I was really good at hula hoop, but I can't do it any more. We played games everyday in our neighborhood, especially games we learned in music class.


Other games I remember enjoying quite a bit were

 … statues, capture the flag, and foursquare.


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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