Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Episode 163: Head in the Clouds Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 163: Head in the Clouds

Record Date: Aug 21, 2022

Air Date: Aug 24, 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

This week, we are taking a journey from the Iliad to cloud computing, with stops along the way at Newtonian hypotheses and Astronomy as we track the usage of having your “Head the in Clouds”. 


According to Oxford English Dictionary, Head in the clouds means:


to be detached from earthly matters; to be out of touch with reality; to be dreamy, impractical, or unworldly

End Quote

For most of us, I think dreamy, impractical, or unworldly covers it. But as we’ll talk about in a bit, detached from earthly matters isn’t as figurative a definition as you might think. 

Let’s start off with clouds. We talked a little about clouds when we did a deep dive into On Cloud Nine, episode 47, which aired in May 2019. So I think a quick reminder is in order. 

Cloud has been used in Old English since the 800s. It used to mean a rock or a hill. 

By the 1300s it started to refer to the visible mass of water vapor floating in the sky. 

I found numerous claims that this phrase, Head in the Clouds, was used in the 1600s. But I just could not find evidence of this. The phrase “in the clouds” was used in the 1600s and has a similar meaning, so I think that’s what those sites must mean. Or at least whoever said it first probably meant it and the rest just copied it and never did any of their own research. I don’t want to call any one blogger out, but my advice to you… don’t trust anyone who doesn’t cite their sources. And you can find all our citations in the show notes, available for free at

In the Clouds, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means:


obscure, mystical; fanciful, unreal; above the range of ordinary understanding (generally combining the notions of obscurity and elevation)

End Quote

The OED has an example from the 1651 work of Nathaniel Bacon in The continuation of An historicall discourse, of the government of England, untill the end of the reigne of Queene Elizabeth


The reversion is in the Clouds, but the right of inheritance much more.

End Quote

The first couple of times I could find “Head in the Clouds”, the phrases are focused on the “to be detached from earthly matters” usage. 


Iliad of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope.


End Quote

Here is another, citing the figurative usage in a book of Astronomy.


End Quote

By the 1800s, the uses of Head in the Clouds and In the Clouds had mostly married up to mean mystical, out of touch with reality, dreamy, or impractical.

Here one from 1821 that comments on the importance of politicians - in this case specifically the Governor of Illinois. It seems to be asking for the impossible, if American politics - especially those out of the State of Illinois which has, I believe, 2 former Governors still in jail - are to be included in the judgment. 

Here are a few words of wisdom. I’ll read one or two, but if you want to hear more of them you can join us in the Behind the Scenes video on Patron. 

Here’s a paid spot by Popular Science Monthly, a news picture magazine of science and industry, warning that innovation will take some time after the war has ended (WWII). It is both a statement trying to temper expectations as well as a warning to returning veterans not to buy into get-rich-quick schemes with their hard earned money. 

In addition to “head in the clouds”, I found some examples with “head in the air” ranging from the late 1800s to today, and just like “in the clouds”, I found some examples of  “in the air” from the mid 1700s to the mid 1900s. 


In the air 

One quick note before we head to our modern uses, back in the 1700s, contemporary to the head in the clouds as a “detached from earthly matters” usage, there was one that meant to convey an unfathomable size. This was often used with the concept of the head in the clouds and the feet on or beneath the Earth. 

Here is an example from the 1712 work:

This statement is specific to Madame Dacier’s notes:


And in truth, can it be with more Grandeur and more Majesty expressed, that Discord, which generally has but very slender Beginnings, increases of a sudden, so as to move with her Head in the Clouds, and her Feet upon the Earth, and that she reigns throughout the Universe? This Hyperbole is so far from being extravagant, it is on the contrary very sage, and says no more than what passes in this very Poem, wherein we see Discord, arise from a very small Occasion, and reigning at the same time both in Heaven and upon the Earth.

End Quote

Here’s another, this one from 1739, from Sir Isaac Netwon’s Philosophy, explained for use of the Ladies, in six dialogues on light and colours. Volume 1. From the Italian of Francesco Algarotti.

Wow, Francesco. Explained for the ladies? Gross. 

The title mentions six dialogues. This is from the Third Dialogue, which is several particulars relating to Vision, Discoveries in Optics, and a confutation of the Cartesian system. 

This is in continuation of the thought that the most enormous sizes we have may become infinitely small when compared with an order of greatness infinitely superior. 


Okay, with that little tidbit out of the way, I want to take a moment 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

2004 Movie

Let’s kick off with a movie from 2004, Head in the Clouds. This one starred Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, and Stuart Townsend. 

Here’s the synopsis from


From the roaring 1920s to the ruinous Spanish Civil War and Adolf Hitler's rise into power, the lives of an Irish schoolteacher, a provocative heiress and her Spanish muse are intricately interlaced, sharing the same destiny and passion.

End Quote

2010 Book

Head in the Clouds is a 2010 book by Karen Witemeyer. Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:


Adelaide Proctor is a young woman with her head in the clouds, longing for a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she interviews for a staid governess position on a central Texas sheep ranch and vows to leave her romantic yearnings behind.

When Gideon Westcott left his privileged life in England to make a name for himself in America's wool industry, he never expected to become a father overnight. And five-year-old Isabella hasn't uttered a word since she lost her mother. The unconventionality of the new governess concerns Gideon--and intrigues him at the same time. But he can't afford distractions. He has a ranch to run, a shearing to oversee, and a suspicious fence-cutting to investigate.

When Isabella's uncle comes to claim the child--and her inheritance--Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect Isabella from the man's evil schemes. And soon neither can deny their growing attraction. But after so many heartbreaks, will Adelaide be willing to get her head out of the clouds and put her heart on the line?

End Quote

2016 Book

Here’s another book, this one from 2016. Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts are So Easy to Look Up by William Poundstone. 

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon referencing the paperback released in 2017:


More people know who Khloe Kardashian is than who Rene Descartes was. Most can't find Delaware on a map, correctly spell the word occurrence, or name the largest ocean on the planet. But how important is it to fill our heads with facts? A few keystrokes can summon almost any information in seconds. Why should we bother learning facts at all?

Bestselling author William Poundstone confronts that timely question in Head in the Cloud. He shows that many areas of knowledge correlate with the quality of our lives -- wealth, health, and happiness -- and even with politics and behavior. Combining Big Data survey techniques with eye-opening anecdotes, Poundstone examines what Americans know (and don't know) on topics ranging from quantum physics to pop culture.

Head in the Cloud asks why we're okay with spelling errors on menus but not on resumes; why Fox News viewers don't know which party controls Congress; why people who know "trivia" make more money than those who don't; how individuals can navigate clickbait and media spin to stay informed about what really matters.

Hilarious, humbling, and wildly entertaining, Head in the Cloud is a must-read for anyone who doesn't know everything.

End Quote

2018 Music Festival

On May 7, 2018, Sean Miyashiro, the founder and CEO of the mass media company 88rising, announced their inaugural music festival called "Head in the Clouds" which would take place at the Los Angeles State Historic Park on September 22, 2018. With the announcement, the collective of artists under the label would also release a group album with the same name to accompany the festival. The album featured appearances by Yung Bans, BlocBoy JB, Playboi Carti, Verbal, and more. 

The music festival is still continuing, with the 2022 locations in Los Angeles, USA, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manilla, Philippines. 

2021 Song

Head in the Clouds is a song by Hayd off the 2021 EP Changes. Here is the chorus:


We had our heads in the clouds

Thought we had it all figured out

Planning to fly away

To escape everything on the ground

But like a plane up in space

We slowly drifted away

And every plan that we made

And dream that we chased

Are just memories now

They're just memories now

End Quote 

This is a good song. I actually want to point out a different line that kinda got me little. It’s something I wish I had a better understanding of when I was younger. 


I just wish we weren’t scared to say

That there’s expiration dates on the friends you make

As hard as that may sound

End Quote


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! 

This was a simple question: Star Trek or Star Wars. You can only pick one.

We didn’t give any other context, you just had to pick one. 

And the winner among our Patrons, with 86% of the vote, was, drumroll please…

Star Trek. 


I was a huge Star Trek nerd in my childhood. I remember getting Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda for Christmas 1994. I memorized it. I was insufferable about Star Trek knowledge. I think the reason I liked Star Trek so much more was because I kept seeing new content. The Next Generation was airing weekly, and later Deep Space 9 was airing alongside it. Star Wars, in those days, was mostly just 3 movies that I’d seen a dozen times over. And when Generations came out in ‘94, I didn’t even think of Star Wars again until the end of ‘98 when Phantom Menace advertising started. So Star Trek has always, and likely will always, hold that top spot for me. 


My family - all my siblings - loved Star Wars. And I think because I spent time with other people who loved it so much, I gained a natural appreciation for the original trilogy. We collected buttons as a family and all sorts of things. But Star Trek was my true love. It was the culture and the people for me. The world that was portrayed was incredible. There were so many concepts explored in ways that other things seemed to ignore. Most other shows I remember seemed to provide someone else’s views as the correct, right thing. As a contrast in Star Trek, ideas like value and beauty and roles in society were presented in a manner that asked questions. And I’ve always liked things that make me think. 


As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part in our polls. Head over to to take this week’s poll!



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


Words belong to their users. 

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