Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Episode 167: Goosebumps Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 167: Goosebumps

Record Date: September 24, 2022

Air Date: September 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 seen, read, or heard something and gotten those little bumps on your arm? The ones that make your hair stand on end? Sometimes it can happen when we get cold, but often it happens when we experience a strong emotion like fear, arousal, or a sense of awe. The technical term for this is piloerection, or horripilation. But you have probably heard it called, goosebumps. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. 


Let’s get the medical side of things out of the way before we jump into the history of the word and its predecessors.

First question: What are goosebumps?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, Goosebumps are 


A condition in which there are raised spots on your skin because you feel cold, frightened, or excited

End Quote

They also note alternate names for this such as goose pimples and gooseflesh, and goose skin - all of which seems to be in use before goosebumps.

Second question: Why do we get goosebumps?

For this one, I’ll turn to research by Yulia Shwartz et al. 

Et al is an abbreviation for a Latin phrase that means “and others”. It is often used when citing work that is done by three or more people. In this case, the paper has 10 people on it, so I mentioned the first name listed on the paper, and then said et al instead of listing the other 9 by name. 

So this team published in the journal Cell, as in cells of the body, in the August 2020 edition called “Cell types promoting goosebumps form a niche to regulate hair follicle stem cells”.

Great work by Shwartz et al, but I’m gonna need a science communicator to help me bring it to my level. For that, I’ll turn to Sharon Reynolds, writing for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. 

This study was broken down into an easier to read form in the NIH Research Matters, July 28, 2020, in an article called “What goosebumps are for” by Sharon Reynolds:


Even though humans have evolved to have relatively little body hair, we still produce goosebumps when cold. Goosebumps occur when tiny muscles in our skin’s hair follicles, called arrector pili muscles, pull hair upright.

For animals with thick fur, this response helps keep them warm. But it doesn’t do so for people. Still, this ability to make goosebumps persists in humans and other animals that don’t have enough hair to retain warmth.

End Quote

She goes on to say:


Based on these results, the researchers proposed that the muscle cells form a bridge between the nerve and the stem cells in the hair follicle. In this way, goosebumps might play two roles: They cause hair to rise in the short term and trigger more hair growth by the stem cells in the long term.

To test this idea, the researchers compared mice exposed to either cold or normal room temperatures. The cold exposure first caused goosebumps, then boosted activity in the sympathetic nerves and an increase in norepinephrine. Mice exposed to the cold started to produce new hairs from their stem cells in less than two weeks.

End Quote

And one more statement, this one from Dr. Yulia Shwartz, the first author of the study:


It’s a two-layer response: goosebumps are a quick way to provide some sort of relief in the short term. But when the cold lasts, this becomes a nice mechanism for the stem cells to know it’s maybe time to regenerate new hair coat

End Quote 

So it seems goosebumps, back when we had much more hair on our bodies, were meant to help us warm up by bristling our hair. But it also may have help us to grow more hair. 

With that explained, let’s jump into the phrase itself. As I mentioned before, goosebumps has many forms, and some of those precede this term. The oldest usage for the phenomenon is horripilation. I found the Latin version of the word in a book printed in 1511 and attributed to Clementa Clemintini and another in a book printed in 1565 attributed to Galen. Galen died in the 200s, so it is difficult to know just how the attribution would be accurately applied for something printed 1300 years after his death. Did he use the Latin version of horripiliation? Or did whoever made the copy for print use that term for something Galen described? I’m not a Latin linguistic historian so it’s hard to tell how long the Latin language was using this term.

The first example I found in English was in A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues. Compiled by Randle Cotgrave and printed in London by Adam Islip, 1611


Horripilation: A sudden quaking, yearning, shuddering, shivering, or quivering; also a growing rough with hair.

End Quote

And it is a safe bet that anything showing up in the dictionary is something that was being used by some group.

The first time I could find this phenomenon being compared to geese is in the 1600s with the term goose skin. The transition appears to be used because horripilation on the human skin looks much like that of a goose’s skin after it has been plucked. Here’s an example of that type of allusion in  A Compendium of physick, chirurgery, and anatomy, Second Edition - By William Salmon, Professor of Physick. This was printed in London in 1681. 

This is talking about the effects of cold on the human skin.


End Quote

In this example, it isn’t calling the effect “goose skin”, rather it is saying the effect is like a goose’s skin. 


Here is another similar example out of The History of Cold-Bathing, Both Ancient and Modern, Sixth Edition by Sir John Floyer and Dr. Edward Baynard. Printed in London 1732. 


End Quote

I include these because it lends credibility that the effect looking like a goose skin is why it eventually began to be called goose related terms. 

But why goose and not any other bird that has the same reaction to being plucked? I’ll turn to a 14 Dec 2010 piece in The Guardian, written by Oliver Thring. He says:


It's like we're meant to eat goose at Christmas. Evolution has designed the bird so that it's tender and ready to eat at eight or nine months old, and since it hatches in spring, now is the best time to savour it. The goose is a solar bird, and the tradition of eating it is as old as the pagan sun festival on which Christmas piggybacked when it reached these islands. When the harvest is done, geese could historically roam over the stubble-plains and fatten on fallen corn, the windfall apples could be made into sauce, the dried sage was perfect for stuffing. There's a strange and happy synchronicity to the roll of the seasons and the rumble of the stomach.

End quote 

So perhaps the fact that many in Europe had access to these geese following the harvest during times of great thanksgiving led to everyone knowing what goose skin looked like after it was plucked.

So let’s look at some of these goose-related terms. Up first, 

Morning Advertiser out of London, England - 11 Nov 1806

In a letter to the Editor talking about the gloomy weather of November and wearing appropriate clothing


The best principle for regulating the quantity and kind of covering appears to be, that there should be enough to prevent an habitual sense of chill, and the goose-skin contraction upon every change in the medium

End Quote 

London Packet and New Lloyd’s Evening Post 18 October 1826

From an article called Mr. Abernethy, On the Treatment of Phlegmonous Inflammation, where he speaks on the bracing effects of cold


In changes of the action of local diseases there is a shuddering or horripilation, as we call it; goose skin is produced, and teeth chatter.

End Quote 

First time we start seeing Goosebumps

I think I remember hearing a similar complaint from one of our County Commissioners a few years ago when we were looking into similar things. According to a quick online calculator, $300,000 in 1903 would be roughly 10 million today.

Which does seem like a lot of money. But you know what isn’t a lot of money? Becoming a Patron of the arts with Bunny Trails. 

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

1969 Song

I’ll kick us off with a song written by Beatles legend John Lennon called Cold Turkey. It was released as a single by the Plastic Ono Band in 1969. Here is the second verse of that song.


My body is aching

Goose-pimple bone

Can't see no body

Leave me alone

My eyes are wide open

Can't get to sleep

One thing I'm sure of

I'm in at the deep freeze

End Quote 

1982 Play

Next up is a play called Goose Pimples by Mike Leigh. It was originally staged in 1982 and found a callback in 1998. Goose- Pimples looks at upwardly-mobile working classniks in early 1980s London. 

1992 Book Series

From 1992 until 1997, author R.L. Stine wrote 62 books in his children’s horror fiction series called Goosebumps. It spawned several spin-off book series as well as a TV show and a Feature Film. The mascot of the series is Slappy the Dummy who was the main villain in the Night of the Living Dummy saga. 

1995 TV Show

The TV Show Goosebumps ran from 1995 to 1998 and featured many of the books as episodes. R.L. Stine himself introduced 12 of the episodes. 

2015 Movie

Sony Pictures released the movie Goosebumps starring Jack Black in 2015. We’ll link to the trailer in the show notes and on Patreon. Here’s a synopsis from the description of that trailer.


Upset about moving from a big city to a small town, teenager Zach Cooper finds a silver lining when he meets the beautiful girl, Hannah , living right next door. But every silver lining has a cloud, and Zach’s comes when he learns that Hannah has a mysterious dad who is revealed to be R. L. Stine, the author of the bestselling Goosebumps series. It turns out that there is a reason why Stine is so strange… he is a prisoner of his own imagination – the monsters that his books made famous are real, and Stine protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their books. When Zach unintentionally unleashes the monsters from their manuscripts and they begin to terrorize the town, it’s suddenly up to Stine, Zach, and Hannah to get all of them back in the books where they belong.

End Quote 

I’ll wrap up this Goosebumps talk with the sequel to the movie in 2018 called Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, in which an unpublished manuscript is found by some kids and the whole mess starts over again. Jack Black again reprises his role as R.L. Stine. 

2016 Song

Travis Scott has a song called Goosebumps featuring Kendrick Lamar off the 2016 album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.


I get those goosebumps every time, yeah, you come around, yeah

You ease my mind, you make everything feel fine

Worried 'bout those comments, I'm way too numb, yeah

It's way too dumb, yeah

End Quote 

It’s been a while since I’ve done this, but To the Twitterverse!

I like seeing what’s on social media when there are multiple versions of a word so I can get a feel for how the word is being used throughout the English speaking world. And it turns out, all of the versions are still being used today, though some more commonly than others. 

Here’s one from 8 April 2022, talking about a performance by Dee Dee Bridgewater

19 Sep 2022

22 Sep 2022

This one is about the 5 Seconds of Summer album, stylized as 5SOS5.

And there were tons of examples using Goosebumps, ranging from the popular book/tv/movie series to political movements across the world. Here is an example from 24 Sep 2022

Wrap Up

Almost all of the versions I found on social media were speaking to the emotional causes of goosebumps, not as a reaction to feeling cold. But I think that’s because telling someone you were so cold you got goosebumps doesn’t hold much weight, but telling someone you had an emotional reaction that caused goosebumps allows the reader to compare what you experienced to things in their life that have caused goosebumps for them. If I tell you a reading of a poem by Nikki Grimes gave me goosebumps, you can relate that to the goosebumps you got when Captain America summoned Thor’s hammer in Endgame. Even if poetry isn’t your thing, or super heroes for that matter, you understand the things that give you goosebumps. And can, for a moment, feel a little of what the speaker is feeling. Goosebumps can be an equalizer for feelings. And I think that is beautiful.


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


It’s poll time!

Recently, we asked our Patrons if they had any tattoos or piercings. 

25% said they had tattoos, but no piercings and another 25% said they had both tattoos and piercings. A full 50% said they didn’t have either. 

It should be noted that some folks said they marked it as not having either, but they did used to have piercings. They’ve just let them close up. 


Ah, that makes sense. I didn’t word the poll question very well. This is why if you want good results, get a professional to help you!


Dan, do you have any tattoos or piercings?


I’m in the camp of tattoos but I do not now, and have never had, any piercings. My one tattoo is on the inside of my left forearm with 5 chemical symbols, all hormones that are released during certain human emotions. I have a pretty good idea for my next two, but I have to balance my desire for art on my body with the fiscal responsibility of keeping the lights on and food in the fridge. How about you?


Yes, for me. On both. And more than one of each. More piercings than tattoos, but I have plans to correct that ratio with more ink. Piercings… my ears are double pierced with the first two gauged - just a little, though. My left ear has a cartilage piercing. And my nose is pierced… Tattoos right now - forearm and a back tattoo that is actually two pieces and covers about 50% of my back. 

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. 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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