Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Episode 231: Law of the Jungle / It's a Jungle Out There

This week Shauna and Dan delve into two similar phrases, Law of the Jungle and It's a Jungle Out There. And yes, we talk about Kipling and Disney again. Bonus: Dan becomes an art critic. Shauna fails to choose a fruit.

Remember to drink respectfully.

Copyright 2024 All Rights Reserved

Click to read more


Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 231: Law of the Jungle / It’s a Jungle Out There
Record Date: April 12, 2024
Air Date: April 17, 2024


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
The world can be a scary place. We all feel it at times. Trying new things or breaking into a new community can be a daunting idea. It can be difficult to know who to trust. After all, it’s a jungle out there.


The phrase "It's a jungle out there" is a colloquial expression used to convey the idea of a challenging, unpredictable, and often harsh environment.

This phrase is one of many which rely on the word jungle to give meaning. Jungle is a relatively new word to the English language, becoming a common term beginning around the late 1700s. The Oxford English Dictionary shares this definition and background for the word jungle,
In India, originally, as a native word, Waste or uncultivated ground (= ‘forest’ in the original sense);
then, such land overgrown with brushwood, long grass, etc.; hence, in Anglo-Indian use:

Land overgrown with underwood, long grass, or tangled vegetation; also, the luxuriant and often almost impenetrable growth of vegetation covering such a tract.
End quote

Using the word jungle to refer figuratively to challenging circumstances is a logical step. Many people in the English-speaking world had not seen a jungle in person at the time the word was introduced to them. They learned about jungles from writings, stories, and sometimes sketches or paintings. They heard of densely packed trees, bushes, vines, grasses… truly difficult terrain made up of plants - many they’d never seen before. Tales described lands of fascination, wonder, danger, mystery, and fierce animals - more ruthless and terrifying than most had encountered in their own lives.

Not surprisingly, it took less than a century for the term jungle to evolve into a metaphor for challenging, unpredictable, dangerous, intimidating, or chaotic circumstances in everyday life.

The use of jungle in a figurative sense started being used in print around 1850. Here is that definition from Oxford English Dictionary.

Jungle - transferred and figurative
A wild, tangled mass. Also, a place of bewildering complexity or confusion; a place where the ‘law of the jungle’ prevails; a scene of ruthless competition, struggle, or exploitation;
esp. with qualification, as
blackboard jungle in schools,
asphalt jungle, concrete jungle in cities.
End quote

One early citation comes from the 1850 writings of Thomas Carlyle titled Latter-day Pamphlets.

Before I read the excerpt, I feel it’s important to understand another term Mr. Carlyle uses.

This is an idiomatic term that refers to the adherence to overly rigid formal rules or laws. It can also refer to bureaucracy that hinders or prevents decisions being made or action being taken. Using the term redtape implies that a set of rules or a process are getting in the way of things being accomplished. These things are often related to societal efficacy, ethical or moral issues, and so on… but can also be regarding simple tasks that are made much more challenging by seemingly unnecessary steps. The term typically refers to a government, corporation or large organization.

Most of us will experience this at some point in our lives and some of us on a regular basis. Mr. Carlyle shared this lasting commentary,

What a world-wide jungle of redtape.
End quote

This is an excellent example. There is no question that this usage is not describing a jungle locale. Instead Carlyle is commenting on the difficulty, confusion - and possibly, the danger - of navigating the challenges of cutting through redtape.

As we found with other terms, it is likely that people were using jungle figuratively in conversation prior to this example.

There are two primary phrases that are based on jungle in this figurative sense.

I introduced "It's a jungle out there" in our opening. Another well-known phrase is "the law of the jungle".

Both of these phrases rely on the metaphorical significance of the jungle environment, but they seem to have come into the English language as independent phrases that continue to coexist.

"It's a jungle out there" is more recent and unfortunately, it’s origin is rather murky. It sort of happened organically. We’ll touch on it a little more later on.

The phrase "the law of the jungle" is simpler to pin down. The terms law and jungle are unique, making it easier to search in historical documents. This phrase also came about from the concept of the jungle being a wild and unpredictable place and shows up in print in the late 1800s.

The first reference we are going to look at appears in the April 22, 1878 edition of the Cincinnati Commercial out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.
LONDON, April 6, 1878.
In previous letters I have stated my conviction that there will be no war between England and Russia. The present situation is menacing enough to stagger that apparently optimistic opinion, but not to overthrow it. It may be that before this letter reaches you the die will be cast. If it be in favor of war it will be the triumph of all the baser elements in Europe - law of the jungle overwhelming the forces of civilization.
End quote

A section titled New Literature in The Boston Daily Globe November 28, 1892 out of Boston, Massachusetts, features brief reviews of several new works. One of the reviews contains the phrase, Law of the Jungle. The review ends with,
The author very correctly states the materialistic dilemma when he says, "If there is naught but matter and force, and these exist without any directing or co-ordinating mind, then all things are without intention and without reason. There is nothing good or nothing bad. Nothing is right or wrong." It is also very clearly shown that the vanishing idea of the "survival of the fittest" as an explanation of humanity "may be a law of the jungle, but is not of the social realm.”
End quote

The phrase Law of the Jungle was popularized by an author that many are familiar with. Rudyard Kipling used it in several writings with the most popular being his 1894 novel, "The Jungle Book".

Today, the law of the jungle refers to the idea of the natural order of survival, where only the fittest and strongest individuals thrive, and it's often used metaphorically to describe ruthless competition and the absence of ethical considerations.

Rudyard Kipling described his idea of the law of the jungle in his writing published in the St. Nicholas Magazine January 1, 1894 titled, Mowgli’s Brothers. His idea was slightly different from how the phrase is used today and described the animals communicating with one another and having their own rules. Here is an excerpt,
‘Shere Khan, the Big One, has shifted his hunting-grounds. He will hunt among these hills for the next moon, so he has told me.’

Shere Khan was the tiger who lived near the Waingunga River, twenty miles away.

‘He has no right!’ Father Wolf began angrily —‘By the Law of the jungle he has no right to change his quarters without due warning. He will frighten every head of game within ten miles, and I—I have to kill for two, these days.’
End quote

The tale goes on to describe how Shere Khan intends to anger the villagers in the wolves' territory in order to incite human retaliation against the wolves.

This story, Mowgli’s Brothers, is quoted or reviewed repeatedly that year and the years following. Rudyard Kipling’s novel The Jungle Book was published that same year, 1894 and Mowgli’s Brothers is the first section of the novel.

When searching for the phrase law of the jungle leading up to 1893 there are very few results. However, in 1894, the same search provides dozens ,even hundreds of results. Kipling’s writings bolstered the phrase’s popularity considerably.

Following this, the phrase was used in a variety of ways and was often compared with the idea of natural selection or brutal competition. It transitioned pretty quickly into being used to simply refer to ruthlessness in situations. Let’s look at a few uses of the phrases in the 1900s.

In the February 22, 1937 edition of the Evening star out of Washington, D.C., the phrase appears in the comic Little Orphan Annie in the episode titled Help Police! By Gray.

End quote

This was a common theme at that time - criminals who had broken the more heinous rules of society were suggested not to deserve the normal societal consequences.

The Associated Press used the phrase in a story in February 18, 1949. This was shared in various newspapers.

Scott to Use “Jungle Law” in Attacking Democrats
NEW YORK, Feb. 18. - Republican Chairman Hugh D. Scott, jr., promises to attack the Democrats "with hammer and tongs, using the law of the jungle and the - claw."
End quote

That’s what we have for the phrase law of the jungle in historical references. But what about It’s a jungle out there? Well, this phrase is actually rather recent. Until the last few decades, it’s been more about referencing the jungle in terms of the urban jungle and other metaphorical and figurative phrases. So we will see this phrase more in our modern uses.

Alright, we’re ready for our modern uses, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon. And the cool thing about Patreon is it is 100% free to join the Bunny Trails community!

We have new things every weekday on the feeds. On Monday’s we have a conversation about what movies, shows, books, podcasts and whatever else everyone is enjoying, Tuesday see early access to the weeks podcast, Wednesdays have all the links, books, songs, and other content mentioned in the weeks episode, Thursday has patron’s only polls, and Friday’s are our lightly-edited behind the scenes video featuring all the cut content, goofs, and bonus facts you could imagine.

We’ve got some other pretty cool stuff, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by ME, and direct access to talk with us. No algorithm’s getting in the way of what we see or don’t see. Plus, you can get awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

You can join the Bunny Trails community for free at bunny trails pod on Patreon.


Modern Uses

We are going to start with a song. This song has been a huge contributor in popularizing the phrase It’s a Jungle Out There.  

Monk Theme Song
The TV show Monk first aired in 2002. According to IMDb,
The series follows Adrian Monk, a brilliant former San Francisco detective, who now consults the police as a private consultant whilst battling with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
End quote

In 2003, the second season, the theme song changed to It’s a Jungle Out There by Randy Newman.

It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
End quote

We’ll share a link to a later recording of the song. It is the official audio of the song by Randy Newman from his 2017 album Dark Matter.

I loved this show. And the song perfectly captures Monk’s experiences as well as the concept in general that people experience. There was another episode that featured a favorite of mine…

Mr. Monk and the Rapper was a 2007 episode featuring Snoop Dogg.
The Monk channel on Youtube shared the video, Monk & Snoop Dogg Rap Here's What Happened.

In this scene, Snoop and Monk end up creating their own fantastic moment… the soundtrack for the episode includes Snoop performing the song It’s a Jungle Out There.

The animated movie Rio 2 uses a play on words in one of its songs. Here’s the description from IMDb

It's a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel, and their three kids after they're hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel and meets his father-in-law.
End quote

From the Rio 2 Soundtrack - the song It's a Jungle Out Here by Philip Lawrence includes the lyrics,

You've got to stand tall
Even when you're small
You've got to sing loud, when they tell you not to talk
You need to believe that you were born to be free
You've got to let go of all your fear
Cuz' it's a Jungle Out Here
End quote

The phrase Law of the Jungle continues to be used regularly and is the more popular of the two phrases. But it’s mostly the same concept being repeated and is fairly negative. So I’m just going to use this one example from modern times.

The book Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who'd Stop at Nothing to Win was published in 2015 as written by Paul M. Barrett

The gripping story of one American lawyer’s obsessive crusade—waged at any cost—against Big Oil on behalf of the poor farmers and indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest.
End quote

It's A Jungle Out There! (The Rani Adventures Series) by Ron Snell was published in 2008
Here is a synopsis,
Book One of the Rani Adventures begins with Ron Snell's birth as the eldest child of missionary parents living in the rainforests of Peru. Colorfully depicting what it was like growing up in such surroundings, Snell has captured a wide-ranging audience ranging from homeschool children to senior citizens. "I wouldn't trade my childhood for any other," Snell writes. "Conceived in the Amazon rainforest, I learned to walk and talk among the Machiguenga Indians who, to this day, call me "Rani". "The 'Machis' were my first babysitters and friends. From them I learned to tie a house together, eat monkeys and macaws, and make dugout canoes. They laughed at my log rides down rampaging rivers and caught exotic pets for me. Life was one great adventure after another. After all, what could be more fun than perching in thorn trees at night to escape a herd of stampeding pigs? "The Machiguengas adopted me and my family into theirs. As they touched our lives we discovered what it would cost us to touch theirs. "I hope this first book of the Rani Adventures will bring you laughter, tears and a new perspective on the old cliche: 'It's a jungle out there!' “.
End quote

It’s A Jungle Out There
Is a Serigraph by Margaret Keane.
It’s 27 x 34” which is fairly large for this type of print which done by using a screen. It’s pretty impressive. It shows the scene of a city scape but the foreground is completely covered in wild animals.  

Keane Eyes Gallery boasts the largest collection of Margaret Keane's art.

It's A Jungle Out There #3
Acrylic on canvas, three in a series of jungle theme.
by Wendy Lewis


Wrap up:
People are drawn to the phrase "It's a jungle out there" because it effectively captures the feeling of navigating through life's challenges. Its appeal lies in its vivid imagery and relatable sentiment, offering a concise and memorable way to express the complexities and uncertainties of modern life. Additionally, the phrase resonates with individuals facing competitive or chaotic environments, providing a shared language to articulate their experiences. Overall, its popularity stems from its ability to succinctly encapsulate the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

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 Patreon, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we asked our Patrons, Fruits or Vegetables?

And we have 100% agreement from our Patrons, fruits are best! As Jan said, no scurvy for us!

We also asked you to share the way you enjoy them.

Jan says

Limes. I just eat them straight up.
End Quote

I do that too, on occasion, but it’s usually immediately preceded by tequila and salt.


JGP shared
It depends on the season for me. Even with commerce the way it is these days the kind of fruit available (and how it tastes) can vary wildly depending on the time of year.
End quote

I completely understand that sentiment. I have a preference for produce that is harvested when ripe and very fresh. That said, I’m a lover of pretty much all fruits and vegetables, even the weird ones. My favorite changes from season to season and just randomly… cherries, blueberries, strawberries, mango, banana, kiwi, oranges, pineapple, dragon fruit… those are probably my most-frequently purchased when available fruits. Asparagus and brussel sprouts are great grilled. But my kids like to say that my favorite foods are crunchy water which mostly means celery and cucumbers.

Bananas are my favorite fruit. I also love cherries. I like them... raw? Uncooked? Both of those seem an odd way to describe them. Anyway, I like apples if they have been cooked and I like bananas baked into a bread as well. Pineapple is really good when it is fresh, but I've never found good pineapple in the midwest. And citrus fruits for flavor on many dishes are amazing.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But they are fun. 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment