Wednesday, June 19, 2024

RETRO 135: Cool as a Cucumber

 RETRO: Shauna and Dan take a cool drink of gourd water this week as they explore the phrase Cool as a Cucumber. We learn Dan abhors cucumbers unless they've been drowned in vinegar and he dislikes some of the previous words for cucumbers. It seems some old-timey folks disliked them, too. Bonus discussion: is cereal a soup?

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
RETRO Episode 135: Cool as a Cucumber

RETRO Record Date: June 16, 2024
RETRO Air Date: June 19, 2024

Original Record Date: December 4, 2021
Original Air Date: December 8, 2021

6 and half years and 239 episodes and we’ve finally come to this. It’s a tough thing to say, but I messed up. I spent my entire research time on an episode we’ve already done. So we’re going to be releasing the RETRO version of what I was mistakenly researching, which is episode 135, Cool as a Cucumber, that originally aired December 8, 2021.

I discovered my mistake when going through the process and our show notes popped up in one of the searches I was doing. And after reading the show notes, it turns out Shauna did a pretty good job with the top half research. There are two things I want to note. First, when Shauna noted the first attestation in 1730 was a poem/song, we mistakenly implied it was written by the person who published the book. But the songs and poems were all written by different people, and the one we mention, A New Song on New Similes is by John Gay. We’ll look more into the song in our behind the scenes available on Fridays at - but you’ll get the relevant part in the show.

And this next one isn’t necessarily wrong. We just don’t have any primary research to verify it. In the episode, we quote a reputable source that the cucumber is 20 degrees F cooler than the ambient temperature. And there are tons of seemingly reputable websites saying this. But we have not been able to find actual evidence of that. What I did find, when spending all my time researching something Shauna has already done, is a biophysicist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Vermont who wrote an article in April 1948 edition of The Atlantic. How Cool is a Cucumber? by Lorus K. Milne seems to cast doubt on the inherent coolness of cucumbers.

Science is wonderful. It measures everything. Even the proverbial coolness of a green cucumber comes in for evaluation and explanation. The cuke, it seems, is not particularly notable for low temperatures. Its real coolness comes from the refrigerator, not the garden, for only the shade of the vine’s leaves out of doors keeps it from getting hot on a summer day.
End Quote

He then spends the rest of the article talking about the temperatures of other things, like lettuce, tomatoes, robin eggs, and maple trees. But he doesn’t, unfortunately, tell us anything else about cucumbers. So kind of a 1948 clickbait headline.

So still, we don’t know.

Before we jump into the show, we want to say thank you to our Patrons, including Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez. We couldn’t do the show without our Patrons. If you want to join the Bunny Trails Community but your budget doesn’t allow for it, we have a free option that gets you tons of cool stuff. Check us out at

And now, episode 135, Cool as a Cucumber.  

Bonus Bonus

A New Song of New Similes by John Gay, ~1730

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can't forget her;
For, though as drunk as David's sow,
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I'd be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

Like a stuck pig I gaping stare,
And eye her o'er and o'er;
Lean as a rake with sighs and care;
Sleek as a mouse before,

Plump as a partridge was I known,
And soft as silk my skin
My cheeks as fat as butter grown;
But as a groat now thin!

I, melancholy as a cat,
And kept awake to weep;
But she, insensible of that,
Sound as a top can sleep.

Hard is her heart as flint or stone,
She laughs to see me pale;
And merry as a grig is grown,
And brisk as bottled ale.

The God of Love at her approach
Is busy as a bee;
Hearts, sound as any bell or roach,
Are smit and sigh like me.

Ay me! as thick as hops or hail,
The fine men crowd about her;
But soon as dead as a door nail
Shall I be, if without her.

Straight as my leg her shape appears,
O were we join'd together!
My heart would be scot-free from cares,
And lighter than a feather.

As fine as fivepence is her mien,
No drum was ever tighter;
Her glance is as the razor keen,
And not the sun is brighter.

As soft as pap her kisses are,
Methinks I taste them yet;
Brown as a berry is her hair,
Her eyes as black as jet:

As smooth as glass, as white as curds,
Her pretty hand invites;
Sharp as a needle are her words;
Her wit, like pepper, bites:

Brisk as a body-louse she trips,
Clean as a penny drest;
Sweet as a rose her breath and lips,
Round as the globe her breast.

Full as an egg was I with glee;
And happy as a king.
Good Lord! how all men envy'd me!
She lov'd like anything.
But, false as hell! she, like the wind,
Chang'd, as her sex must do;
Though seeming as the turtle kind,
And like the gospel true.

If I and Molly could agree,
Let who would take Peru!
Great as an emperor should I be,
And richer than a Jew.

Till you grow tender as a chick,
I'm dull as any post;
Let us, like burs, together stick,
And warm as any toast.

You'll know me truer than a dye;
And wish me better speed;
Flat as a flounder when I lie,
And as a herring dead.

Sure as a gun, she'll drop a tear,
And sigh, perhaps, and wish,
When I am rotten as a pear,
And mute as any fish.

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 135: Cool as a Cucumber
Record Date: December 4, 2021
Air Date: December 8, 2021


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 a group of words and try to tell the story from their entry into the English language, to how they are used today.

Dan are you cool?

But like, how cool are you?

Are you as cool as a cucumber?


Cool as a cucumber is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as
“very calm or very calmly, especially when this is surprising:
Example: She walked in as cool as a cucumber, as if nothing had happened.”
-End Quote

How do we get to this phrase at all? Why does it make any sense? Let’s start with the word cucumber. According to Oxford English Dictionary, the cucumber has been in use in English since the late 1300’s. It’s first attested use is in an early version of the Wycliffe Bible published in 1382 with the definition, quote:
“ 1. A creeping plant, Cucumis sativus (family Cucurbitace√¶), a native of southern Asia, from ancient times cultivated for its fruit:”
-End quote

The phrase itself doesn’t show up for a bit, but there are some pretty decent theories as to why the phrase was started. shares this definition of the phrase, quote:
“Calm and composed, self-possessed, as in Despite the mishap Margaret was cool as a cucumber. This idiom may be based on the fact that in hot weather the inside of cucumbers remains cooler than the air.”
-End quote

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shares information about various Florida products. On the page concerning cucumbers, the various health benefits and fun facts are included. It begins, quote:
“Cool as a cucumber” isn’t just a catchy phrase. The inner temperature of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature due to the cucumber's high water content.”
-End quote

As is often the case, this phrase seems to have shown up in the lexicon well-before it was used in print. Before deciding on cucumber as the official correct spelling of the word, other versions existed, most commonly cowcumber.

In the 1675 book A Directory for Midwives: Or, A Guide for Women By Nicholas Culpeper, there is a weird side-commentary on this word, quote:

-End quote

When even the pronunciation of a word is being called out as vulgar, it is a reasonable guess that various phrases using the word may be seen as scandalous.

The first time we find the phrase in print further hints that it was in use for some time before being printed.

The first attestation of cool as a cucumber in print comes from a collection of songs published by and for John Watts in 1730. The work is titled:
The Musical Miscellany: Being a Collection of Choice Songs Set to the Violin and Flute · Volume 4

From the piece A New Song of Old Similes, we find these lyrics, quote:

-End quote

According to Oxford Languages, the word pert is an adjective meaning, quote:
    “(of a girl or young woman) attractively lively or cheeky.”
-End quote

The book The Life and Adventures of Commonsense: An Historical Allegory By Herbert Lawrence was published in 1769. In it, we find the following excerpt, quote:

-End quote

From the December 18, 1826 edition of the Phoenix gazette, out of Alexandria [D.C.]., we find the following quote:

-End quote

By the early 1900s, our phrase was being used in advertisements such as one from The Pensacola journal from July 07, 1916, out of Pensacola, Florida. Quote:

Here is another ad in The Dermott news, August 14, 1919 edition out of Dermott, Arkansas. Quote:

-End quote

We just love selling to people’s vices, don’t we?

How are we using the phrase today? We’ll find out…

But, before we get to our modern uses, we’d like to take a short break to say thank you to our sponsors...

A Quick Thank You

This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons.

And speaking of our patreon, we’d love your support! Tiers start at $3 a month, which gets you our polls and community only discussions, early access to the podcasts, 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 and Mary Halsig-Lopez do every episode. Because they are awesome!

We also have higher tiers available. Whatever your budget, you can help create Bunny Trails week after week to continue this educational artform.

We are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. That’s

Modern Uses

First up we have the song Cool as a Cucumber by Stephen Bryan. It was released in 2015 and it’s this sort of folksy? Maybe a spoof song. Anyway, the lyrics begin, quote:
I saw her standing in the produce section
She looked so fresh and good, she got my attention
Well, she took a tomato, she picked up a peach
She might be a little bit out of my reach
But I’m cool… as a cucumber
-End quote

Perhaps my favorite thing I found is only about cucumbers, but everyone who shared it knows it’s the coolest. This is a song by the artist and activist Macka B. Macka B, is a British-born Jamaican reggae artist, performer and activist with a career spanning thirty years in the United Kingdom and Jamaica. He released the official music video Cucumba To Di World which premiered on youtube on August 7, 2020.

The book Cool as a Cucumber by Sir Michael Morpurgo was published May 10, 2017. The synopsis reads, quote:
At first Peter isn't too keen on his teacher's plan to dig a vegetable garden to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Then he starts to dig up some interesting things – a huge worm, a big beetle, bits of china … and what looks like a giant cucumber but turns out to be something a lot more exciting!
-End quote

To the Twitter… normally, I would shared who said what and tag them, but today I’m just going to share the quotes. These are people responding amidst what seem to be either arguments or at least slightly heated discussions.

So our idiom is alive and well and still be used a lot today!

This is one of those idioms that really makes absolutely no sense on its own. Unless you’re familiar with cucumbers, you won’t know that they’re that cool. Even then, what does a person mean by “cool”. I kinda love it, though. It’s a chill phrase. My favorite part of this idiom is the scientific fact that cucumbers really are cooler than the air around them. It’s awesome!

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 - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page!

This week, I’d love to hear whether you think you are as cool as a cucumber?

Poll time!

In a recent poll, we asked Patrons the yes-or-no question: Is cereal soup?

66% of respondents say “No”

One Patron, Jan, points out.
“Don’t the nutrition details show with milk and without milk?

Yes. But without the milk it definitely doesn't seem like soup. So with the milk is probably the only way it would even make sense as a question.

Multi-time New York Times Bestselling Author John Green eats his cereal with water instead of milk. Which we declare to be gross. But I guess he can do him.

I knew a foreign exchange student from Germany who poured Coca-Cola on his cereal. Which I feel the same about as I do water. But I haven’t drank cows milk in ages. Due to some food allergies we switched to almond milk over a decade ago. Which is really just almond pulp and water. So maybe I shouldn’t be so judgy.

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 in the thread!

<Dan, Start Outro Music>

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

Words belong to their users.


An Apology for the Life of Mr. T......... C....., Comedian
Being a Proper Sequel to the Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, ... Supposed to be Written by Himself. …
By Colley Cibber · 1740

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