#englishonthesideThursday, April 13, 2017
Who’s that bunny?
For the Herald
Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying (1) rabbit who sneaks into (2) homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of coloured eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko (3), but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field (4). And, despite the centuries-old association between this holiday and the big-eared animal that's come to serve as its chief symbol, few ever pause to ponder (5) what connection a rabbit might have with the religious holiday. But then again, who has time to ask such questions when there's free chocolate just lying around for the taking?
If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense (6). Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honour of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear (7) to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.
As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practise some good salesmanship (8) by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).
The pagans hung onto (9) the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of coloured eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side-effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)
Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched (10) in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).
The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did (11) actual (12) bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars’ worth (13) of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint (14). According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.
Adapted from a story by Matt Soniak, Mental Floss
See “A chicken and egg situation” below
“sneak into” (2)
“To sneak into” a place is to enter it quietly, furtively and in secret, usually without permission. They tried to sneak into the disco, but they were stopped by the guards / They sneaked out by the back door.
A very informal term to refer to a person whose behaviour is strange and different from that of most people, because it is eccentric or irrational. The adjective counterpart is “wacky.” Wacky Stamford inventor breaks world record for fastest bumper car.
“comes out of left field” (4)
If something comes out of the left field, it comes from an unexpected place and it has nothing to do with the matter discussed. Your remarks came out of left field. I can't understand your complaint.
If you say that a person or an idea is out in left field, it is unusual, eccentric, or not effective, as in What a strange idea! It’s really out in the field. This idiom alludes to baseball and to the ballparks’ left field, which seems to be home to more balls than right field thus causing general confusion.
“To ponder” is to think carefully about something, to consider especially deeply. She sat back to ponder her next words before he said anything else.
“make a little sense” (6)
If an idea or person “makes sense,” they are easy and clear to understand. This last paragraph doesn’t make any sense / He never makes much sense when he speaks about his future plans. Another meaning of this phrase is “to be reasonable or practical;” and in this other sense, it may be used in connection with not only ideas but people and their actions as well. It makes sense to find out about the weather before planning a day outdoors.
“near and dear” (7)
If something or someone is “near and dear to” you, they are very important, you treasure them a lot. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart as a teacher and a parent. “Near and dear” by itself is an expression referring to those who are near to your heart and dear to you — that is, your loved ones (friends and family.)
Among the many senses that the suffix “-ship” adds to different nouns, the one embedded in “salesmanship” is “art, skill.” Thus, salesmanship is the skill of selling, the ability or effectiveness in presenting an idea persuasively. They are using the last word in political salesmanship to gain more support for their next move.
“hung on to” (9)
The literal sense of “hanging onto” something is to keep it. You should hang onto that painting — it might be valuable.
Something that is firmly, solidly fixed in a place, literally or figuratively, may be said to be entrenched there. The adjective comes from the military term “trench,” which is dug into the ground for defensive purposes. He was safely entrenched behind the facts / Non-discrimination should also be entrenched in policies at every level / Well-entrenched decisions are unlikely to be overturned.
“as did actual bunnies” (11)
Inversion after “as” in this string is obligatory, since the use is for comparison and the meaning of the conjunction is “in the same manner.” Motivation, behaviour and attendance all improve, as do results / Mr President, I too would like to address the basic issue, as did the previous speaker / The lighting will be updated, as will the paint on walls and ceilings.
We’ve tackled the issue of “false friends” in English. A very common mistake in Spanish learners of the language is to take the word “actual” for “current” or “present;” in fact, these last two words should be used when you need to describe something that is happening at the present time. Is the present / current situation really any different from many others in the past? We’d also like to remind the reader of the “actual” (real) sense of the word “actual.” The adjective means “existing in fact, real,” and it is only attributive, i.e. it only appears before the noun it modifies. The predicted results and the actual results are very different. You also use “actual” to emphasise that the object or person you are talking about is a genuine one or the real one. This is the actual room in which my grandfather was born.
“millions of dollars’ worth” (13)
One of the trickiest words in the language, “worth” is here used as a noun. As such, in this particular case, it is preceded by a money figure (with genitive “s”) to show how much we would get for something (if we sold it), as in Thieves made off with 10 million dollars' worth of art pieces.
The writer of the article is asking us to “squint” in order to look better, to look with our eyes partly closed in order to see more clearly. The sun was shining straight in her eyes and made her squint / She lifted her sunglasses to squint at him / When the eye doctor presented the eye chart, he had to squint to read the last line.
A chicken and egg situation
When it comes to traditions, the older a tradition is, the more difficult it becomes to make out its origin and how it has come to be kept in so many cultures and communities throughout the centuries. In some cases, it is a “chicken and egg” situation. This idiomatic expression containing the word “egg” is quite transparent because we use this image quite frequently to refer to a situation in which it is impossible to say which of two things existed first and which caused the other. I don’t know whether I was bad at Math because I did not like it or I did not like it because I was bad at it.
It is interesting to see how, like many other elements of ordinary life, an egg is also used in figurative language to describe and illustrate different situations.
If you “put all your eggs in one basket,” you risk all your resources in a single venture, as in Do not invest all your savings in a building endeavour. It’s better not to put all your eggs in one basket. On the other hand, taking risks and giving up something is sometimes necessary to get something useful. In such a context, somebody might tell you that you “cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.” However, this latter expression does not mean to risk as much as “to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” i.e. to destroy something that is profitable to you. Those attitudes have led to the current situation where overfishing is emptying the oceans and destroying marine ecosystems – killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
If you are trying too hard to improve a situation by going too far in embellishing or exaggerating and you spoil it in the attempt, you may be “over-egging the pudding.” If you’re telling white lies, keep them simple – never over-egg the pudding.
“Laying an egg” is what a hen, for instance, does when they deposit an egg. This is also used metaphorically when a person does something bad or poorly, resulting in total embarrassment or in total failure, usually in front of an audience. The cast laid an egg in both performances / He laid an egg as the romantic hero.
So, this year, as you bite into your chocolate egg (or bunny!), we’d like to “egg you on” to look up more instances of the figurative sense of the word “egg” in the language and “as sure as eggs are eggs,” your competence will be – as usual – enhanced.