Finding origin of the word ‘bunny hug’
SASKATOON — It shares its name with a naughty dance move from 1912, and was once also called a “cotton popover” and a “kangaroo sweatshirt.”
What the majority of the Englishspeaking world refers to as the hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie, is known in Saskatchewan as the bunny hug. Now, a University of Saskatchewan student has set out to find out where this puzzling term comes from.
Tyler Cottenie, a 21-year-old linguistics major originally from Yorkton, only recently learned his beloved bunny hug was a Saskatchewanonly phenomenon.
He can still remember the first time he heard the term — at age six, when his mother asked if he’d like to order a bunny hug from a catalogue of apparel his school was selling.
“I remember thinking, ‘What is that?’ Then she told me, and I thought, ‘Bunny hug, man, that really doesn’t make any sense at all,” Cottenie said.
When an opportunity arose this year to research the origin of a word for his History of English Language class, he hopped right on bunny hug.
What he found is that, along with a sprinkling of western Manitobans, bunny hug is recognized and used in lieu of hoodie across much of the province, especially by people in their 40s.
But watch out — the bunny hug could one day be an endangered species, especially in Moose Jaw and southwestern Saskatchewan.
“With younger people, like high school age, it seems to be losing ground all over the place,” Cottenie said.
He surveyed about 50 people across Saskatchewan, and outside its borders in Alberta, North Dakota, and Manitoba, asking if they knew the word, if they used the word, and where their parents came from.
From Estevan to Pierceland, the bunny hug was common currency.
Bunny hug wasn’t able to burrow under borders to the west or south, though. One survey respondent from Lloydminster reported people on the Alberta side of the border city say “hoodie,” while their Saskatchewan neighbours stick with bunny hug. A couple of North Dakota students had never heard the term before.
Then, Cottenie turned to the repositories of Canadian fashion history — dog-eared Eaton’s and Sears catalogues from decades ago.
The hooded sweatshirt first surfaced in the 1959-60 Fall and Winter Eaton’s catalogue, according to Cottenie, as a children’s fleece- lined hooded sweater, but without a distinctive front pouch. The pouch appeared in the next year’s catalogue, and by 1964, the sweatshirts were sold for men, girls, and boys. A similar garment didn’t appear in the Sears catalogue until 1976.
Scanning old U of S and Saskatoon high school yearbooks, Cottenie found no-one was wearing bunny hugs to school until the early 1970s.
Where the term bunny hug came from is still open to interpretation, Cottenie said.
The Bunny Hug is also a sultry dance move that originated in the early 1900s.
“It was basically the two dancers grinding together,” Cottenie said. “I don’t know how that could have a link with this sweatshirt.”
It’s more likely the shirt’s name has a link to the Bunny Hop dance -- a 1950s craze in which people form a chain by wrapping their arms around the waist of the person in front of them.
“That pouch pocket is right where the other person’s hands are, so that seems a little more likely there’s a connection there,” Cottenie said.
His research shows people called the sweaters bunny hugs as early as the 1960s at the earliest, and the phrase seems to have originated in the Prince Albert-Melfort and Yorkton areas, he said.
Other theories on the origin of the term include the resemblance of the points of the bunny hug hood to bunny ears, and that the warm, fleecy lining feels soft like a bunny and wraps around you like a hug, according to Cottenie’s research.
By the 1970s, bunny hug had bred like rabbits and populated the whole province.
Also compelling is how some Saskatchewan people have embraced the words “bunny hug” as an icon of their identity, sparking exchanges of barbs between Saskatchewanians and Albertans, he said.
“It seems like some Albertan people, younger people, when they hear the word . . . they know that it’s a Saskatchewanism, and once they find out, they really don’t like it,” Cottenie said. “I never found that same hostility with Manitobans.”
Weird as it is, Cottenie said he hopes the bunny hug is here to stay.
“We don’t have a lot of things that set us apart in Saskatchewan, really, even from the other western provinces,” he said. “I think it’s good to hold onto these things.”
He plans to pin down a more precise origin of bunny hug, and is asking people to help by filling out his survey at www.geocities.com tylercottenie.