Find­ing ori­gin of the word ‘bunny hug’

Regina Leader-Post - - Front Page - By JANET FRENCH Saskatchewan News Net­work

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.geoc­i­ tyler­cot­te­nie.

Tyler Cot­te­nie

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