July 14, 2009

Bunnyhug?...You mean a hoodie, right?: The curious case of the Bunnyhugs of Saskatchewan

What comes to mind when you think of the word bunnyhug? Bunnies hugging? A child making a big mistake and trying to hug a wild rabbit? For those in Saskatchewan it has come to denote that common teenage attire known in the rest of North America (when I use the term North America, I am using the local usage and definition from Fowler's Modern English Usage meaning the United States and Canada together) as a hooded sweatshirt or hoodie. I had not heard of this until a friend of mine from Saskatchewan was talking about her bunnyhug and I thought she might be mentally unstable (I'm sorry if you're reading this). It just so happens that it is the common term for hoodie there...even so far as having police officers in SK (from the Canadian, nonviolent version of Cops) use the term.

In trying to find the origin of the term most of what I initially came across was rather angry arguments on facebook and urbandictionary.com that led me to the conclusion that people who call the article of clothing a bunnyhug and those who aren't are...expletives I can't repeat here.

Even the government funded CBC Radio 3 had no answer:

Tonight On Lanarama: Bunny Hug?
Posted by Lana Gay on Mar 19, 2008
24 comments | » Post a Comment
Since Easter is quickly approaching I thought, "You know, I really need to go hug the most giant rabbit in the universe, while wearing a Cosby sweater."
On Lanarama I take pride in knowing I promote deep and political conversation. Past profound topics include "Which greasy spoon is the best in Canada?" and "What is your favourite song that incorporates animals?", well tonight on Lanarama, another in-depth discussion incorporating an infamous Canadian debate:
Is a hooded sweatshirt a "Hoodie" or a "Bunny Hug"?
I don't know where this Bunny Hug fiasco began, but according to R3 host, Amanda Putz, it began in Saskatchewan. R3 Graphics superstar, Ahmed, added that his girlfriend, Deanna, thinks that "calling a hooded sweatshirt a hoodie is a ridiculous affectation." Might I also add she is from Saskatoon, and apparently has street cred.
In addition to Saskatewanians, my friend from Winnipeg has been known to use both terms. I, on the other hand, think that calling it a bunny hug may lead children to think hugging a rabbit is a smart idea. It is not, as I learned in 1988 at Colasanti's Petting Zoo. I almost lost my left eye to a rabbit's claw of fate. Bunny's aren't noisy for a reason, they are secretly plotting their revenge against your retinas.
What is your verdict? Let the bunny hug versus hoodie battle begin!
Where did the origin of Bunny Hug come from? Do you think it dates back to the fur trade? (According to Wikipedia, it's a dance move)
To help us out Carbon Dating Service will attempt to provide the answers with Canadian Dictionary: Bunny Hug. As well, songs from The Local Rabbits, Handsome Furs and the Phonemes "Easter Suit".

I did however come across an article in the StarPhoenix and the Bunny Hug Project Website.

I even came across official University of Saskatchewan Bunny Hug with the definition displayed proudly on the front (top picture).

It is a definite conversation piece and has gained popularity with being recently seen on "facebook". The front of the bunnyhug quotes and footnotes the Oxford Canadian Dictionary's definition of the "bunnyhug" and on the Left sleeve the title "University of Saskatchewan" appears in white screen print. The men's and women's bunnyhug has a front hand pouch and a shoelace drawstring from the hood. The navy bunnyhug is a fitted female hooded sweatshirt. *(When ordering the ladies' XXLarge you will be shipped the equivalent sizing, a men's medium). It is 80% cotton and 20% polyester. Machine wash in cold water, do not bleach, do not dry clean, tumble dry on low, wash with dark colors, cool iron if required.

This product currently CANNOT be shipped to the following locations:
United States of America

From other commentary it seems that Saskatchewanians are proud of their mysterious, homegrown, linguistic oddity.

Here is the StarPhoenix report and the Bunny Hug Project Website

Bunny hugs fit province perfectly
Unique moniker for hooded sweatshirt may be Sask.-only term

Janet French
The StarPhoenix

Monday, April 16, 2007

CREDIT: Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix
Tyler Cottenie, a U of S linguistics student, says using the term bunny hug when referring to a hooded sweatshirt appears to be a uniquely Saskatchewan practice
It shares its name with a dance move from 1912, and was once also called a "cotton popover" and a "kangaroo sweatshirt."

What the majority of the English-speaking world refers to as the hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie, is known in Saskatchewan as the bunny hug. Now, a University of Saskatchewan student has decided 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 Saskatchewan-only 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 Saskatchewan, especially by people in their 40s.

But watch out -- the term 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 as a children's fleece-lined hooded sweater, but without a distinctive front pouch, according to Cottenie. The pouch appeared in the following 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 formed 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, 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 populated the whole province.

"It's weird that it spread through the entire province so quickly," Cottenie said. "It's almost like it had to be in a catalogue or something that had a lot of currency in the province."

Also compelling is how some Saskatchewan people have embraced the term bunny hug as part 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."

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 on to 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.


© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Thank you for your interest in my research on the origin and spread of the word "bunny hug".

This word (although it is spelt with a space it is in fact a single compound word) first piqued my interest sometime in 2005, when I first heard that it was only used in Saskatchewan. How could this be possible? Was it used anywhere outside the province, in neighbouring Manitoba or Alberta? Was it used everywhere in Saskatchewan or only in parts? Surely its spread would not fit in the perfect rectangle delineated by our borders; or could it? This question is what prompted my initial investigation.

I first did a Google search for all references to the article of clothing (not the dance). Most of them were quite obviously from Saskatchewan sites - from schools, Corner Gas, etc. There were a few exceptions though, and I e-mailed these people to ask them where they had learnt this word. All of them reported having learnt it from a Saskatchewan resident. For example, one person was in L.A. but had gone to school in B.C. and lived with a Saskatchewanian roommate. It was hard to believe, but it seemed upon first glance that it might really be a true Saskatchewanism.

Fast forward to the 2006/7 school year. In my History of the English Language class, ENG390, I had the opportunity to do a "word study" paper. Immediately I remembered my peculiar initial findings about "bunny hug" and I realized that this was my chance to do some more serious research.

My research involved yearbooks, newspapers and catalogues from the '50s to the '70s and consulting with people knowledgeable in the history of fashion and the hooded sweatshirt, but most heavily relied on questionnaires. These questionnaires use people's living memory to ascertain where the word is used now, where it is not, and where in Saskatchewan it seems to have been around the longest, i.e. where it may have originated. It also asks for any ideas as to why it has this name. This latter question is still unanswered.

While the paper is handed in, the research is far from over. I would like to add to my several dozen survey responses. If you are interested, I would appreciate any responses to this questionnaire. This applies to all people, of all ages, wherever you are from, wherever you live now, whether you use/understand the term "bunny hug" or not. The more responses, the more complete the picture!

UPDATE: The question of why it has this name is still unanswered. The research on where it originated has turned up interesting leads. Several people have informed me that they used the word when they were young (in the '60s) in Eastern Canada. This makes me think the word might have appeared in a national publication of some kind - a national newspaper, a national catalogue, or even on CBC radio. I would like to obtain survey responses from Easterners in their late 40s and older, and I would like to do more research in archived catalogues. I searched the Sears and Eaton's catalogues from 1958 onward but found nothing. Perhaps I missed it, or perhaps it's in some other publication. In any case, the research is suspended for now as I'm living in Taiwan and have no access to such things.

Here now is the questionnaire. I left a lot white space just in case, but don't worry - it's short and simple. Thanks for your help!


  1. I think I know where the term comes from historically, heard it a few years ago, but the survey link doesn't work. Not sure if you want me to answer it here or not, let me know!
    Chris Eliason, Outlook, SK

  2. This seems to be great site for clothing Men’s hoodies,Men's Board Shorts and much more.I had been relying on http://www.togga.co.uk/ earlier and they too offered good stuff.

  3. You might want to take a look at this page, displaying a vintage knitting pattern for a "bunnyhug shrug".


    1. Close up of the actual item is on this link.


  4. A cocktail from the time of the Bunny Hug dance craze. Interesting because Al Capone hid out in Saskatoon during Prohibition and supplied the area with bathtub liquors for cocktails.


  5. Wow great pattern thanks, was looking for the perfect gift to make and this is it. Amazing it’s really informative article for me

  6. It may still be a mystery, but a least it is now formally being preserved and promoted here:
    Bunny Hug

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  10. The hoods with their hoodies would just be a bunch of sissies in bunnyhugs in Saskatchewan, esp. in minus 40 degree weather, ha ha....