Exciting things in containers

Updated: Mar 4

A general preference for the concept of exciting things in containers may be necessary to explain how commonly the concept appears in the affairs of animals. Hot, fluid, chaotic, bright or otherwise exciting things captured in or associated with hands, cans, bottles, houses, boxes, barrels, pockets, saucers, boats, hats, socks, pots, wells, mouths, caves, pits, tunnels, cages and other enclosure or container-like items are a theme that recurs frequently in language, culture and fantasy.

Expressions of interest, apparently evolving in response to a general bias favoring excitement in containers, include “a mixed bag,” “lightning in a bottle,” “bag of tricks,” “bag of wind,” “bag of weasels,” “breathing room,” “can of worms,” “barrel of monkeys,” “in the dog house,” “shooting fish in a barrel,” “a bird in the hand,” “spill the beans,” “barn storm,” “hot house,” “ants in your pants,” “antsy pantsy,” “let the cat out of the bag,” “a rat’s nest,” “shaking in my boots,” “a pot to piss in,” “packing heat,” “house flipping,” “catch heat,” “catch breath,” “catch fire,” “catch air,” “spinning in his grave,” “clown car,” “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” "shout fire in a crowded theater," “burning a hole in my pocket,” “a bull in a china shop,” “to hell in a handbasket,” “a bucket of steam,” “slimebag,” “scumbag,” “skeletons in the closet,” “booby trap,” “a canary in a coal mine,” “poison the well,” “a box of birds” (Australian and New Zealand), “a bee in your bonnet,” “bats in the belfry (or attic),” “a rabbit in a hat,” “a box of chocolates” and “good things come in small packages.”

From Mother Goose, in “The House that Jack Built,” Jack’s house contains malt, a rat, a cat, a scary dog, a cow which, arguably, wouldn’t be very exciting, but it’s got a crumpled horn, and it’s being milked by a maiden. There’s also a “man all tattered and torn,” a crowing cock, and a definitely unexciting priest who contrarily marries the tattered man, kisses the forlorn maiden, milks the cow, tosses the dog, worries the cat, kills the rat, and eats the malt. Other, less dramatic examples can be found in Goose’s “Bat, Bat”, “Pease Porridge” and “There Was an Old Woman and Going to St. Ives” (Goose et al. 1916).

Containers in motion (a rendition of the archetype in—dynamic) can be found in various popular expressions (e.g., kick the can down the road), and stories as in Mother Goose’s “The Man of Bombay”:

“There was a fat man of Bombay,

Who was smoking one sunshiny day;

When a bird called a snipe

Flew away with his pipe,

Which vexed the fat man of Bombay.”

Other examples of a contained excitement effect may include wrapped presents, Pandora's box, buried treasure, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, ring cases, fireworks, geodes, dragons in caves, Dungeons and Dragons, witch’s brew in cauldrons, jack in the box toys and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Similar themes, biases and effects appear to apply to containers in motion and container multiplicity, as in barrel rolling and the folk song "Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall."


Works Cited

Goose, Mother, and Blanche Fisher Wright. “The Real Mother Goose.” Apple Books. 1916.

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