Is “Shit” the most diverse swear in English?
I asked this question shortly after I nicknamed my cat a “brick shithouse” and referred to him as such a few times. I started hearing “shit” in everything I watched, so after an episode of BoJack Horseman, I asked my wife to play a game with me. I told her, “let’s take turns naming every phrase with ‘shit’ in it until we can’t come up with any more”. I was surprised at how long it went on and after, when we Googled it, we found there was no Shittionary in existence yet. I knew at that moment I had to be its creator! Skipping ahead, I found over 1,000 uses and over 200 unique expressions that are set to publish in “Know Your Shit: The complete usage, science and history of the word”. At first, I thought it would just be a small pamphlet with succinct examples, but it grew out of control, like Frankenstein’s monster and became quite elaborate.
I started by listing every phrase that I knew and making examples. I read literature on swearing, like “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing” by Melissa Mohr, and watched series that would be influential, like Netflix’s “History of Swear Words”. For straight creativity, you can’t beat Trailer Park Boys and Mr. Lahey’s “Shittisms”. That guy molded shit in forms I would’ve imagined and then I started crafting my own “shittisms”. Like how At the end of my book I offer Shittificates of Mastery in Shittology. As the days passed, I’d constantly build on the list of phrases and expressions. Sometimes it’s just that a social situation had reminded me it existed. The deeper I dug, the more it consumed me. I realized the deep and rich history behind some of these. For example, “Up Shit’s Creek” was first used in the “Annual report of the (US) Secretary of War” back in 1868. ries, I started a researching and writing the literature review about “shit”, and swearing in general. I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised how much academia has studied swearing.
Anecodotes about life stories were a lot of fun to write about too. I’ll share one from “Know Your Shit” and feel free to share any of your own as well in the comments or email me, maybe you’ll be in the 2nd edition…
“My most memorable, and all-time favorite, use of vulgarity came from my niece. English is not her native language and she hadn’t started learning it at the time. To paint the picture, she was 6 years old and very well mannered and having tea parties in the afternoon. My hypothesis is that she heard me swear at some point and after my wife had just beat me at a game of Sequence, she came to the table, looks me in the eye and says “fuck you”. But it wasn’t just any “fuck you”. She had a look in her eye that was dead serious and the tone to match. She said it at least 7 or 8 times and really drew out the “fuuuuuuuuccccckkkk yoooouuuuuu” on several of them. It was almost in a whisper at some point. My wife and I assume she meant “you lose”, but it was so shocking that it caused quite the fit of laughter. You never expect something like that from such an innocent looking kid.”
I also looked more deeply at some of my favorite performers who were arrested during or after performances for swearing. I knew all about George Carlin’s and 2 Live Crew’s experiences, but I got to learn about people like Lenny Bruce and the lawsuits they dealt with. If you take this journey with me in the exploration of shit, Shittology is the term that I like, you’ll see a history of a swear that has gradually been losing its power and might be as normal as saying “sucks” in twenty years.