Definitions

no shit!

Shit

[shit]

Shit is one of the most functionally diverse words in the English language, and is also one of the most frequently used nouns. In its literal meaning, it is usually considered a vulgar word (swear word) in Modern English. As a noun it refers to fecal matter (excrement) and as a verb it means to defecate or defecate in; in the plural ("the shits") it means diarrhea. As a slang term, it can mean nonsense, foolishness or something of little value; trivial and usually boastful or inaccurate talk, or a contemptible person. To shit, in slang, is to talk nonsense to, or to attempt to deceive.

Etymology

Scholars trace the word back to Old Norse origin (skīta, to defecate), and it is virtually certain that it was used in some form by preliterate Germanic tribes at the time of the Roman Empire. It was originally adopted into Old English as the nouns scite (dung, attested only in place names) and scitte (diarrhoea), and the verb scītan (to defecate, attested only in bescītan, to cover with excrement); eventually it morphed into Middle English schītte (excrement), schyt (diarrhoea) and shiten (to defecate). The word may be further traced to Proto-Germanic *skit-, and ultimately to Proto-Indo-European *skheid-. Ancient Greek language had 'skor' (root 'skat-' from which modern Greek 'skatá'). The words 'skítur' (noun) and 'skíta' (verb), still exist in the Icelandic language today, and in other Scandinavian languages variations of 'skit' are also often used.

Usage

The word shit (or sometimes shite in Scotland, Ireland, Northern England and Wales) is used by English speakers, but it is usually avoided in formal speech. Substitutes for the word shit in English include sugar and shoot.

In the word's literal sense, it has a rather small range of common usages. An unspecified or collective occurrence of feces is generally shit or some shit; a single deposit of feces is sometimes a shit or a piece of shit, and to defecate is to shit, or to take a shit. While it is common to speak of shit as existing in a pile, a load, a hunk and other quantities and configurations, such expressions flourish most strongly in the figurative. For practical purposes, when actual defecation and excreta are spoken of in English, it is either through creative euphemism or with a vague and fairly rigid literalism.

"Shit" can also be combined with other words to denote the type of feces one has. For instance, "Snake shit" describes feces that are long and slender in shape, thus reminiscent of a snake's appearance. "Shapeepee" or "Shit pee pee" is another word for diarrhea, or can be used to describe feces that are almost entirely of liquid composition.

Shit carries an encompassing variety of figurative meanings, explained in the following sections.

Vague noun

Shit can be used as a generic mass noun similar to stuff; for instance, This show is funny shit or This test is hard shit, or That was stupid shit. These three usages (with funny, hard, and stupid or another synonym of stupid) are heard most commonly in the United States. Note that shit is both a positive and negative thing in these examples, shit being apparently very funny (a positive thing) and in the second and third examples very hard (as in, difficult - a negative thing to be) or very stupid. Note also that in a phrase like this, the speaker doesn't include the term as; saying that something is as funny as shit would be taken as a negative statment (shit not being a very funny thing to be).

In Get your shit together! the word shit may refer to some set of personal belongings or tools, or to one's wits, composure, or attention to the task at hand. He doesn't have his shit together suggests he is failing rather broadly, with the onus laid to multiple personal shortcomings, rather than bad luck or outside forces.

To shoot the shit is to have a friendly but pointless conversation, as in "Come by my place some time and we'll shoot the shit."

Surprise

To shit oneself, or to shit bricks can be used to refer to surprise. The latter form can be commonly seen in a form of internet meme which goes by the phrase when you see it, you will shit bricks, used in connection with an image of a busy scene with an often unnoticed laughing face or disturbing object which is hard to see until you study the picture.

The word can also be used to represent anger, as in Jim is totally going to flip his shit when he sees that we wrecked his marriage.

Trouble

Shit can be used to denote trouble, by saying one is in a lot of shit or deep shit. It's common for someone to refer to an unpleasant thing as hard shit (You got a speeding ticket? Man, that's some hard shit), but the phrase tough shit is used as an unsympathetic way of saying too bad to whomever is having problems (You got arrested? Tough shit, man!) or as a way of expressing to someone that they need to stop complaining about something and just deal with it (Billy: I got arrested because of you! Tommy: Tough shit, dude, you knew you might get arrested when you chose to come with me.) Note that in this case, as in many cases with the term, tough shit is often said as a way of pointing out someone's fault in his/her own current problem.

When the shit hits the fan is usually used to refer to a specific time of confrontation or trouble, which requires decisive action. This is often used in reference to combat situations and the action scenes in movies, but can also be used for everyday instances that one might be apprehensive about. I don't want to be here when the shit hits the fan! indicates that the speaker is dreading this moment (which can be anything from an enemy attack to confronting an angry parent or friend). He's the one to turn to when the shit hits the fan is an indication that the person being talked about is dependable and will not run from trouble or abandon their allies in tough situations. The concept of this phrase is simple enough, as the actual substance striking the rotating blades of a fan would cause a messy and unpleasant situation (much like being in the presence of a manure spreader). Whether or not this has actually happened, or if the concept is simply feasible enough for most people to imagine the result without needing it to be demonstrated, is unknown. Another example might be the saying shit rolls down hill which is particularly illustrating, the consequences of putting your superiors in a bad position at work. There are a number of anecdotes and jokes about such situations, as the imagery of these situations is considered to be funny. This is generally tied-in with the concept that disgusting and messy substances spilled onto someone else are humorous.

Displeasure

Shit can comfortably stand in for the terms bad and anything in many instances (Dinner was good, but the movie was shit. You're all mad at me, but I didn't do shit!). A comparison can also be used, as in Those pants look like shit, or This stuff tastes like shit. Many usages are idiomatic. The phrase, George Bush doesn't give a shit about you denotes indifference. I'm shit out of luck usually refers to someone who is at the end of their wits or who has no remaining viable options. That little shit shot me in the ass, suggests a mischievous or contemptuous person. Euphemisms such as crap are not used in this context.

The term piece of shit is generally used to classify a product or service as being sufficiently below the writer's understanding of generally accepted quality standards to be of negligible and perhaps even negative value.The term piece of shit has greater precision than shit or shitty in that piece of shit identifies the low quality of a specific component or output of a process without applying a derogatory slant to the entire process. For example, if one said "The inner city youth orchestra has been a remarkably successful initiative in that it has kept young people off the streets after school and exposed them to culture and discipline, thereby improving their self esteem and future prospects. The fact that the orchestra's recent rendition of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony in B minor was pretty much a piece of shit should not in any way detract from this." The substitution of shit or shitty for pretty much a piece of shit would imply irony and would therefore undermine the strength of the statement.

Dominance

Shit can also be used to establish superiority over another being. The most common phrase is eat shit! symbolizing the hatred toward the recipient. Some other personal word may be added such as eat my shit implying truly personal connotations. As an aside, the above is actually a contraction of the phrase eat shit and die!. It is often said without commas as a curse; they with the other party to perform exactly those actions in that order. However, the term was originally Eat, Shit, and Die naming the three most basic things humans have to do, and it is common among soldiers.

Positive attitude

Interestingly, in slang, prefixing the article the to shit gives it a completely opposite definition, meaning the best, as in Altered Beast is the shit, or The Medic Droid is the shit. Again, other slang words of the same meaning, crap for example, are not used in such locutions.

Shortening of bullshit

The expression no shit? (a contraction of no bullshit?) is used in response to a statement that is extraordinary or hard to believe. Alternatively the maker of the hard-to-believe statement may add no shit to reinforce the sincerity or truthfulness of their statement, particularly in response to someone expressing disbelief at their statement. No shit is also used sarcastically in response to a statement of the obvious, as in no shit, Sherlock.

In this form the word can also be used in phrases such as don't give me that shit or you're full of shit. The term full of shit is often used as an exclamation to charge someone who is believed to be prone to dishonesty, exaggeration or is thought to be "phoney" with an accusation. For example:

  1. "Oh, I'm sorry I forgot to invite you to the party, it was a complete accident... But you really didn't miss anything anyway.
  2. "You're full of shit! You had dozens of opportunities you could've invited me. If you have a problem with me, why not grow a pair and say it!"

The word bullshit also denotes false or insincere discourse. (Horseshit is roughly equivalent, while chickenshit means cowardly, batshit indicates a person is crazy, and going apeshit indicates a person is entering a state of high excitement or unbridled rage.). Are you shitting me!? is a question sometimes given in response to an incredible assertion. An answer that reasserts the veracity of the claim is, I shit you not.

Emphasis

Perhaps the only constant connotation that shit reliably carries is that its referent holds some degree of emotional intensity for the speaker. Whether offense is taken at hearing the word varies greatly according to listener and situation, and is related to age and social class: elderly speakers and those of (or aspiring to) higher socioeconomic strata tend to use it more privately and selectively than younger and more blue-collar speakers.

Like the word fuck, shit is often used to add emphasis more than to add meaning, for example, shit! I was so shit-scared of that shithead that I shit-talked him into dropping out of the karate match! The term to shit-talk connotes bragging or exaggeration (whereas to talk shit primarily means to gossip [about someone in a damaging way] or to talk in a boastful way about things which are erroneous in nature), but in such constructions as the above, the word shit often functions as an interjection.

Unlike the word fuck, shit is not used emphatically with -ing or as an infix. For example; I lost the shitting karate match would be replaced with ...the fucking karate match. Similarly, while in-fucking-credible is generally acceptable, in-shitting-credible is not.

Drug usage

Shit itself can be a dysphemism or quasi-euphemism, with many intoxicating or narcotic drugs (notably hashish and heroin) being referred to as shit. To be shitfaced is to be extremely drunk. A shitshow denotes a party or gathering during which multiple people become intoxicated to the point of incapacitation.

The verb “to shit”

The preterite and past participle of shit are attested as shat, shit, or shitted, depending on dialect and, sometimes, the rhythm of the sentence. In the prologue of the Canterbury Tales, shitten is used as the past participle; however this form is very rare in modern English. In American English shit as a past participle is always correct, while shat is generally acceptable and shitted is uncommon.

Backronyms

The backronym form "S.H.I.T." often figures into jokes, like Special High Intensity Training (a well-known joke used in job applications), Special Hot Interdiction Team (a mockery on SWAT), Super Hackers Invitational Tournament, and any college name that begins with an S-H (like Sam Houston Institute of Technology or South Harmon Institute of Technology in the 2006 film (Accepted) or Store High In Transit in the 2006 film (Kenny). South Hudson Institute of Technology has sometimes been used to describe the United States Military Academy at West Point. It is an urban myth that Grampian Television was almost called Scottish Highlands and Islands Television until they realised what their acronym would be. The Simpsons' Apu was a graduate student at Springfield Heights Institute of Technology.

In polite company, sometimes the backronym Sugar Honey in Tea or Sugar Honey Iced Tea is used.

Usage in English media

Television

Recently the word has become increasingly acceptable on American cable television and satellite radio, which are not subject to FCC regulation. In other English-speaking countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Australia, the word is allowed to be used in broadcast television by the regulative councils of each area, as long as it is used in late hours when young people are not expected to be watching.

United Kingdom

It is believed that the first person on British TV to say "shit" was John Cleese of the Monty Python comedy troupe in the late 1960s, as he, himself, mentions in a eulogy to Graham Chapman.

United States

"Shit" was one of the original "Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV", a comedy routine by the late American Comedian George Carlin. In the United States, although the use of the word is censored on broadcast network television (while its synonym crap is not usually subject to censorship), the FCC permitted some exceptions. The October 14, 1999 episode of Chicago Hope is believed to be the first show (excluding documentaries) on U.S. network television to contain the word shit in uncensored form. The word also is used in a later ER episode "On the Beach" by Dr. Mark Greene, experiencing the final stages of a deadly brain tumor. Although the episode was originally aired uncensored, the "shit" utterance has since been edited out in syndicated reruns. An episode of South Park, "It Hits the Fan," originally aired on June 20, 2001, was a parody of the hype over the Chicago Hope episode. "Shit" is used 162 times, and a counter in the corner of the screen tallies the repetitions. The moral of this episode is that swearing is okay occasionally, but if it is done over and over and over, it takes away from a word's impact and the word gets very, very boring. South Park airs on American cable networks, outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the FCC, where censorship of vulgar dialogue is at the discretion of the cable operators. .

American terrestrial radio stations must abide by FCC guidelines on obscenity to avoid punitive fines, unlike satellite radio. These guidelines do not define exactly what constitutes obscenity, but it has been interpreted by some commissioners as including any form of words like shit and fuck, for whatever use.

Despite this, the word has been featured in popular songs that have appeared on broadcast radio in cases where the usage of the word is not audibly clear to the casual listener, or on live television. In the song "Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains, the line "Buried in my shit" was played unedited over most rock radio stations. The 1980 hit album Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon contained the song "Tough Guys" which had the line "she thinks they're full of shit," which was played on broadcast radio. On December 3, 1994, Green Day performed "Geek Stink Breath," on Saturday Night Live, shit was not edited from tape delay live broadcast. The band did not appear on the show again until April 9, 2005.

Some notable instances of censorship of the word from broadcast television and radio include Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner." Although radio stations have sometimes played an unedited version containing the line "funky shit going down in the city." The songs was also released with a "radio edit" version, replacing the "funky shit" with "funky kicks". Another version of "Jet Airliner" exists in which the word "shit" is faded out. Likewise, the Bob Dylan song "Hurricane" has a line about having no idea "what kind of shit was about to go down," and has a radio edit version without the word. Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" video had the original album's use of the word censored in its video. The music video title "...On the Radio (Remember the Days)" by Nelly Furtado replaced by the original title "Shit on the Radio (Remember the Days)." This also happened to "That's That Shit" by Snoop Dogg featuring R. Kelly, which became "That's That." In Avril Lavigne's song "My Happy Ending," the Radio Disney edit of the song replaces "all the shit that you do" with "all the stuff that you do." Likewise, in the recent song "London Bridge" by the Black Eyed Peas member Fergie, the phrase "Oh Shit" is repeatedly used as a background line. A radio edit of this song replaced "Oh Shit" with "Oh Snap."

See also

References

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