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Friday, December 05, 2008

Crap

Here's a modest etymological query (or maybe, as Mrs D recently remarked, it's an entomological one, since it's been bugging me for a while). When i was younger, we used the word crap to mean "shoddy" or poorly made. It had some metaphorical equivalence to the word shit. So, a Ford Pinto, for example, could be referred to as a "piece of crap" or a "piece of shit" with equal gusto, and everyone knew what you were saying.

But the literal use of "crap" to mean "shit" was not part of my vocabulary. We wouldn't, for example, have used the phrase "he crapped his pants," or yelled at a neighbor, "Hey, your dog crapped in my garden." The word for that was "shit." So i can, i guess, understand how this linguistic shift took place. And probably why it took place, since we need a word for the physical object "shit" which we can use in more or less polite company that doesn't provoke the same snicker that, say, "feces" does. Crap functions equally as well as a verb, just like shit does.

But when did this change take place? It's like i woke up one day two years ago, and found that my neighbors were fertilizing their garden with chicken crap and horse crap. Anybody know?

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5 Comments:

  • The etymology as I understood it before asking the internets, came from one of the wider marketers of the flush toilet, Thomas Crapper, who had the name "Crapper" stamped on many of the toilets.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary link at the bottom of the wikipedia page disagrees, and says this is incorrect. Another source linked to by wikipedia is more equivocal, saying that there are multiple germanic sources for crap outside of Crapper, and that the word certainly predated it, but that the word "Crapper" was certainly stamped on a lot of early flush toilets, and there's a good chance that it helped contribute to the association of crap with feces.

    As for myself, as long as I can remember in my 32 years, "crap" has been a slightly more polite word for "shit."

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 12:40 PM  

  • I guess we used "poop" as the polite word for shit.

    Most of the etymology i find for "crap" dates it to the 1400's and derived from various words for "chaff," or the stuff that ended up on the floor of the mill house.

    By Blogger Barry, at 12:44 PM  

  • We were not allowed to say crap when we were growing up because it was a swear word just as bad as shit.

    were not supposed to say darn or durn either...

    By Blogger Natalie and Harris, at 2:14 PM  

  • I seem to recall my father using "crap" to me regularly as a kid, as in "Don't give me any of that crap."

    "Shit?" Not so much.

    Maybe it's a regional thing?

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:36 PM  

  • I'd concur with Mr. Bacon. I always thought of it as the slightly more polite version of shit, without the childish sound of poop.

    By OpenID mrsdependable, at 6:26 PM  

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