Our Victorian Approach To Excrement... Why?

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An anonymous commenter asked us recently about the word shit:

"Can anyone really tell me why it is acceptable to say poop but not to say shit? I am serious. I am sick of this idiotic distinction."

Our society deems certain words acceptable and others not. What is your opinion, Poopreporters, on the word shit? It is vulgar or not? And considering its more frequent use on some prime time television shows, such as those on AMC or FX, is the way we view the word shit changing?

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6 Comments on "Our Victorian Approach To Excrement... Why?"

ChiefThunderbutt's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatorf 5000+ points

The word shit is a very useful word, one that has been with us for literally centuries. Geoffrey Chaucer used the word, which I believe he spelled "schītte" many times in his wonderful Canterbery Tales. The past tense of the word then was shitten.

Shit nor only denotes fecal material but also can mean stuff in general:

Did you bring your shit?

Man, that's some good shit!

John has shit for brains!

Shit can be used as a generic mass noun similar to stuff; for instance:

This show is funny shit.

This test is hard shit.

That was stupid shit.

But I digress, back to your original question I don't think people in the Victorian Era actually used the bathroom. I am currently reading a book written by the world traveler Isabella Bird who gave marvelous descriptions of the homes she stayed in during her travels in the Rocky Mountains of the 1880s without once mentioning either a bathroom or an outhouse. She did mention that American Frontiersmen were foul mouthed louts who were too prone to take the name of our Lord and Savior in vain.

I think we have gotten beyond that now and the word is coming back into common usage. I have a Bible packing, evangelical sister who regularly uses the word having discovered its great versatility.

I use the words "taking a shit" to my doctor during visits simply because it is much more expedient than having to say, "I evacuated my bowels three times yesterday." He seems perfectly at ease with my descriptions and never ever even raises an eyebrow.

May all your shits be taken in peace anonymous commenter.

If I had two faces do you think I'd be wearing this one?

runninggrrl2's picture
Comment Quality Moderatork 500+ points

We are supposed to use the extremely technical term "stool" at work--ever since I've started working there, I haven't been able to think of a chair that you sit on as a "stool". But when we get a lot of stools, we call it one shitty day.

An apple a day keeps the ExLax away!

the thin brown line's picture
j 1000+ points

At the Bushie dinner table, Prescott used to warn a young George Herbert if he didn't eat his broccoli, he would "shit down his throat". It apparently didn't work.

Somethin' mysterious made an exit from the gift shop.

MSG's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points

Intent and context are important. If someone uses the word with others who are accustomed to it, it's fine. If it's used under sudden stress, it's OK in many cases. If it's used to shock or disturb people, or carelessly so that other people's feelings are not considered, then it's rude or spiteful; in these cases I can't condone it. Words have more than meanings--they have consequences and affect relationships. So I say: Be careful and considerate in speaking and writing; consider your audience; think before you speak.

the thin brown line's picture
j 1000+ points

Well put MSG. The audience is key. I don't say "I have to take a shit" in front of my mother, and this is out of respect for her courtesy form. But I do say varying phrases in her presence like "it's bullshit" given the specifics of a situation....say an obnoxious driver tailgaiting.

Somethin' mysterious made an exit from the gift shop.

Raggedmama's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

But the whole reason people find certain words objectionable is because they're hypocrites - pretending to be above all the rest of humanity, acting like they don't have - or don't have to use - rectums, or genitals. Whilst in reality having such a fragile sense of self that a little word like "shit" (or "f u c k" or "c u n t") can disturb them.

Such people aren't in a fit state to hold any kind of responsibility.

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