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Most Functional Word

New Page -- 22 February 2004

Updated -- 20 June 2004


One never wishes to give offense, but the most functional word in the English language is... well... shit. Sorry about that.

But before you consider all of diverse and wondrous ways you can use this word, keep in mind that the etymology of the word is from the Indo-European root skei, which means "to divide" and the Old English scitan, "to defecate". Thus strictly speaking, shit means to divide or cut (wastes) from the body. [1] It was not until the American Civil War that the word began its trek into the word books as the most functional.

There is another alleged derivation of the word, that of an acronym. In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship. This included manure (i.e. prior to the invention of commercial fertilizer). The manure was shipped dry because in dry form it weighed less than when wet. The problem was that when water (e.g. while at sea) hit it, the manure not only became heavier, but the process of fermentation began again -- a process which included producing methane gas. With the stuff below decks and in a confined space, all that was needed for an enormous explosion was someone with a lantern. Allegedly several ships were destroyed in just this manner before anyone could figure out what exactly was going on.

To avoid the problem, the manure bales were down stored high enough off the lower decks so that any water coming into the hold would not reach the volatile cargo and start the production of methane. Bales were thus labeled with the term, "Ship High In Transit". Thus S.H.I.T. came down through the centuries. Maybe.

In any case, the original bias against four-letter words stems from YHVH, the Hebrew word for God, which many pious Jews will neither speak nor write. In Greek, it is rendered as Tetragrammaton [1] -- which many Greeks and others for totally mundane reasons also refuse to either speak or write.

One might also note that many so-called curse words are cursed, so to speak, simply for what amounts to political reasons. For example, "piss" is the Anglo Saxon word for urinating, while "urinate" is the Latin word for piss. Who's to say that one is good and the other bad? Frankly, "urinate" is entirely too complicated to describe the actual event.

But before someone gets urinated off by the delay in presenting the many uses of shit, here they are... (drum roll, please...)

You can be shit faced, shit out of luck, or have shit for brains. With a little effort, you can get your shit together, find a place for your shit or decide to shit or get off the pot.

You can smoke shit, buy shit, sell shit, lose shit, find shit, forget shit, and tell others to eat shit and die.

Some people know their shit, while others can't tell the difference between shit and shineola.

There are lucky shits, dumb shits, crazy shits, and sweet shits.

There is bull shit, horse shit and chicken shit.

You can throw shit, sling shit, catch shit, shoot shit, or duck when shit hits the fan.

You can give a shit or serve shit on a shingle [the proverbial "SOS"].

You can find yourself in deep shit, or be happier than a pig in shit.

Some days are colder than shit, some days are hotter than shit, and some days are just plain shitty.

Some music sounds like shit, things can look like shit, and there are times when you feel like shit.

You can have too much shit, not enough shit, the right shit, the wrong shit or a lot of weird shit.

You can carry shit, have a mountain of shit, or find yourself up a shit creek without a paddle.

Sometimes everything you touch turns to shit, and other times you fall in a bucket of shit and come out smelling like a rose.

When you stop to consider all the facts, this word is one of the basic building blocks of creation. For if nothing else, once you know your shit, you don't need to know anything else!




[1] Robert Hendrickson, The Facts of File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Checkmark Books, 2000.

Language           Etymology         Derivation of Phrases

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