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The pits

Posted by James Briggs on June 17, 2010 at 06:56

In Reply to: The pits posted by ESC on June 16, 2010 at 20:28:

: : : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "This is the pits?"

: : I was thinking pits as in the depths of despair. But two references say it is pits as in armpits. The expression is "Mainstream 1960s," according to "Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang" by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Md., 1996), Page 119. It was first used in the late 1970s, according to "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982), Page 298.

: Then there's reference No. 3 that puts it back to the 1950s and says it relates to 1. the depths of despair (what I said) and 2. a situation, object or person who is "totally undesirable." "Cassell's Dictionary of Slang" by Jonathon Green (Wellington House, London, 1998). Page 923. All three agree that it is a U.S. expression.

I think the first time that anyone in the UK heard the expression was a John McInroe outburst at a Wimbledon championship in the 1980s. It caused a press uproar because no one knew what it meant and reporters assumed something really vile!