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The meaning and origin of the expression: The pits

The pits

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pits - The'?

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The worst or most despicable example of something.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pits - The'?

There's not a great deal to be said about this little expression. It has been suggested that it derives from the age-old practice of sawing timber in which two sawyers cut a log longways - the senior being at the top and the junior in a pit below. The top sawyer was called the top dog and it is surmised that the lower sawyer experienced 'the pits'. There are two problems with that explanation.

Firstly, the expression 'top dog' may be associated with sawing but there's no proof that it is.

Secondly, 'the pits' originated in the USA in the 1950s - long after people stopped using saw pits. Around the same time, and logic dictates that this came earlier, Americans began using 'pits' as shorthand slang for armpits. 'The pits', with its suggestion of bad odour, was synonymous with 'the armpits'. The first example that I can find of 'the pits' being used as slang with that meaning is from Newsweek, November 1953:

A bad exam experience would be ‘I'm wasted’ at Howard... 'It was the pits' at Vassar.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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