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Folk etymologies and other cons

Posted by Brian from Shawnee on July 31, 2003

In Reply to: Folk etymologies and other cons posted by Bob on July 31, 2003

: : : : : : : : : Hi. Im interested in expressions we use today that have their roots from centuries ago, but where the original meaning has been lost through time. I heard this little gem, & was wondering if anyone can verify if this is true or not.

: : : : : : : : : In the days when sailing ships were opening up world trade routes, when commodities such as spices were worth as much as gold, (18th Century??) some ships would carry fertilizer. These ships would periodically explode & be lost at sea, & no one knew why. Once they realised the cause was due to a build up of methane gas in the hold (& probably some sailor with a lantern) they would stamp on the words "Ship High In Transit", so the ferilizer would be lashed to the decks & exposed to the fresh air, avoiding any methane build-up. These words became common in use, and were eventually abrreviated to S.H.I.T., hence the word we use today.

: : : : : : : : : This does sounds plausible, but I would be interested in other peoples views on this.

: : : : : : : : : Thanks

: : : : : : : : : Doug. F.

: : : : : : : : I'm more inclined to the Oxford definition - s h i t:-ORIGIN Old English scitte 'diarrhoea', of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schijten, German scheissen (verb). The term was originally neutral and used without vulgar connotation

: : : : : : : Partridge 'Origins' 2nd , pp 616-7 [the '*' here denotes the letter 'i' topped by a horizontal line rather than a dot--I don't know what that's called]: s h i t; s h i te. See SHOOT, para 6.
: : : : : : : shoot (verb, hence noun), whence 'shooter' and participial adjective, verbal noun 'shooting'; past tense and past participle 'shot'; 'shot', noun--compare 'scot', a contribution, whence 'scot-free'; 'shotten'; --'sheet', covering, nautical rope, whence the corresponding verbs; 's h i t' (variant 's h i te'), verb hence noun--compare 's h i tehawk', 's h i tepoke'--compare also 'shice', 'shicer', probably 'shyster'; 'shut', whence 'shutter'; 'shuttle', noun whence adjective and verb, 'shuttlecock' ('shuttle', noun + 'cock' bird, from its crest); --'skeet'; 'skit', noun (whence 'skittish') and verb--compare 'skite' (noun and verb), 'blatherskite'; 'skitter' and 'skittle', usually in plural, noun, whence verb; --'scoot', noun and verb (whence 'scooter')--compare 'scoter'--compare also 'scout', to scoff at, with participial adjective, verbal noun 'scouting'; perhaps 'shout', verb, hence noun.
: : : : : : : 6. Very closely akin to Old High German 'sci*zan' are the synonyms Old Norse 'skita' and Old English 'sci*tan', whence Middle English 'schi*ten' (compare the identical Middle Low German form), later 'schite', 'schyte', 'shyte', whence the English 'to s h i t' and its variant 'to s h i te'. The English noun 's h i t', variant ' s h i te', is, in Middle English, 'schi*te', as also in Middle Low German, the Middle High German form being 'schi*ze'. Like the simples, the following compounds are no longer in polite use: 's h i tehawk' and 's h i tepoke', birds, and 's h i thouse'.

: : : : : : Note that Partridge expands upon the OED explanation rather than contradicting it; the sailing ship explanation is folk etymology.

: : : : : The concept these words seem to have in common is to expel, let go, let fly, put away from, etc.

: : : : Yes: see the archive entry below.

: : : I should think that the derivation and history of the "folk etymology" might sometimes be more interesting than the purportedly more serious etymology. Why would someone bother to invent "Ship High In Transit"?

: : It would be hard to identify the people who make these things up--about like determining who wrote the first version of a chain letter. My guess is, creating the Ship High in Transit story gave someone the satisfaction of having others think he (she) had insider information or superior knowledge.

: Spinning a preposterous story and having gullible people repeat it is as old as mankind. It's a form of fiction writing that gives everyone that warm glow of possessing True Knowledge hidden from the rest of us. It creates bonds between believers. Ask anyone who's dealt with astrologers, Mormon missionaries, and/or conspiracy theorists.

And if one thinks about it, back in the dys of sailing ships and sailors carrying lanterns, fertilizer in the form of animal manure was plentiful everywhere, so why would anyone ship it in bulk?

One of my favorite activities when presented with one of these folk etymologies is to make up a competing version and insist that mine is correct. My version of this one has the fertilizer being distributed by the Johannes Schitt Company of Hamburg...