phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Smokey Stover on January 26, 2004

In Reply to: Scat posted by Lotg on January 26, 2004

: : : : : : : : During a deep & meaningful session at the local pub, the term wanker was raised (as oft is in a pub). The the lads, showing an unprecedented interest in the origins of our language wondered how the term had come about. (No pun intended).

: : : : : : : : Anyway, we all presumably know what the act of wanking is, but the question raised was, why is this seen as derogatory when it's such a common activity? And therefore, why has the term wanker come to mean someone who is a well errr wally?

: : : : : : : Well, "He's such a jerk" has the same origin. The activity is common but is nevertheless a source of shame. I suspect that the basic idea is "He's so undesirable, he can't find a partner."

: : : : : : Most insults in the English speaking world are either sexual, whether the activity is carried out alone or in company, or scatological.

: : : : : Well I just learnt something, as I so often do on this site. I've never before heard the word 'scatological', and now that I've looked it up, I now understand the insult associated with the word 'scat'. Although when I was but a mere ankle biter, mother used to say 'scat' to get rid of me.

: : : : : Oh how things change over time.

: : : : Scat, cat! This is from the English language. Scat, meaning a piece of excrement left by an animal out where some zoologist can find it, is not. It is a back-formation derived from the word "scatology" (from a Greek root), used so that the zoologist or whoever does not have to say "turd" or some other word not considered suitable to the drawing room. Of course, if the turd--excuse me, scat--is fossilized we can call it a coprolite, a word perfectly suitable to mixed company. My geology professor told me about a field trip he was on, led by a senior geologist who found a coprolite in a cave. He explained it thus: "Obviously a creature crept into the crypt, crapped, and crept out again."

: : : It has just occurred to me that perhaps Lotg may not have known that her mother, when she said "Scat," meant "Begone," or "Scram," "Twenty-three skidoo." This was the only meaning of the word until sometime after WW II (if I'm not mistaken). Scat from scatology is a neologism, and a bad one, although it seems to have wriggled itself into the langage--alas! SS

: : I'm reminded of a visit I made to the small museum located within the ancient stone circle of Avebury in Wiltshire (England) in 1959. One of the exhibits, sitting there proudly amongst the artefacts found at the site, was identified as prehistoric dog excreta - clearly scat had not, at that time, acquired international status as a neologism.

: Thanks SS, yes I did know that's what mum meant (although I took every opportunity to ignore her when possible - he he). I was pretty much saying the same thing as you. That in my youth scat simply meant scram, but now it seems to have evolved as an insult derived from a word meaning excrement.

I would be very surprised if anyone used the word "scat" in order to insult anyone. Its meaning as excrement is used only by scientific types in learned discourse (as far as I know), and yes, it's derived from the Greek word for s h i t. There is yet another use of scat, which I neglected to mention. Ella Fitzgerald was known as a "scat singer." This refers to a style of singing, not to its subject matter, and has no unsanitary connotations. This, too, is obviously a fairly recent use of the word. SS