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Getting the shaft ... sucks

Posted by Brian from Shawnee on March 10, 2006

In Reply to: Getting the shaft ... sucks posted by Smokey Stover on March 09, 2006

: : : : : : : I'm looking into the origins of the term "to get the shaft", which I understand has something to do with the cemetery near the French Quarter. I'd like to hear from anyone who knows New Orleans lore and can verify the origins of this phrase. Thanks.

: : : : : : From the Online Etymological Dictionary:

: : : : : : "...Vulgar slang meaning 'penis' first recorded 1719. Verb meaning 'treat cruelly and unfairly' is 1950s, with overtones of sodomy. "

: : : : : I'm not sure if Brian is emphasizing the right meaning of shaft, but I used to live in New Orleans and I can't think of any reason why it should be related to St. Louis Cemetery #1. All the tombs are above ground as the ground is so wet that they would "float" up otherwise, ergo no shafts of the hole-y type. ^_^ RRC

: : : : the "treat cruelly and unfairly" definition is right on target. Because it had, as it says "overtones of sodomy," it was vulgar and not used in mixed company ... until the movie (and hit title song) "Shaft" became popular in 1971. Yes, there's some winking going on in the lyrics "Who's the black dick..." etc.,but it was so popular that it took the shock value out of the word. A similar thing has happened with "suck" and "sucks" which have become so widely used in mainstream publications that younger people have no sense of how rude that once was.

: : : I forgot to mention that the director of Shaft, the innovative Gordon Parks, died yesterday at age 93.

: : Not arguing with the meaning, but I've heard I got shafted and I got the shaft as long as I can and never thought it was "dirty" nor seen anyone react to it that it was not a "nice" phrase (and you can barely get away with saying "poo" in my family), so perhaps it's actually farther along in the "nice-ification" process than sucks. RRC

: All good comments. Here's the low-down from the OED: " c. U.S. An act or instance of unfair or harsh treatment; slighting, rejection, 'the push'; esp. in to give or get the shaft.
: 1959 Amer. Speech xIV. 155 A girl or boy who makes a play for another's date is snaking... If he succeeds, the loser gets the shaft (sometimes with barbs), the purple shaft, or the maroon harpoon, depending upon the degree of injury to his pride. 1960 WENTWORTH & FLEXNER Dict. Amer. Slang 461/1 Shaft.., an act or an instance of being taken advantage of, unfairly treated, deceived, tricked, cheated, or victimized; a raw deal. Usu. in 'to get the (or a) shaft'. Fig., the image is the taboo one of the final insult, having someone insert something, as a barbed shaft, up one's rectum."

: Like RRC, I would like to post my reservation about the effect of the phrases "get the shaft" and "be shafted." I was around when these phrases started becoming common, but I've never had the impression that anyone using them really wanted to suggest too graphically the literal meaning, nor that those who heard them were assailed by creepy imagery. I didn't include all the OED citations, but they make it clear that one may get the shaft from someone of either sex, as well as from government and corporations.
: It is possible that "shaft" was once a commonly heard slang term for penis, although the 1719 citation is from a poem by D'Urfey, where it's more a literary synonym than a slang term. When the erect penis is described for any purpose, such as medical or didactic, the shaft is the term most often used to describe the main part of the tumescent column. This is not a slang usage--just appropriate description. True, the word even today is sometimes substituted for penis in colloquial male speech, so I suppose "slangy" is not an inappropriate word for this substitution. SS

Do n't forget the 1982 country/novelty song "She Got the Gold Mine, I Got the Shaft" by Jerry Reed. The humorous treatment may have helped the phrase alon g toward mainstream acceptance.