Up shit creek without a paddle


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Up shit creek without a paddle'?

In an awkward situation or unpleasant predicament.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Up shit creek without a paddle'?

This slang phrase, like most street slang, is difficult to date and determine the origin of precisely. What we can say is that it, or at least the ‘shit creek’ part of it was known in the USA in the 1860s as it appeared in the transcript of the 1868 Annual report of the [US] Secretary of War, in a section that included reports from districts of South Carolina:

“Our men have put old [Abraham] Lincoln up shit creek.”

In Lincoln’s day, as now, ‘shit creek’ wasn’t a real place, just a figurative way of describing somewhere unpleasant; somewhere one wouldn’t want to be.

The ‘without a paddle’ ending is just an intensifier, added by later wags for additional effect. This dates from the middle of the 20th century. The American novelist John Dos Passos used the phrase in Adventures of a Young Man, 1939:

They left the store ready to cry from worry. It was dark; they had a hard time finding their way through the woods to the place where they’d left the canoe. The mosquitos ate the hides off them. ‘Well, we’re up shit creek without any paddle’.

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.

Trend of shit creek without a paddle in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.