An obscure bit of military slang

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Feb 25 11:38:52 UTC 2008


Good proverbial shit (not counting lots of slang shits as a single
lexical item, e.g., this blow is some good shit) is not just
military, at least in the form to "to X like a pig in shit," a
proverbial comparison indicating only good or desirable outcomes.

Mah wahf (Milwaukee): How'd you sleep last night.
Me (Louisville): Like a pig in shit.
Mah wahf: ???????

The more specific ("lucky") military sense seems pretty clearly
related to the again much more widely distributed "fall into a pile
(gob, etc...) of shit and come out smelling like a rose."


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
>Subject:      An obscure bit of military slang
>"To live in shit"
>To have everything go right, despite the fact that there's no reason
>to expect it to and, especially, if there is a possibility that things
>might go horribly awry.
>I.e., at a full-dress inspection at the Army Language School. Whelan
>forgot to put on the "brass" that's obligatory whenever the "class-A"
>uniform is worn. Since these inspections took place only on Fridays,
>he would have received a "gig" and been confined to quarters for the
>weekend. However, by sheer chance, that Friday's inspection was
>carried out by a Navy officer - the Navy, unlike the Air Force, had no
>language school of its own and used the Army's school - who, being
>unfamiliar with Army-uniform protocol, failed to notice that Whelan
>was out of uniform.
>Since Monterey, CA, where the Language School, now called the Defense
>Language Institute, is located, is a major tourist destination only a
>few miles from San Francisco, confinement to quarters was tantamount
>to solitary confinement, since the barracks would have been as empty
>as the Sahara till Sunday night. So, he was very lucky.
>Another time, Whelan unexpectedly dropped by my crib. There would be
>nothing of interest about this, except that this occurred in
>Cambridge, MA, in 1972 and Whelan had seen neither hide nor hair of me
>since we were students together in 1960, when I lived in Los Angeles,
>and, hence, he had no reason whatsoever to think that I would be in
>Cambridge. He was looking up someone else in the phone book, when he
>ran across my name. Given that he hadn't seen me or heard about me in
>twelve years, there was no reason at all for him to think that it
>could possibly the same guy that he had known in the Army more than a
>dekkid earlier. Of course, he could have called to check, but he
>didn't. He simply dropped by. Needless to say, since he hadn't
>bothered to call ahead, I might not have been home. But I was. And,
>naturally, I might not have been the same guy. But I am. So, he was
>very lucky.
>Were I still in the military, I'd say that Dennis Whelan lived in
>shit. And his luck o' the Irish neither began nor ended with these two
>All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
>come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>                                               -Sam'l Clemens
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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