An obscure bit of military slang

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Feb 26 04:21:22 UTC 2008

Somehow this thread gets me thinking of U. Utah Phillips and his
moose turd pie.  Here's a version on the web:; he's recorded other
versions as well, but this transcription includes "So I said to
myself, 'Self...'," tying it to a much earlier thread of ours before
we got involved with the current shit.  If you'd rather hear U. Utah
tell it, in a slightly more elaborate version, you can listen on from  "Good


At 9:36 AM -0500 2/25/08, Wilson Gray wrote:
>Back in the day, my roommate told me the following Firesign Theater routine:
>[Intro that I've forgotten]
>Quizmaster: That's right, Mrs. Jones! you are a winner! Now, please
>make your choice. Will you choose what's behind the golden door or
>what's in this brown paper bag?
>Mrs. Smith: I choose what's in that brown paper bag.
>[Sound of crinkling as brown paper bag is opened]
>Mrs. Smith [in state of shock]: Why, why, this is a bag of shit!!!
>Quizmaster [voice filled with joy] Yes, Mrs. Smith, It's shit! But
>it's _GOOD_ shit!!!
>I blush to admit it, but, even though when I first heard this bit
>(summer of 1972), it cracked me up and "It's shit, but it's *good*
>shit!" became a catchphrase in our clique, it was only a few weeks ago
>that it was explained to me that the "shit" in the brown bag was
>Acapulco gold. *That* was why the shit was *good* shit!
>That is, for 36 years, I had completely missed the point of the
>routine. For all this time, I had thought that the "bag of shit" was
>literally a bag of shit! What I found funny was the idea that the
>quizmaster could seriously think that anyone would consider a bag of
>shit, as long as the shit was, in some sense, "good" shit, to be
>something desirable.
>This despite the fact that, years before, in an Amsterdam club, a
>Dutch West Indian had asked me, "Say, mon. You go for that shit?" I
>had immediately understood that he was trying to con me into buying a
>bag of oregano that was supposed to be weed and was by no means asking
>whether I was interested in literal shit. And, in Deutschlisch,
>"Schitt" always has / had? the meaning, "marijuana, grass, weed," etc.
>IAC, now that I understand the true import of the routine, I've been
>as happy as a pig in shit.
>On Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 6:38 AM, Dennis Preston <preston at> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>   Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>   Poster:       Dennis Preston <preston at MSU.EDU>
>>   Subject:      Re: An obscure bit of military slang
>>   Wilson,
>>   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."
>>   dInIs
>>   >---------------------- 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
>>   >anecdotes.
>>   >
>>   >-Wilson
>>   >--
>>   >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 -
>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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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