The re-elevation of "shit"

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Wed May 22 05:05:19 UTC 2013

Anchee Min's "Red Azalea" has been published in 27 countries and is a New York Times "Notable Book" ( She has six other books published, plus her "The Cooked Seed," published this year.

On page 13 of "The Cooked Seed," it discusses her time in a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution. It says, "The manure pit was where we did our personal business. I had to squat on a wet wooden board. It took me a week to figure out how to balance like an acrobat while taking a shit."

Min is clearly an established writer of literature, and the cited section uses the polite expression "personal business." The use of "take a shit" is intended to emphasize the horrendous conditions, a shift from vulgar or coarse usage. (About the word "shit," the OED says, "Now chiefly coarse slang.")

I think I've seen this in another book recently, but unfortunately, I didn't take a note.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society -

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