The re-elevation of "shit"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 22 14:05:20 UTC 2013

On May 22, 2013, at 1:05 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:

> 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.
As for other media, I've noticed "bullshit" no longer gets bleeped at least on free cable; I'm not sure about "shit" simpliciter (especially in literal uses like that above), and I haven't been keeping track of what happens on the broadcast channels.  Maybe "bullshit" serves as a conduit for "shit" in some of these contexts?  (I suspect even "dog shit" and "cat shit", taken more literally than "bullshit", would be easier to get with unbleeped.)


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