[Ads-l] siftless

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Mar 30 03:44:47 UTC 2015

On 3/29/2015 9:24 PM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
> Subject:      siftless
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I don't see this word on the Oxford Dictionary site or in Wiktionary.
> AFAIK, it's used only in expressions like "between shiftless and
> siftless in the dictionary" (meaning "shit"). Presumably it means the
> same thing as "shiftless."
> I don't know that I've heard this sort of expression since hearing it in
> Alaska in the early 1980s. Google and Google Books yield no results for
> "shiftless and shiftless."
> There's an unrelated meaning for "siftless" at
> http://www.definition-of.com/siftless, though I don't know if that's
> actually in use.

I suspect not unrelated.

I suppose the phrase is based on the understanding that there is a 
loathsome disease named "siftless", this word originally being 
"syphilis", transmitted [the word, that is] orally.

A few decades ago I heard lay discussions of sexually transmitted 
diseases which included (in addition to "the clap" and "the crabs") "the 
syph" (/sIf/) which was (in my hearing) sometimes pronounced "the sift" 
(/sIft/). (I don't recall hearing "siftless" though.)

I suppose the intention is/was to bracket whatever is being derogated 
(i.e., "shit") between two words which themselves have negative denotations.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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