Early example of "crap out"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Mar 25 09:10:08 UTC 2001

> >... In an 1887 Chesnutt story I came across the following passage.
> >
> >[Background: A magical spell (a "goopher") supposedly has been placed on a
> >vineyard, so that those who eat the grapes soon die. Now maybe >20 years
> >have passed and the vineyard is abandoned and up for sale, most or all of
> >the enchanted vines supposedly long dead and replaced by other vines.]
> >
> >"En I tell yer w'at, marster, I would n' 'vise yer to buy dis yer ole
> >vimya'd, 'caze de goopher 's on it yit, en dey am' no tellin' w'en it 's
> >gwine ter crap out."
> >
> >My tentative translation: "And I tell you what, master, I wouldn't advise
> >you to buy this here old vineyard, because the spell is on it yet, and
> >there is no telling when it [i.e., the spell] is going to crap out."
> >
> >My initial supposition: this is an early example of the metaphoric "crap
> >out", here = "expire"/"become exhausted"/"cease being effective". ...
> >
> >What is it that is seriously wrong with my initial supposition?
> >
> >-- Doug Wilson
>Wouldn't it be just as reasonable to assume that "crap out" here is just
>a  dialect spelling of "crop out"?  That is, the spell might reassert
>itself at any time.
>A. Murie

I think that's exactly correct.

I became suspicious of the apparent anachronism, and after some review
corrected my translation from "... no telling when it is going to crap
out." to "... no telling when it is going to crop up." The expression "crop
out" in this sense is apparently much less common than "crop up" today. But
"crop out" apparently was used like this more commonly in the 19th Century,
at least in the South. And "crap" is of course a dialect spelling of
"crop". The clearest example I found (1862):

"I reckon that the parient has a heap ter du with makin' th' chile. He puts
the sperit inter 'im: doan't we see it in hosses an' critters an' sech
like? It mayn't crap eout ter onst, but it's shore ter in th' long run, ...."

I.e.: "I reckon that the parent has a heap to do with making the child. He
puts the spirit into him: don't we see it in horses and critters and
suchlike? It may not crop out at once, but it's sure to in the long run, ...."

Too bad though ... I kind of liked the version with "crap out" = "expire"
... it even made pretty good sense ....

-- Doug Wilson

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