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The Origin of the S-Word

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Netlore Archive: In which we are told, and with a straight face, that the word 'shit' originated as the acronym of 'Ship High in Transit' (or 'Stow High in Transit'), a supposed nautical phrase.

Description: Joke / Folk etymology
Circulating since: 1999?
Status: False (see details below)


Example #1:
As posted on Facebook, March 27, 2013:

Manure... An interesting fact

Manure: In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be Transported by ship and it was also before the invention of commercial Fertilizers, so large shipments of manure were quite common. It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when Wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, not only did it become heavier, But the process of fermentation began again, of which a byproduct is Methane gas of course. As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles You can see what could (and did) happen. Methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came Below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM! Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined Just what was happening

After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the Instruction ' Stow high in transit ' on them, which meant for the Sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water That came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start The production of methane.

Thus evolved the term ' S.H.I.T ' , (Stow High In Transit) which has Come down through the centuries and is in use to this very day. You probably did not know the true history of this word. Neither did I. I had always thought it was a golf term


Example #2:
Email contributed by V. Anderson, Aug. 28, 2002:

Subject: Fabulous bit of historical knowledge

Ever wonder where the word "shit" comes from. Well here it is:

Certain types of manure used to be transported (as everything was back then) by ship. In dry form it weighs a lot less, but once water (at sea) hit it. It not only became heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by-product is methane gas.

As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen; methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came below at night with a lantern. BOOOOM!

Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was discovered what was happening.

After that, the bundles of manure where always stamped with the term "S.H.I.T" on them which meant to the sailors to "Ship High In Transit." In other words, high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane.

Bet you didn't know that one.

Here I always thought it was a golf term.


Example #3
From a Usenet posting dated April 12, 1999:

Subject: origin of shit

In the 1800's, cow pie's were collected on the prarie and boxed and loaded on steam ships to burn instead of wood. Wood was not only hard to find, but heavy to move around and store.

When the boxes of cow pie's were in the sun for days on board the ships, they would smell bad. So when the manure was boxed up, they stamped the outside of the box, S.H.I.T....which means Ship High In Transit.

When people came aboard the ship and said,"Oh what is that smell!" They were told it was shit.

That is where the saying came from...It smells like shit! :-)


Analysis: Clever as all that may be, whoever came up with it doesn't know shit about "shit."

According to my dictionary, the word is much older than the 1800s, appearing in its earliest form about 1,000 years ago as the Old English verb scitan. That is confirmed by lexicographer Hugh Rawson in his bawdily edifying book, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), where it is further noted that the expletive is distantly related to words like science, schedule and shield, all of which derive from the Indo-European root skei-, meaning "to cut" or "to split." You get the idea.

For most of its history "shit" was spelled "shite" (and sometimes still is), but the modern, four-letter spelling of the word can be found in texts dating as far back as the mid-1700s. It most certainly did not originate as an acronym used by 19th-century sailors.

Apropos that false premise, Rawson observes that "shit" has long been the subject of naughty wordplay, very often based on made-up acronyms on the order of "Ship High in Transit." For example:

In the Army, officers who did not go to West Point have been known to disparage the military academy as the South Hudson Institute of Technology.... And if an angelic six-year-old asks, "Would you like to have some Sugar Honey Iced Tea?", the safest course is to pretend that you have suddenly gone stone deaf.

Lastly, all these stories are reminiscent of another popular specimen of folk etymology claiming that the F-word (another good old-fashioned, all-purpose, four-letter expletive) originated as the acronym of "Fornication Under Consent of the King" (or, in another version, "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge").

Suffice it to say, it's all C.R.A.P.

Sources and further reading:

Shit
From David Wilton's WordOrigins.org

The Etymology of Some Obscenities
From the "Take Our Word for It" Webzine

'Wicked Words'
by Hugh Rawson (New York: Crown Publishing, 1989)

Last updated: 03/27/13

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