Pooh, shite, tits and arse – some interesting facts

Originally posted October 2011

This blog started out as a look at etymology. Then I discovered that penis (yes, I do seem a little obsessed) only entered English in relatively recent times and before that we called the male member – what a stupid expression, member of what? – a yard.

This of course derailed any attempt at being serious. Reverting to pre-teen mentality I  have instead written more than 700 words focusing on just four (no prizes for guessing which ones, they are in the headline) “colourful” words. Your challenge is to come up with a sentence containing them all.

Pooh  

Pooh is both a reaction to an unpleasant smell and excrement.

Pooh is both a reaction to an unpleasant smell and excrement.

According to the Oxford Online Dictionary this a mass word for excrement. The Online Etymology Dictionary has it pegged as baby talk stemming from the 1950s.

To me pooh is a loveable children’s book character obsessed with honey. Seems Winnie-the-Pooh was the name of author A.A. Milne’s son’s teddy bear, named after Winnie, a Canadian black bear often seen at the zoo, and Pooh, a swan they met on holiday. No amount of research can determine why the swan was named pooh, so seems that will forever be a mystery. Maybe he had questionable hygiene.

The Oxford concedes spelling is normally poo, which I’m more accustomed to, yet decides quite fittingly to include it in the entry for pooh – used to express disgust at an unpleasant smell.

Shite

Ironically, since we say shite to avoid saying shit, the Oxford describes it as vulgar slang. As an aside, I just love the term vulgar slang, sounds soooooo dirty.

According to Take Our Word for it, shite actually came first. To quote a recent post on the origin of some obscenities.

”The verb shit started out in Old English as shite (from *scitan, where sc- is pronounced sh-).  It probably attained its current form by influence of shite’s past participle, shitten. It goes back to the proto-Germanic root *skit-, which gave birth to German scheissen, Dutch schijten, Swedish skita, and Danish skide as well.  *Skit- derives from the Indo-European root *skei- “split, divide, separate” (which also gave English schism and schist).   The sense here is of “separating” excrement from the body. ”

I love this from Wikipedia: shite: third-person singular simple present shites, present participle shiting, simple past and past participle shited

Thanks to South Park, Mr Hanky is probably the most well-known piece of excrement on the planet. Watch the Mr Hanky song here: http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/150056/mr-hankey-visits-kyle

Thanks to South Park, Mr Hanky is probably the most well-known piece of excrement on the planet. Watch the Mr Hanky song.

Tits

Pretty boring in itself; as you would guess comes from teat. Tits-up however it much more interesting.

Meaning dead or inoperable, it is generally accepted that the term came into being around WW2.

The most obvious explanation is that when dead, mammals (people) lying on their back are “tits up”.  General speculation has it coming from a military plane flight display where the plane is represented by –v*v-  and the ‘V’s are known as tits. If the plane is upside down the tits would face up. Or it could be another acronym: military slang for Total Inability To Support Usual Performance.

Here are some theories from the Urban Dictionary, the entry is Tango Uniform, the phonetic alphabet for TU – Tits Up.

Arse

Another vulgar slang word. From Old English ærs, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch aars and German Arsch meaning tail or rump. Interesting derivation since penis also comes from a word meaning tail. Those ancient people must have been quite confused about anatomy!

For those of you on the other side of the pond, arse is the equivalent of fanny, which where I come from is, to put it euphematically the ”front bum”. For Brits, Irish, Australians etc, hearing the term ”fanny pack” or the theme song from The Nanny (…she was out on her fanny) is guaranteed to cause a snickle.

While fanny is described in UK English dictionaries as another of those vulgar words, fannying around – messing about, mucking around – is quite ok, earning an ”informal” tag.

Americans, when you see arse, think ass.

Incidental details picked up during research:

  • Winnie-the-Pooh lost its hyphens when Disney got involved
  • Shit head was first coined in 1961, but can’t find out by who
  • A popular tale (perpetuated in the movie Kenny) http://www.kennythemovie.com/ is that shit stands for Store High In Transit – supposedly written on bags of fertiliser to stop them getting wet.
  • A member of the Shiah sect of Muslims is a shite http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-Shite.html
  • If a Brit is arsey they are angry or uncooperative, an Australian however is lucky
  • There’s a photo category on Google images for “used toilet paper”

Further reading

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