5 Best Idioms Using the Word Shit

Every language is enlivened by its array of idioms and my impression is that English is particularly well-endowed, perhaps because Shakespeare played for our team.  I have collected dictionaries of idioms, including specialized references, such as idioms of the army (i.e. FUBB) or idioms of the sailor (i.e. son of a gun).  Each year there are new board games that are based on the origins of idioms, and I have even tried to create my own game called “Sweep the Nation.”

While many idioms are based on local history, religion, geography or contemporary culture, the word “shit” has spawned an impressive variety of expressions.  At first I thought these idioms would be understandable and embraced across languages and cultures. However, my preliminary research (i.e. in cabs with international drivers), suggests Americans seem particularly besotted with the word “shit.”   Culled from a list of hundreds, the following idioms represent the best shit has to offer.

1.  When the Shit Hits the Fan

This idiom is chosen for its graphic visual describing something that goes terribly, terribly wrong.  I stand in grateful awe to the Shakespeare-caliber wit who first crafted this stunner, his name now sadly lost to history.  I recall a humid childhood day sitting with a group of friends next to a fan, when my brother decided to test out the aerodynamic effects of a body fluid applied to moving blades. He spat into the fan.  The drifting mist brought the idiom into horrific focus.  The related idiom “shit storm” is feeble in comparison.

I asked an Aramaic-speaking cab driver to translate the idiom into his language, feeling sure that this nifty expression had gone viral years ago and was part of a universal lexicon, but he gave me a shocked look and said, “that is just disgusting.”

2.  Shit-eating grin

My advice here is not to dwell on this idiom, but instead enjoy a fleeting appreciation of the multiple senses involved – visual, tactile/mouth-feel, smell, and yes, yuck, even taste.  It also captures the conceptual naughtiness of shit, of someone enjoying a guilty pleasure.  Okay, I would agree this idiom may be difficult to translate to other languages and that it might reflect poorly on American taste.  An alternative for a more genteel audience might be “like a cat who ate a canary.”

3.  Don’t Shit Where You Live

I love the scientific flavor of this idiom, neatly describing the evolutionary imperative for a social animal.  It applies not only to humans but foxes, rabbits, basically anyone lives in a den.  This coziness requires a modicum of personal space free from the health hazard of feces.  The evolution of voluntary sphincters was a breakthrough event for all of us living in close quarters.

4.  Holy Shit

This idiom does not present a strong visual but is chosen for its linkage between the blasphemy of old and current expletives.  Psycholinguists, the niche group who study the cultural impact of swearing, point out that as the power of the church waned, words such as God, Damn, Hell and their religious ilk were no longer taboo.  New words were needed.  The next frontier was culturally-defined obscenities describing sex, anatomy and the curious category of “effluvia,” of which shit is a member.  Combining “holy” and “shit” embraces the entire spectrum of expletives across centuries of evolution.

5.  Shit Happens

This idiom showcases shit as a philosophical statement about the vagaries of fate and coincidence.  Optimists may favor such saccharine phrases as “good things happen to good people,” but “shit happens” is simple, direct, real.

Also rans:

Up shit creek without a paddle, ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag, rare as rocking horse shit, push shit uphill with a pity stick

Leave a Comment