Posted by Curt on 15 January, 2018 at 10:52 am. 5 comments already!


That’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “shithole,” with examples going back to 1930:

1930 A. M. Frey Cross Bearers xxxiv. 249 But that will soon be over, he hopes; over as soon as he can get out of this ‘shit-hole’—the soldiers’ term which the officers adopt.
1935 B. Creighton tr. ‘B. Traven’ Treasure of Sierra Madre (new ed.) xiii. iv. 193 Come out there from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.
c1947 T. Shibutani Derelicts of Company K (1978) v. 200 How come..we have to live in this shit hole?…
1973 W. Crawford Gunship Commander 11 I have already spent four miserable, rotten years of my life in that shit-hole and I am not going back.

“Shithole” to refer to a place seems to have originated in the military. I see it’s in the novel “High Fidelity” (1995) by Nick Hornby: “And I moved when I was eighteen, so I only spent a year seeing the place for what it was—a suburban shit-hole—and hating it.” That makes it sound like pretty normal guy talk, so why are we acting all puritanical about it now?

It was said by the President of the United States, but at a private meeting, where I presume he, like many Presidents before him, says “fuck” and other bad words all the time. We know Nixon did. LBJ did.

So what is the big deal? The big deal is that it’s racist. Supposedly. That’s in the mind of the hearer, as the hearer really hears it or chooses to speak of it, and the motivations there are not untainted. Anything about Trump that can be called racist, will be called racist, but Trump said (we’re told) “shithole countries,” and “shithole,” in this context means a wretched place. Is Haiti not a wretched place? There are connotations of dirtiness, obviously, but more notably, that the place is just awful, not that the people are bad in some way because of their race. There’s enough reason to think of Haiti as dilapidated and downtrodden without needing to start assuming that there’s something about the people because of their race. Perhaps the racism is in the mind of the person who hears “shithole” about the country and starts thinking about the race of the people who live there.

Anyway, “shithole” also means “anus,” and that meaning is very old, going back to the 1600s: “Six shitten shotes did I shoote in thy mowth that I shot from my shithole.” Yikes. Someone published that in 1629. “Shithole” also means “latrine.” The oldest published usage is in the military context: c1947 T. Shibutani “Derelicts of Company K”: “I hear Mike and Joey fell in a shit hole last night!

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