Units of fucking measure

Shit-ton. Buttload. Fuck-ton. Shall we take a closer look at these eminently useful units of measure?

Loads

There’s a misconception floating around that a buttload is a real unit of measure, thanks to this blog post, which some readers are apparently taking seriously. A butt is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “a cask for wine or ale, of capacity varying from 108 to 140 gallons… Afterwards also as a measure of capacity = 2 hogsheads, i.e. usually in ale measure 108 gallons, in wine measure 126 gallons.” But nobody has used buttload to refer to that quantity specifically. Butt dates from medieval times, but buttload’s been with us for only a few decades.

Out of all the -loads, shitload is the oldest, attested in the 1950s, and it is by far the most common:

LoadWords

Fuckload and buttload are more recent additions, from the 1980s. (Assload and crapload aren’t listed in the OED.) Buttload may have been a euphemistic variant of shitload, and fuckload either came into being by analogy with shitload or, as the OED suggests, a dysphemism for truckload. In the UK, shedload, attested in the early 1990s, might have been a euphemism for shitload.

A small minority of folks seem to be using fuckload to mean load as in semen (“I blew a fuckload in her face”), but outside very specific contexts I think these fine people risk being misunderstood. Accepted usage has fuckload meaning an exceptionally large amount—much more than you’d get in a load of come, which, as Louis CK has described it, is only about as much as a child’s dose of Tylenol.

Tons

The -ton construction is a little younger, becoming popular only in the past fifteen years or so. (Funnily enough, like butt, a ton also used to refer to a large wine-vessel or cask. Today we spell that tun.) None of ass-ton, butt-ton, crap-ton, fuck-ton, or shit-ton have been added to the OED yet, but I suspect their time is coming.

Although the natural progression is for these kinds of compounds to go from open (“a crap ton of herpetic lesions”) to hyphenated (“a crap-ton of herpetic lesions”) to closed (“a crapton of herpetic lesions”), and we’re seeing a lot of fuckton and asston, the editor in me advises you to keep the hyphen for clarity. Shitton looks as though it’s pronounced /ʃɪtən/ (“shitten”) and might be the name of a quaint hamlet in northern England.

Usage

First, let’s get some myths cleared up: ass/butt/crap/fuck/shit-loads and ass/butt/crap/fuck/shit-tons aren’t only for describing unpleasant things—having a crapload of work to do, say. People regularly talk about being paid a fuckton of money or eating a shitload of food. And there’s no use being a stickler and insisting that -loads describe volume and -tons describe weight. In mainstream usage, they’re both used for count and mass nouns, which don’t have to be tangible: a game can have a shit-ton of new features and a report a fuckload of mistakes.

How many shitloads are there in a fuck-ton? Despite many an amusing debate on this critical issue, semantically, ass/butt/crap/fuck/shit-loads and ass/butt/crap/fuck/shit-tons are trading pretty much at par. They all mean “a large, usually indeterminate quantity” and are essentially equivalent. Because the -ton terms are newer, some speakers perceive them to mean more than their -load counterparts, but for many Urban Dictionary users, anyway, a shitload, fuckload, shit-ton, and fuck-ton are all interchangeable.

If you do need to be emphatic, go metric. Not all metric units are bigger than imperial ones (and a metric ton is larger than a short ton but smaller than a long ton), but metric does seem to be a universal intensifier for -load and -ton measures. Lexicographer Grant Barrett studied the practice of using metric with -load words, including buttload, fuckload, assload, and shitload, and he traced it to the early 1990s.

(Our own Mark Peters has explored several other metric X-loads on his old Wordlustitude blog, including metric penisloads and metric Jesus-loads.)

Whatever you do, don’t write “metric fuck-tonne.” Tonne is metric by definition, so metric fuck-tonne is redundant. Seeing as fuck-ton and fuck-tonne are homophonic, opt for “metric fuck-ton” for maximum clarity, especially in speech.

13 thoughts on “Units of fucking measure

  1. Tony Thorne January 31, 2015 / 8:49 am

    In the UK ‘shedload(s)’ (usually of money) is in common usage, eg by boastful males working in finance, sports fans critiquing footballers’ salaries , etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Moody February 10, 2015 / 4:47 pm

    What about the most useful measurement of all, the cunt hair?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben J August 9, 2016 / 9:49 am

      Baw hair in Scotland too.

      Like

  3. Michael Blaustein November 15, 2016 / 11:50 pm

    I opted for “metric fuck-ton” for maximum clarity in a speech I made at graduation, and half the class accused me of redundancy. You suck.

    Like

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