“Schitt’s Creek”

There. I said it. Which is more than David Bianculli, TV critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” was able to do on Tuesday in his review of this new sitcom. It’s a show about a rich family, the Roses, that loses everything except the deed to a town purchased decades earlier as a joke. Here’s Bianculli twisting himself into Federal Communications Commission-approved knots:

The name of the town also is the name of this TV series, and there’s a reason the deed to the town was bought as a joke. It’s a joke I can’t say on the radio, but the second word is creek. The first is spelled S-C-H-I-T-T-apostrophe-S and rhymes with spits. From now on, I’ll just call it “Creek.”

“Schitt’s Creek” had its debut last month in Canada, on the CBC, and makes its U.S. debut tonight on the cable channel Pop, which is what the TV Guide Network has renamed itself. The famously taboo-averse New York Times took a bold stance and printed the title of the series in its (lukewarm) review. But on the primly and grimly patrolled airwaves no one can hear that expletive-sparing “C.”

(Oddly, though, weekend anchor Scott Simon got away with it (“That’s Schitt with a C”) in an interview that aired February 7. Maybe it’s just “Fresh Air” that doesn’t like to get fresh.)

Eugene Levy, the veteran comic actor (SCTV, Best in ShowA Mighty Wind) who created “Schitt’s Creek” with his son, Dan, was “prepared for some blowback” about the title, the Toronto Star reported last month. The Levys père et fils

went through phone books to see if the name Schitt actually existed. It did. And they gave pages from directories featuring the name to the public broadcaster to prove their point.

“We argued that if CBC was doing a news broadcast with the name Schitt, would you not use it?” Levy told the Star in an interview. “They said, ‘Yes, we would air the name.’ So we called the show Schitt’s Creek.”

My favorite smutty-lingo tidbit from that story: the show is filmed in the real town of Goodwood, Ontario. (A tip of the hat to James Harbeck for the link.)

Shit creek or shit’s creek (“an unpleasant situation or awkward predicament”) is no shitty-come-lately, according to the OED. “Up shit creek” first appeared in print in 1868 in no less august a publication than the Annual Reports of the (U.S.) Secretary of War: “Our men put old Lincoln up Shit creek, and we’ll put old Dill up.” In 1939, the American novelist John Dos Passos wrote, in Adventures of a Young Man, “They had a hard time finding their way through the woods… ‘Well, we’re up shit creek without any paddle.’” Our British brethren took up the idiom with some relish: Noel Coward used it in a 1956 diary entry (“Added to their discomfiture, Ford must have realized that they have nothing prepared for 5 May and that frankly they are up shit creek without a paddle”), and Private Eye, the satirical and public-affairs magazine, published this sentence in 1981: “If they’d followed her this far up shit creek it’s a long way to walk back.”

The New York Times’s Mike Hale couldn’t resist adding to the record. He ends his lukewarm review: “If you choose to watch, maybe some of that potential will be realized, or maybe you’ll just find yourself up 13 episodes without a paddle.”

20 thoughts on ““Schitt’s Creek”

  1. Y February 11, 2015 / 3:31 am

    In the horror movie Monsturd, the evil guy is named Jack Schmidt.


  2. danchall February 11, 2015 / 4:05 am

    Jack Schitt is a character in Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series.


    • Nancy Friedman February 11, 2015 / 2:17 pm

      Jack Schitt is a wonderful name. Of course, so is Jasper Fforde.


  3. EM February 11, 2015 / 9:35 am

    Alternatively, one could disguise “Schitt” by pronouncing it like “schism”.


  4. misterslang February 11, 2015 / 11:33 am

    This is pitiful (the reactions, not of course the post). ‘A turde in thy mouth, the devill take thee’ as we used to say back in 1566


  5. rpressergmail February 11, 2015 / 9:33 pm

    Piers Anthony once wrote a short story called “Up Schist Creek”. The last words in the story, of course, were “Without a paddle.”


  6. John Cowan February 12, 2015 / 3:08 am

    My mother had a student, an ex-Soviet Jew, whose name was Peter Livshit. I always wondered if he eventually changed it.


    • Nancy Friedman February 12, 2015 / 3:20 am

      The designer Ralph Lauren changed his surname from Lifshitz. According to his Wikipedia entry, he once told Oprah Winfrey: “My given name has ‘shit’ in it. That’s why I decided to change it.”

      Lifshitz and its many alternate spellings (Livshitz, Lipshutz, Lipszyc, etc.) is a fairly common Ashkenazic Jewish surname, said to have been taken by residents of Lippshutz, Germany (Polish spelling: Glubczyce).


      • John Cowan February 15, 2015 / 11:11 pm

        Hence the joke about the curse on the Livshitz Diamond: to wear it, you have to marry a Livshitz (and change your name).

        But Livshit strikes me as much more taboo than Livshitz.


  7. Chips Mackinolty February 12, 2015 / 5:42 pm

    I this an Australianism? I’d always been told the phrase was: “Up shit creek in a barbed wire canoe without a paddle”. Just the thought of sitting in such a canoe is painful


    • Nancy Friedman February 12, 2015 / 6:50 pm

      Chips: The barbed-wire variation may indeed be an Australianism–I’ve never seen or heard it–but the original idiom is mid-19th-century American.


      • Chips Mackinolty February 12, 2015 / 6:59 pm

        Thanks Nancy. I knew that people from the US lacked paddles when up shit creek! Trust Australians to do it more painfully!


  8. Christy Jackson Nicholas February 13, 2015 / 10:44 am

    I need your help. I am writing novels set in Ireland in 1846, 1800, and 1745. I need curses. I need words an Irishman or woman would yell at a man who had just punched him, or shot him in the arm. The equivalent in modern American would be ‘You mother Fucking Asshole!” Something strong! Also, a general curse or two, the equivalent of “Damnit all to hell!” Have you a few suggestions for me? They don’t have to be vulgar, but they need to have kick.


    • Nancy Friedman February 13, 2015 / 11:28 pm

      Christy: Your topic is very far from my own field of interest (contemporary brand names), so I’ve taken the liberty of forwarding your comment to another contributor who may be able to answer your question.


    • Marvin March 27, 2015 / 9:30 pm

      Watch a few episodes of Father Ted and the Irish comedy Hard Times – that should give you enough inspiration ! Feck and Fecking is a common alternative 🙂


  9. Chips Mackinolty February 13, 2015 / 12:31 pm

    I forgot all about this. From Australia’s leading linguists on Australians’ use of the English Language. It may be more universal, of course, and not limited to the English language.


  10. Sunshine April 11, 2015 / 4:08 am

    While reading this, I kept thinking of one episode of the cartoon My Little Pony, where a character says “Then you are up a creek.” (I could cite the exact character and episode, but I’m trying to contain my nerdiness.) It’s interesting how you can censor the phrase to the point that it doesn’t even imply a shitty (heh) situation anymore, yet with enough context, even a young child with no knowledge of the original phrase can understand the meaning. Also, the character who says it speaks with a Southern U.S. accent and frequently uses so-called “countryisms,” so it’s interesting to see it’s used in other places such as Australia.


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