Shitlike stuff happens

Shit, it’s fair to say, has happened since the dawn of time and the invention of shit. But the axiomatic acknowledgment “Shit happens” has a relatively short documented history and a long tail of puns, spinoffs, and commercial manipulations. Not to mention one famous fictional origin story.

“Shit happens” first appeared in print in 1978, according to The Dictionary of Modern American Proverbs (Yale University Press, 2012), which cited a line in Tragic Magic, a novel by the American writer Wesley Brown: “Once you know the reason why shit happens, you shouldn’t have to ask the question anymore.” In 1983, the linguist Connie Eble documented the saying in her annual roundup of slang used by students at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

But people had almost certainly been saying “shit happens,” and employing various euphemistic variations, for a long time before that. The Dictionary of Modern American Proverbs cites a 1944 usage of “stuff happens” that’s attributed to “Vic and Sade,” a popular American radio show of the 1930s and 1940s. The editors’ note on the “shit/stuff happens” entry observes:

The proverb commonly expresses a sort of stoic resignation at the vagaries and sorrows of life. Even though the citations for “Stuff happens” antedate ones for “Shit happens,” it is not unreasonable to suspect, in some instances at least, that stuff represents a euphemistic replacement of shit—stuff having been more acceptable in print (and in polite oral discourse as well). The “Shit happens” form achieved notoriety in the 1980s when its appearance on bumper stickers occasioned arrests and criminal prosecutions—giving rise to allusive (anti-proverbial) variants that substituted for shit the name of some disliked public figure or group.

bush happens

“Bush Happens” cartoon by Daryl Cagle, Oct. 10, 2008.

shit_happens_white_bumper_sticker

You can still buy “Shit Happens” bumper stickers. This one’s from Café Press.

The 1994 movie Forrest Gump gave our hero (played by Tom Hanks) credit for coining the phrase.

This was an entertaining bit of fiction that proved useful for at least one person: the American film scholar Vivian Sobchack, who was inspired to write a paper, published in 1997, titled “Shit Happens: Forrest Gump and Historical Consciousness.” Here’s an excerpt:

With a reflective and condensed bumper-sticker irony that is also literalized (and with something akin to the “long view” of the Annales school of history that deals with “long-term equilibriums and disequilibriums” through the minute detailing of everyday life and its “conjunctures”), the film tells us: “Shit happens.” That is, rather than ignoring or denying history, Forrest Gump suggests that the temporally inflated notion of something we might once have called the “historical event” is in some fashion now deflated—its specificity reduced to generalized matter not because events are now considered merely trivial, but because they have become indeterminate in their boundaries and undecidable in their “eventual” historical importance.

Meanwhile, I’ve done my own semi-scholarly labors and come up with a big Shit Happens catalog.

Lists

The original Shit Happens list was theological (“Taoism: Shit happens. Hinduism: This shit has happened before. Nihilism: Who gives a shit?”). The late, lamented Maledicta (“the international journal of verbal aggression”) compiled a more extensive version in 1996; it included some occupational definitions (“Linguist: What I’m doing is a bunch of feces tauri”), branded variations (“McDonald’s: You want fries with your McShit?”), and now-quaint computer definitions (“Fortran: It’s shit but I don’t know any better”).

Subsequent lists have added entries for Spoonerism (“Hit shappens”), astrology (“Uranus transits”), quantum physics (“Shit happens in discrete quanta called shitons”), and other disciplines.

Puns

Business names and slogans are fertile territory for “shit happens” wordplay. A representative sample:

  • Sheet Happens, a music-publishing business in Whitby, Ontario (Canada).
  • Sit Happens, a dog-sitting business in Missoula, Montana.

shiitake-happens

  • “Shiitake happens.” Shroomy mouse pad from Neurons Not Included.
  • Shoot Happens, a commercial film production company in Copenhagen.
  • Ship Happens, “your United States shipping/receiving solution for home and business.” The URL is MyShipHappens.com.
  • Sheep Happens, a game app for Android devices.
  • Cheat Happens, a website that gives gamers “exclusive cheats and trainers.”

image-sign-closed-shut-happens

Shut happens sign. Image via Western Rifle Shooters Association

Sometimes the pun is in a title rather than a business name:

  • Shot Happens, an inspirational first-person account of being shot and paralyzed.
  • Shift Happens, an influential slide presentation from 2008 about digital-era transformation.

Awkwordplay

I owe this term to my colleague in naming, Christopher Johnson, who coined it from awkward and wordplay.

  • Knit Happens, a knitting group at the San Francisco Public Library (“Get your knit together at Knit Happens!”).
  • Disability Happens, a one-man aggregation of news bulletins about — you guessed it — disability issues.
  • Spontaneous Collaboration Happens, an ad slogan used for a while by Join.me, a virtual-meeting service.

spontaneous happens

Spotted at a BART station in December 2010. (See my post about this slogan and others.)

Synonyms

So. Many. Synonyms.

  • Manure happens. Many, many tchotchkes for gardeners and farmers who know their shit.

manure happens

Via Etsy.


meconium happens

  • Meconium happens” iPhone case and charger, via Etsy. Meconium is the first feces of a newborn mammal.

compost happens

Compost happens” mug, via Etsy.

coprolite_happened_rectangle_sticker

excrement_occureth_bumpersticker

Then there’s Poop Happens, used by too many hey-aren’t-we-clever businesses to enumerate. Some — like this one, in Fort Wayne, Indiana — are dog-waste-removal services.

high_resolution_poop

  • Freedom Septic Services, in Carroll County, Maryland (on Liberty Road!), owns the URL PoopHappens.com, but the moniker appears nowhere else on the site.

Global

Our little gift to the world. You’re welcome.

  • Merde Happens, a novel by Stephen Clarke, was published in 2007 in Great Britain and in 2008 in the U.S.

merde_happens

shit happens hebrew mug

“Galal yikreh et kulanu”: literally, the rather formal/Biblical “Dung will happen to all of us.” A more colloquial substitute for galal would be hara, a borrowing from Arabic. Via Cafe Press.

german_scheie_passiert

Via Café Press.

And when words fail, you can let emoji do the swearing.

emoji shit happens

Via Look Human.

16 thoughts on “Shitlike stuff happens

  1. spykeyone August 18, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    My favourite example of Shit Happens is in Predator 2
    Gold Tooth: King Willie says, not only do I have to kill you, but I have to take your soul. Voodoo magic. Fucking voodoo magic, man!
    [laughs]
    Gold Tooth: But you know what? I tell you what I believe: shit happens!

    Like

  2. dougwriteswords August 18, 2015 / 2:14 pm

    I love the idea of “Shit Happens” being proverbial. When I think about proverbs, I think about biblical lesson teaching. So, something that’s so concise and nearly juvenile juxtaposes my preconceived idea of what a proverb should be. Maybe in a new, unrated extended cut of the ol’ Sacred Book, the son of God will give a “Shit Happens” quote as air horns blaze and his disciples go crazy, this being after he drops the mic of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Todd Duffey Writes on Things August 18, 2015 / 9:01 pm

    Reblogged this on todduffey and commented:
    This is heady stuff!

    Like

  4. Todd Duffey Writes on Things August 18, 2015 / 9:06 pm

    The breadth of the shit that happens, and the variety, are awe-inspiring! Thank you for the i-depth of this topic! Hilarious and informative!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dennis Baron August 18, 2015 / 10:08 pm

    The slogan for Deep River Snacks, of Old Lyme, CT, which btw make the best potato chips, is, “Because we give a chip.”

    Like

    • Nancy Friedman August 18, 2015 / 10:14 pm

      Dennis: Congratulations! You are the third person to have alerted me to this company and its slogan (unfamiliar here in California). Although “give a chip” doesn’t fit the “shit happens” pattern, I appreciate your associating me with all things shitlike, and I shall endeavor to work a mention of Deep River Snacks into a future post.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Innocent Bystander August 20, 2015 / 3:41 am

    A new pun referencing potential baseball MVP Paul Goldschmidt when he has a big hit:

    #GoldschmidtHappens

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nancy Friedman August 23, 2015 / 11:22 pm

    Here’s one more for the files (and I can’t believe I missed it in my earlier research):

    SITH HAPPENS

    From http://darth.wikia.com/wiki/Sith_Happens:

    Fatalism – Sith happens.
    Yodaism – Happens the Sith does. Deal with it we must.
    Jediism – We zap that Sith.
    Darth Vader – I AM THAT SITH. I WILL HAPPEN!

    Thanks indirectly to this Dustbury post.

    Like

  8. Kat August 25, 2015 / 6:32 am

    I love this site!

    And…I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to offer some fun shit facts passed down to me from my father (who also insists that no one ever use the word “ghetto” to describe anything other than a neighborhood where poor Jewish people gathered and lived when moving to America, nor ever use the word “faggot” to describe anything other than a bundle of sticks).

    I fail in the historical accuracy of this, but for the sake of interest, I’ll take a stab at it. I’m guessing this was in the 1600’s-1700’s, when large amounts of livestock and farming materials were still shipped by boat to neighboring farms, plantations, and/or plots of land. According to my father, the gold-hearted human(ish) encyclopedia(ish), crates of manure were also on board these shipments.

    Nobody likes the smell of wet livestock manure, especially when also having to battle whatever storms and accompanying seasickness come one’s way, so the crates of freshly collected manure had to be stored on top of the piles of other shipment crates, high away from the bows of the ships to avoid an untimely affiliation with seawater. So instead of labeling the crates as ‘Fresh Bovine Dung’, or whatever the appropriate verbiage of the time, merchants labeled these rank crates with…you guessed it:

    S.H.I.T.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, according to my proud papa, stood for “Ship High In Transit”. As in, “Keep this S.H.I.T. as far away from the water as possible so we don’t have to smell it through our entire two-week voyage”.

    It is a fun fact, and I have not taken the time to research its authenticity. I’ll leave that up to you, the experts. And I’ll be anxiously awaiting more shit-filled (but definitely not shitty) posts from Strong Language.

    Like

    • Nancy Friedman August 25, 2015 / 1:39 pm

      Kat: It’s fun, but it’s not a fact, as Snopes and others have affirmed.

      And while we’re at it, fuck is not an acronym for “fornication under consent of the king” (see Snopes again).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kat August 25, 2015 / 8:28 pm

        See, good to know! I knew there was a reason I brought it up here haha. Thank you for giving us the facts (and now I can enjoy the secret pleasure of knowing how to prove my father incorrect…which rarely happens).

        Like

  9. phdinmeblog August 31, 2015 / 2:46 am

    This blog is Wild! Hilarious! Glad I found it. Light and Love, Shona

    Like

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