Wide world of shitshows

“That was a shitshow.”

Thank you, Dana Bash, for the most concise and quotable characterization of the first Trump-Biden debate.

And, by the way, she did not – as some news sources are putting it – say “a shit show.” There’s an important difference. The Star Wars Holiday Special was a shit show: it was a TV show and it was shit (Mark Hamill confirms). The debate was a shitshow. A clusterfuck. A shambolic bumbleplex of wanktastic dimensions. As horrifying as if you let a vulgar beshitten amphetaminated overgrown toddler scream at an elder statesman and called it a “debate.” Which, actually, yeah. Levels worse than a shit show (Mark Hamill also confirms). If you want to know more about the origins et cetera of shitshow, Nancy Friedman laid down the good shit a few years ago here in “What a shitshow!

But that leads us all to an important question, a question that it took a highly respected bestselling writer – and one of the absolutely nicest people on Twitter – to ask: 

Replies poured in. Which makes me happy, not just because I love languages and I love the earthy colloquial words in them best, but because, unlike Trump’s shithole or Scaramucci’s fucking paranoid schizophrenic, cock-block, and suck my own cock, Bash’s shitshow didn’t get nearly as much notice in the international press. Believe me, I looked. In general, it seems, the international press didn’t give a shit and didn’t show up for this debate. (Good call.) So I rely on Celeste Ng’s Twitter respondents to inform us, with a bit of my own occasional additional looking up to check some details.

In Spanish, the best term depends on the country, of course (if you thought that Spanish had just one, or even just two, or even just three or four versions, no). @DavidOBowles said that in Mexico it’s desmadre, literally ‘un-mothering’: “the worst kind of mess, attributed to someone’s lack of maternal guidance.” @stiletto33 said that “in Perú we would say mierdón, literally a super shit. Or my personal favorite, loco calato, which translates as naked crazy man. We use desmadre but for happy chaos, like a party gone off the rails.” In Puerto Rico, it may be a descojón (“de-bollocksing”), per @micapulina, or – for polite company – revolú, “basically, a hot mess,” per @The PattyG. Or arroz con culo, ‘rice with ass’, which @DavidOBowles says is specifically Puerto Rican and @micapulina suggested was region-specific in Puerto Rico. Or, as @zortizfuentes said, it may be a salpafuera (which I find is a gluing-together of sal pa fuera, from salir para afuera, which we’d say in English as ‘get out’ or ‘go outside’). In Costa Rica, per @msmelimellow, it would be despiche, which a quick web search tells me translates as ‘clusterfuck’ or ‘fucking mess’, and in this case piche comes from picha, ‘dick’ (so, as the Brits might say, a ‘cock-up’). Other Spanish suggestions included mierdero, from @yosoyCamo, and desvergue, from @alugg_.

In Portuguese, per @diegoexisteshitshow would be show de merda – “though i’d be more inclined to translate it as ‘espetáculo de merda’ (spectacle of shit) for added context since it’s not an expression here.”

And Catalan? According to @cinexina, the word would be merder, “definitely the best translation if the word ‘shit’ is absolutely required. A looser adaptation (with no swearwords) would be ‘una olla de grills’ (‘a pot of crickets’), which is exactly what this merder sounded like.”

French gives us foutoir or merdier, per @emmatonkin and @luushanah; I would be inclined to translate foutoir as ‘fuckery’, and @emmatonkin notes that “a ‘vrai foutoir’ is literally a ‘real cluster f***’ or ‘f*ckfest’.” Also, as confirmed by @chaparis, you could call it a bordel – literally ‘brothel’ but figuratively ‘mess’. (I don’t know specifically, but I suspect in Québec it would be more likely rendered with the aid of liturgical equipment, such as câlice and tabarnak, plus some merde.) Meanwhile, in Haitian Creole, which has gotten much of its vocabulary from French, according to @UbiChem shitshow would literally be spektak kaka (‘spectacle of shit’) but colloquially bann tenten (‘horde of nonsense’).

In Italian, according to @jackdaw_writes, a word that comes close would be troiaio, which literally is ‘pigsty’ but can also mean ‘brothel’ or, um, ‘sluttery’. Literally shit show would be spettacolo di merda, but that’s not an idiom.

In Irish, per @DernNiC, “the literal translation would be ‘seó cacach’ but the phrase for something being a mess is ‘bhí sé ina phraiseach’.” The first one just means ‘show of shit’ (and is said like “show kahkakh”) and the second uses an idiomatic phrasing that’s literally “it was in its porridge” (which is how Irish says “it was being porridge”) but figuratively “it was a mess” (said like “vee shay inna frahshakh”).

The German speakers had various suggestions. @egriswold suggested Schweinerei (“Literally, a mess, but with pigs involved”). @EvavonSchaper noted that “Schweinerei is a mess but not one due to the outright stupidity of a person” and pointed out that “Germans have appropriated shitstorm” (indeed, Angela Merkel famously used it in a speech). @forzaviola15 gave Viennese German: ein Schas (“literally means fart”). @exilschwable offered gequirlte Scheiße – which I would translate as ‘whisked shit’ or ‘beaten shit’ or mixed-up shit’. @TheAllergicKid offered “Unfortunately no cussing involved, but in German I’d say, ‘Das war ein Theater.’” Which literally means, yes, “That was a theatre,” but idiomatically means “That was a big kerfuffle.”

In Dutch, which has a distinctive tradition of using disease names to swear, @FearfulJoycuit said an approximate translation would be teringzooi: “Literally ‘tuberculosis mess’ (though ‘tering’ is now archaic)” – but added “There’s also ‘kutzooi’, which literally translates as ‘c*nt mess’.” Meanwhile, according to @Bluesciencetwit, the Afrikaans version would be strontstorm (‘shit storm’) or kakkerasie (which I think comes out as like ‘shitation’).

Icelandic gives us skítasýning, according to @DisaBjarna (I looked it up: literally ‘shitshow’). Swedish? According to @mumlummluskitstorm. In Finnish? According to @HKoppelopaskamyrsky (‘shit storm’). Estonian, per @CMYoungCanuck, makes that pask saade (which with the aid of my reference shelf I find means ‘shit broadcast’ – meanwhile, the Estonians from my wife’s home church here in Toronto always made a delicious sweet salad they called pask… hmmm). And @JordanRVance added, “Lithuanian co-worker chips (hooray!) in with ‘šūdmala’.”

In Polish, according to @ThisIsDabarai, it would be rozpierdol, which I note comes from roz- ‘apart’ and pierdol, an imperative of a verb meaning ‘fuck’ or ‘fuck up’ or ‘bullshit’ or ‘go to shit’ or… “So,” as @ThisIsDabarai said, “rozpierdol can be translated as fucking things up but more in the physical sense.”

In Hebrew, according to @carlyvo, and @KimberlyRMiller, it’s balagan (בלאגן) – though, as @dschwarz said, “it doesn’t really capture the profanity of the English.” (Wiktionary just translates it as “mess.”) The Greek word, according to @DebbieRFischer, would be fasaria (φασαρία): “Basically, a big, loud ‘to do’ or screwed-up mess, like ‘Balagan’ in Hebrew.” (A little research shows me that Greek borrowed it from Italian fesseria, ‘stupidity, nonsense’.) Meanwhile, in Turkish, according to @SerdarIldirar, “you can say boktan (shitty), but fiyasko (from Italian fiasco) would be more polite/formal.”

In Chinese, per @ourobororoboruo, it’s getting called 屎秀 (shǐ xiù, ‘poop show’ or ‘crap show’ – literally ‘crap blossom’, but xiù is used as the loanword version of show). @franklynwu offered, “Here is a Mandarin idiom: 歹戲拖棚 (dǎi xì tuō péng) it means not only it’s bad show/performance, it’s dragging on! The Taiwanese equivalent is very similar 漚戲拖棚 (àu-hì-thua-pênn) and with different pronunciations.” @WinnieLam4 offered 鬧劇, which in Mandarin would be nào jù, literally ‘noisy play’. @thefeast noted that “A local newspaper here in Taiwan translated it as 一場屎秀 yi chang shi xiu (literally a ‘shit’ ‘show’),” but added, “nobody says that. It almost feels like it’s a show about 💩😂. A better translation might be 一團亂 yi tuan luan (literally ‘total chaos’).” @lindaloves2eat added, “I would say 一场混战。混账 is a shitty stupid person.  混战 is a chaotic battle.  I think that may be the closest, closest I can come up with.” (The pinyin transliteration of that first phrase in Mandarin would be yī chǎng hùnzhàn.) 

Of course, Mandarin isn’t the only Chinese; @ktse852 gave a Cantonese version: “老屎忽大龍鳳 (lo see fat tai ung fung). 老屎忽 means ‘old snobbish ass’. 大龍鳳 is literally ‘big dragon phoenix’ – the Cantonese opera troupe from the 60s, and means putting on a show. e.g. 「我屌,政府做咗場老屎忽大龍鳳。」Fuck, the govt old farts put on a shitshow.”

In Korean, @polyestherism said, “I think in the vernacular it would be 개판 (gyepan) meaning chaos or something that has been messed up but harsher (re: f*cked up).” In Japanese, as noted by the original post by @ciaolivia that Celeste Ng quote-tweeted, “Asahi Shimbun, one of our major national newspapers, translated as くそみたいなショー (Kuso mitai na shō): ‘a show that is like shit’.” Others in the replies offered some less literal, more idiomatic suggestions; @oafbot said, “The closest preexisting japanese phrasing that i can think of is 茶番劇” (chaban geki, which usually translates as ‘farce’); @holycalamity commented, “Personally, I would’ve gone with the more theatre-themed 糞芝居 or 糞演劇 to capture the brevity of the English original” (those are kuso shibai and kuso engeki, which both could translate as ‘dung play’).

In Thai, @gogumarush said “Several Thai news outlets went with เละ (leh) which means in shambles. To translate ‘shitshow’ and keep the harshness and vulgarity, I may go with ความฉิบหาย (khwam chip hai) = a state of chaos, being gone to the dogs.” @Kellettbkk gave “โซว์ขี้ (show koi)” – which, again, means ‘shit show’.

In Indonesian, per @irfanfq and @kalaMMaya, it would be acara sampah – which translates literally to ‘trash event’. In Malaysian, according to @alasdairkiri, “nearest I can think of is ‘entah ape ke benda’ which means ‘I don’t even know what’.”

English has different varieties too, of course. Shitshow is American (and Canadian), but that doesn’t mean it’s current elsewhere. @TsundokuPuzzle said that in Australia they’d call it a shemozzle – a term that I’ve heard in Canada but doesn’t seem as vulgar.

And you have to look for yourself to see the ASL version shared by @Max_N_Tropy:

9 thoughts on “Wide world of shitshows

  1. Adam October 1, 2020 / 4:45 am

    > Estonian, per @CMYoungCanuck, makes that pask saade (which with the aid of my reference shelf I find means ‘shit broadcast’ – meanwhile, the Estonians from my wife’s home church here in Toronto always made a delicious sweet salad they called pask… hmmm).

    I don’t know anything about Estonian, but I would point out, is calling a salad that’s a random assortment of things a “shit salad” any weirder than calling an entree that’s a random assortment of things a “garbage plate”?


    • sesquiotic October 1, 2020 / 4:57 am

      Tangentially at best, my favourite Estonian saying is “Situ ruttu, karu tuleb,” which means “Shit fast, a bear is coming!”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. banivani October 2, 2020 / 7:23 am

    Swedish “skitstorm” is just a literal translation of the English word “shitstorm”. I’ve never heard it used myself but it gets just under 16000 hits on google so must be more common than I thought. I think it’s not the best one – it is used about someone getting so much shit it’s like a storm, ie heaps of abuse or criticism, or someone who is getting hit with obstacle after obstacle. I think a more idiomatic Swedish expression would be something along the lines of “a bloody mess” with the swearword being more or less crude depending on speaker and audience. A little more old-fashioned would be saying something was “ett spektakel”, a bit like the German “Theater” above. Swearing added for emphasis of course. Swearing ranges from “jäkla” or “förbannad/t”, which is in value equivalent to bloody, sodding, damn-ed, all the way to creative genitalia.


  3. David Marjanović October 3, 2020 / 5:57 pm

    German-speaking media widely left Shitshow untranslated. For the last 40 years it’s been a safe assumption that everybody knows enough English to know what shit means, and for even longer it’s been a safe assumption that everybody knows what a show is.

    This is the first time, BTW, that I see beshitten in English. In German, beschissen is very common, but in this context I’d go for the equally common geschissen.


    • Stan Carey October 4, 2020 / 8:49 am

      English has a surprising array of archaic synonyms for beshit, including conskite, bedo, bedung, becack, befoul, bemute (for birds), beray, bescumber, beshite, and immerd. (I surveyed the language’s once-prodigious be- suffixation on my own blog a few years ago.)


  4. Julian C December 6, 2020 / 6:36 pm

    In Argentina a “shitshow” would probably be referred to as a “quilombo” (also written “kilombo”) which means brothel.


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