Recently, my father and I were enjoying a pleasant train ride through the Irish countryside to visit some family friends. Our conversation, as it does, went to –shit. Chickenshit, specifically.
I don’t recall what occasioned our chuckling about chickenshit, not that one ever needs a reason, but soon our chatter turned to other piles of -shit, e.g., bullshit, batshit, jackshit, the shit-list goes on. This put to mind, of course, Strong Language, where we’ve been well covered in –shit words over the years, memorably Kory Stamper on dipshit, Mark Peters on frogshit, and Ben Zimmer on ripshit.
I was curious about how English’s many species of –shits, whether they be formed by compounding or affixation, relate to one another. So, naturally, I made a matrix—a matrix of –shits—comparing them by kind and degree.
It began when I called someone a dipshit on Thanksgiving. (To be fair, the object of my displeasure–me– earned the sobriquet.) What a word, I mused: it must be a compound of the verb dip and shit, as if someone incompetent or stupid was so repugnant that they might as well be “dipped in shit.”
Alas for etymological fallacy: dipshit is not a compound created from the verb dip and the noun shit. It is, instead, a compound of the earlier noun dip, meaning “a stupid or incompetent person,” and the noun shit.
So who gives a fuck? I give said fuck. I had always assumed that dip was the bowdlerization of dipshit. Instead, it turns out that dipshit is an expansion and intensification of the earlier, tamer dip. It is expurgation turned ass over teakettle. Dip not strong enough for you? Just add –shit and stir.