From the New York Times (strong language ahead):
President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.
It’s remarkable, this “shithole” remark—and no, I don’t just mean the racist xenophobia lurking in President Trump’s language, not to mention its utter ignorance of international affairs and an abject dearth of humanitarianism.
On the Strong Language blog, Merriam-Webster’s Kory Stamper explains why newspapers printing shithole, as their editorial policies have been variously averse to do, is such a boon to lexicographers:
So when the word “shithole” shows up above the fold in the news section of a newspaper, that tells me, as a lexicographer, that this word is not just the province of BuzzFeed or Twitter or pulp fiction, but might actually be (shitty, shitty) Wonder Bread.
The “Wonder Bread” here, in Stamper’s apt metaphor, is an earlier reference to a word as “boring and everywhere…remarkable only because it is wholly unremarkable[.]”
As for the word shithole itself, it started out as a literal term for the “anus” or “rectum.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attests it, in a remarkable bit of verse, in the 1629 poem Liber Lilliati:
Six shitten shotes did I shoote in thy mowth that I shot from my shithole.
On Twitter, biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove dug deeper into this poem in a remarkable thread. The highlights:
In its own thread, Strong Language also probed shithole. Picking up after the early 17th-century citation, it tweeted:
The eminent slang lexicographer Jonathon Green dates the Farmer & Henley Slang cite to 1890, and finds another rectal, though redacted, shithole reference in James Stevens’s First World War novel, Mattock:
Home, boys, home, it’s home we ought to be […] Oh, we’ll hist Old Glory to the top of a pole, / And we’ll all re-up—in a pig’s — —!
As slang for a “toilet,” the OED cites Tamotsu Shibutani’s 1947 Derelicts of Company K: A Sociological Study of Demoralization:
I hear Mike and Joey fell in a shit hole last night!
And as abusive term for a “despicable person,” the OED cites a 1974 edition of the adult magazine Coq:
Hey, shithole,…get the hell out of here.
Attributive use of shithole—like a modifier, as in “shithole countries”—emerges in the 1960-70s.
As the dictionaries update their entries, I suspect the reported shithole countries will get prominent credit. Meanwhile, global media have had the task to render the phrase into other languages:
I added to the conversation with a bit on dirt and the French and German treatment of shithole countries:
Other media outlets have shied away from publishing or broadcasting shithole uncensored. Ben Zimmer was on top of the cable news treatment:
It’s been a remarkably sweary start to 2018 and, sadly and unremarkably, yet another new low from President Trump.
For more sweary news, see my recent piece in Strong Language on Michael Wolff’s sweary account of the White House in his controversial Fire and Fury, followed up with a consideration of the slurry-sounding jumos, a typo for the slang jamoke in the book.