mánudagur, júní 19, 2006


I heard some actor on that terribly pretentious television program where the interview always concludes with a set list of questions. One of them is "what is your favorite curse word?" This actor (I do not remember who it was) answered, "*****shit." There was a beep, but the word was clearly horseshit.

I too am fond of this word. It is so much better than bullshit. Or rather, more refined somehow.

In fact, I've thought about this. Bullshit, I think, is frequently spouted by someone who doesn't realize that he is spouting it. A fellow says something at a party that you know to be utter nonsense, perhaps a widely-held but mistaken belief, perhaps simply his own gross misinterpretation of reality. Aww, you say, jerking your head back a little, squinting, and pushing out your lower lip (an exaggerated expression, because you too are beer-tipsy), aw, that's bullshit, man. He is affronted. What? He was sure that it was true, whatever he said. No, dude, you continue, you have it totally wrong, and you do your best to set him straight.

(This is different from the verb to bullshit, nota bene, which implies a great degree of intentionality and conscious deception. The bullshit-spouter is likely a blockhead, whereas the bullshitter is either a witty liar or rake.)

Horseshit is an entirely different substance. He who speaks horseshit knows he is doing so. He may be extemporizing on a topic well known to him, or he may have crafted the stuff with no little care the night before. It is a curious fact that the relative processed-ness of verbal bullshit and horseshit is inversely proportional to that of their non-metaphoric counterparts. Cowpats are more fully broken down and odorous than the fibrous deposits left in the wake of military parades, as horses have less efficient digestive systems than do cows. Equids pass clods more grass than shit, but he who pronounces horseshit (there is no verb *to horseshit) passes on a product that has been well worked-through. Nevertheless, spoken horseshit and spoken bullshit stink equally. I digress.

The purveyor of horseshit may well be discoursing on a subject no less refined than the chosen medium. It might be about art theory, or philosophy, or the economy, or social policy. Such speeches might move one, upon hearing, to rise to one's feet and call out in ringing tones, Senator, that is horseshit, causing the chamber to rustle with shifting feet and whispered expressions of mock scandal.

Am I right? Are there any native speakers out there who would like to correct me?

3 ummæli:

Simon sagði...

It must be noted that a purveyor of horseshit might have that twinkle in her eye, knowing that she is misleading the uninitiated, yet speaking volumes to those in the know.

Did the TV programme really beep the "horse", rather than the "shit"?

sterna sagði...

So noted.

And you are absolutely right, Simon. They beeped the "shit," not the "horse." I blame lack of sleep on my part.

Alizarin sagði...

It's inevitable that someone will mention the book On Bullshit, so it might as well be me. There, it says that bullshitting is worse than lying, because bullshitting ignores both truth and falsehood, instead of lying which acts against truth and so at least acknowledges it.

Given that, the noun "bullshit" and the verb "to bullshit" might not be so different in meaning. Anyone spouting at a party, whether well-intentioned or merely blinkered, is spouting a brown porridge that has not resolved into truth or lie.

As for horseshit, I think you have it exactly. I picture the horse's long hairy tail, vigorously whisking and lobbing his clods far and wide. I hear the horsetail whisk is a symbol of authority in some countries. (However, since I can't document this statement, it must remain in the realm of bullshit.) There's also something about horseshit being in the road instead of in the pasture that changes its meaning ... like, why are you putting this in my way?

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