Potty words and toddlers. Babble's Parenting Dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary is many things: the largest dictionary in the world, an attempt to completely record the English language, and the closest thing we have to word-lover’s crack.One thing it’s not is snobbish. To create a full record of English means to delve into all realms of human experience, which parents and lexicographers agree is full of number one, number two, pee-pee, wee-wee, doo-doo, tinkling – and even the occasional poopie-plops. The OED first noticed these terms (with their toilet-y meanings) in some diaper of our literature in the years 1902, 1902, 1923, 1937, 1954, 1965, and 1975 respectively.

“Poopie-plops” – a vivid word for a dump – is the mere tip of the poo-berg, as the OED has plenty o’ “poo” and “poop”-related terms, complete with citations to illustrate their collective stain on our language and culture. It’s as if the OED took this 1989 quote as mission statement: “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the army, it’s never to ignore a pooh-pooh!”

So next time you change a full-capacity nappy, I hope you’ll remember that you’re not only making your offspring clean and healthy, but you’re a participant in history – rich, steamy history:

-“Poop” originally meant to fart, not to dump; the first example of this meaning is in 1689. This might relate to the older sense of “poop” that meant “to produce a short blast of sound, as with a horn; to blow, toot . . . ” Yep, that sounds like flatulence to me. A more violent meaning dates from 1915 and involves the discharge of a gun rather than an ass: “One ‘poops’ at the enemy’s trench, or at his transports. But rifles do not poop, only guns.” And here’s a 1937 quote that sounds kind of gross and yet quite impressive to contemporary ears: “At any rate he pooped the ball into the (tennis) net.”

-Like “Kleenex,” “Xerox” and “Google,” “pooper scooper” originated as a brand-name: the Super-Duper Pooper-Scooper (1956).

-“To be in the poo” is a self-explanatory expression dating from 1960. “In the poop” has a different, naval meaning unrelated to metaphorical up-the-creekness: it means astern or just favorable.

-“Pooty” (1825) is a regional variation of “pretty,” much like “purty.” And yet, nine out of ten women, when described as pooty, file charges.

-The “pooh-pooh theory” – old as 1861 and still discussed – is “the theory that language is a development of natural interjections,” meaning “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” evolved from “Oww!” and “Aiiiiieeeee!” and “Guh!” I don’t know if that theory holds any toilet water, but there sure are a lot of poo-sounding exclamations, such as “Pho!” (1601), “Phoo!” (1672), “Poh!” (1559) and “Pooey!” (1932).

-Here’s a child-friendly version of “when the shit hits the fan” that I encourage you to use with your own child immediately: “when the poopy hits the paddles” (2000).

-The sense of poop as information dates from 1911 and has a military origin. A “poop sheet” – in contrast to a poopy sheet – is full of facts, not feces.

-If you’re tired of calling your enemies and cousins names such as “poop-butt” (1967) and “poop-head” (1955), why not reach back to the thirties for a fresher insult: “poop-stick.”

I’ll close with a 1938 citation that upholds the pooh-pooh theory while having a metric diaperload of general truth as well: “In the dawn of language, the bow-wows and the pooh-poohs and even the ding-dongs must have served man well.”


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