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.”


But are kids really the eggcorn specialists I guessed they might be? Emphatically yes. I went fishing for leads on parenting message boards, hoping that my “movie feeder” example would gain some company, and I wasn’t disappointed with the results, which include:

– A girl who mistook the lines to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” for “You’re a Grand Old Flag, You’re a High-fivin’ Flag.”

– A three-year-old who does “boopy bops” instead of “belly flops.”

– A tyke claiming that her dad was “painting a butt” – instead of the less-artistic “pain in the butt.”

– A four-year-old who accused an annoying brother of “extracting” rather than distracting her.

– Kids who turned “yesterday,” “memory” and “gravity” into “lasterday,” “remembory” and “grabity.”

– An adult recalling that she thought her parents said, “Only god’s nose when your granddaddy will get back.”

University of Pennsylvania Linguist Mark Liberman writes, “Kids are eager to make sense of what they hear. On the whole, this is a strategy that works – it’s by cross-referencing bits of language from one context to another, and by making up stories about how it all ties together, that they manage the amazing feat of learning a language by observing its use… .” In reference to Koey’s “movie feeder,” Liberman said, Take a moment to appreciate your son or daughter’s linguistic inventions — even when they’re wrong. “Our most sophisticated computer speech recognition systems still make lots of mistakes in recognizing English words out of context. So hey, all it takes is one easy little slippage of similar sounds – [f] for [th] – and the unfamiliar word ‘theater’ turns into the familiar ‘feeder’. Which makes perfect sense, what with all that feeding going on.”

So take a moment to appreciate your son or daughter’s linguistic inventions – even when they’re wrong. Adult flubs can be harder to accept, since your demented coworker is likely less adorable than your swaddling child, but it’s best to take all eggcorns with a grain assault. That would be better for your mental health and digestive system.

Leave your favorite eggcorns in feedback!

Article Posted 11 years Ago

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