24 April 2011

Etymology of the term "shit-faced"

A contributor at Slate offers the following commentary on the OED entry:
shit-faced, adj. orig. U.S. (a) contemptible; ugly.... (b) intoxicated with alcohol or drugs; spec. extremely drunk. 1961 A. GINSBERG, Empty Mirror 19 "Why, you *shit-faced fool!"
It's a satisfying usage, but 1961 seems a bit late to me. And sure enough, delving into the wonderful 1948 linguistic study "North Texas Agricultural College Slang" reveals this earlier use: "S.F.C., n., An undesirable person. From shit-faced Charley."..

Shit history is full false cognates like shittle—which proves to be related to shuttle, in the sense of inconstancy. That's why a 1448 letter-writer could worry that "I am aferd that Jon of Sparham is so schyttyl wyttyd." The same root later meant you could play badminton with a shittlecock. (This 1797 report of a Chinese "game of shittlecock... [played] with the sole of the foot" appears to be an early description of hacky-sack.) Even more shit gets slung around by chit, from the same root as kit or kitten—while another derivation from to shut accounts for a c. 1415 sermon's curious exhortation to "shitt þe gates of heven."..

But in particular, I draw your attention to this entry:
SHIT-FACED, adj. Having a very small face, as a child, Clydes[dale].; q. chit-faced?
Instead of, say, a deeply unfortunate drunken pratfall, this shit-faced may come from the old Scottish fondness for referring to children as little shits; Jamieson's 1818 edition notes just such a "contemptuous designation for a child."
More at the link.


  1. While I cannot substantiate this, the fact that most overly drunken individuals find themselves face down in a toilet and most public bathrooms are rarely flushed properly. The term may have a completely obvious and far more literal meaning....

  2. Maybe Scottish "shit-faced" for children could be related to "chit" - definition one here http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chit (used a couple of time in Terry Pratchett books) "a chit of a girl"

  3. Dirac, that's the same conclusion drawn at the link.

  4. Which reminds me of a friend of mine, who after living some years in Finland went on to study for his doctorate at Harvard.
    Being far from wealthy, he had to work in order to support his self, and found a job in a dairy. The guys in the dairy were at first somewhat suspicious of a postgraduate philosopher in their midst, until Steve started to teach them how to swear in Finnish, so they could insult the boss without him being any the wiser.
    "Paskanaama!" is "Shit-face!".

  5. NOT "hackey-sack"


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