Oh, Crap!

A paper about the origins of the word crap. Don't read this if you are offended by swear words.

Ronald J. Huereca
Ms. McCloy
Eng. 110
Grade: 45/50

Two youths deep in conversation were observed in a fast food restaurant. The slight whispers, the dry laughter, and the raunchy dialogue of the two teenagers filled the silent restaurant. It seemed as if one teenager was in charge of the conversation. He was handing out stories to the other teen as if the stories were candy. Suddenly the other teen laughed hysterically and said, “None of that’s true, Charles. You’re full of crap!”

“You’re full of crap!” It seems that everywhere we go, we here the word “crap” being used in one form or another. How would someone unknown to the word crap be able to decipher its use? We must first understand how we got such a term, how modern versions evolved from previous versions of the word, and how we use the word today.

How did we get the term for crap? There are many debates on how the word crap first came into use. One version on the history of crap states that it came from Thomas Crapper, who revolutionized the toilet industry when he invented a symphonic discharge system that allowed a toilet to flush effectively when the cistern was half full. Another version states that crap came from a Middle English term, crappe, which stood for a grain that was stepped on in a barn. The casino game that Las Vegas made famous is also named craps. So did the word crap come from a grain, a man who improved the design of the toilet, or a mere casino game?

The word craps that describes the casino game comes nowhere close to being related to a toilet. In fact, the word craps comes from the French word crabs, which means, “Throw of two or three.” When the French word came into the English language, the b was dropped at the end of crabs and a p was replaced. Voila, the term craps was invented. However, there is still the grain crappe and Thomas Crapper that may have given us our lovely term. History doesn’t provide us with evidence of the origins of crap, so we’ll have to assume the word came from Thomas Crapper.

The word crap may have been used before Crapper improved the toilet design, but I don’t believe the word was used in the meaning that we use today. I believe that the modern day word of crap that we use today started in World War I and has evolved from there. First, however, we must know how the use of the word crap could have started in World War I. The word crap first sprung its roots when Mr. Albert Giblin patented his invention for the toilet in 1898. Thomas Crapper was believed to have bought the patent rights from Giblin. Crapper then began to market the toilet in his own shops under his name. In 1904, Crapper sold the shop to his partners, but the shop remained under the Crapper name. During World War I, American soldiers would march through England seeing toilets with the name Crapper all over them. The soldiers may have associated toilets as “crappers.” First uses of the word could have been, “I’ve got to use the Crapper” or “You smell like a Crapper Johnny.”

After World War I, the word Crapper may have just dropped to Crap, as the public grew more accustomed to shorter slang terms. New uses could have been, “I’ve got to take a crap” or “You smell like crap.” Eventually, crap would take the place of the word “shit”. The association of crap with shit occurred because both can be used when referring to the toilet. The association with shit helped crap achieve one of its modern meanings. Instead of saying “bullshit”, someone may say “bullcrap.” Both bullshit and bullcrap achieve the same meaning, however, bullcrap is a more acceptable word in society because many people view “shit” as a swear word. As the word crap became associated with shit, people would make up new meanings. For example, “Get that crap off your shoes” or “You just stepped in some dog crap.” Instead of someone saying they had a shitty day, they would say, “My day has been crappy.” Eventually crap became associated with anything undesirable. If a booger were hanging from someone’s nose, somebody would say to that person, “Dude, you’ve got some crap hanging from your nose.” Another example is if someone had a weird stain on their shirt, somebody would say to that person, “What’s that crap on your shirt?” Soon the undesirable notion that crap attained could be transfixed into sentence form. When something bad happens or a big mistake was made, crap can be substituted. Someone using the non-crap form would say, “I messed up big time.” Someone else would just say, “Oh, crap!” Both sentences achieve the same meaning.

The only word that crap can almost always be interchanged with is shit. Almost any sentence in the English language using the word crap in it can be replaced with the word shit. However, modern society depicts shit as a swear word. Many adult conversations, public school classrooms, and T.V. shows are absent of the word shit in the conversations because saying the word is not appropriate. Modern society depicts shit as referring to feces, or anything unpleasant. However, when the word crap is interchanged with shit, the meaning of the word or phrase using shit is de-emphasized. For example instead of saying a person looked like shit, they could say that person looked like crap. Both uses achieve the same meaning, but crap is less vulgar.

Other words, besides shit, can also be interchanged with crap. The word crap can be associated with bad. Instead of someone saying there was bad weather outside, he would say, “There’s crappy weather today.” The word crap can also be associated with messes, or junk. When a father comes into a teen’s room and sees a big mess, he may say to the teen, “Clean this crap up!” The word crap can also be used as a negative adjective. Someone may say the town had crappy people instead of saying rude people.

The word crap can be used in many different contexts with slightly different meanings. Although I can only hypothesize on where the word crap came from, the word still has a broad background. It has evolved from a last name with only one meaning, to a slang term which has many. I believe crap is necessary in our English language so we can interchange it with the word shit without being profane, shorten long and boring dialogue, and add emphasis to certain situations. I hope the explanation of the word crap can help anyone unfamiliar with the context of the word and its meanings. Finally, without crap we wouldn’t be able to say things like, “Let’s get this crap over with.”

6 thoughts on “Oh, Crap!”

  1. Krista,

    I talked to one of my UK blogger friends and asked if the word “crap” was considered profanity.

    He responded:

    Not at all, if there can be a polite form, then that would be it.

  2. Unfortunately some of your assumptions are incorrect. Dictionaries as far back as 1846 (a time when Thomas Crapper was 9) have the term crap meaning defecate. Check the website I listed for a a reliable internet source.

  3. as an expression of dismay my 10 year old grandaughter said “oh crap” in school. teacher told her that is a swear word. she replied that is stupid, she certainly did not consider it a swear word as it is heard everywhere. when she replied “that is stupid” teacher said stupid is a swear word, she followed up with “that being retarded” told that was a swear word. anyone else have this problem in a public school? is there a list somewhere. i refuse to tell her or have her accept that stupid and retarded are swear words. oh crap? anyone run into a problem with this.

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