This blog is now well into its sixth year and its critics – many – say that it is full of Crap. Its adherents – few but faithful – claim that the crap quotient is no higher than in any other site of its nature. Crap in either its adjectival form or as a noun is used, often pejoratively, to denote rubbish or something not worth having or below acceptable standard. It also appears in verb form, usually in the intransitive form, and here has a more specific sense, the act of defecation. Crap is everywhere but where did it come from?
The starting point seems to have been the medieval Latin word crappa which meant chaff. It then appeared in Old French as crappe meaning siftings or waste or rejected matter. It first made its appearance in English in the early 15th century when it was used to refer to weeds growing amongst corn and then developed into a more generic word to describe stuff that has been discarded. So in the late 15th century it referred to the waste that was left after rendering fat. In Shropshire it was used to describe the dregs of ale or beer while in 18th century slang it meant money.
To add a little confusion to the whole story, there was a Dutch word krappen which meant cutting off, plucking or separating. We find crap as a verb in this sense in the Scottish Jacobite song attributed to either James Hogg or Allan Cunningham, The Young Maxwell, published around 1810; “draw out yere sword, thou vile South’ron/ red wat wi’ blud o’ my kin/ that sword it crappit the bonniest flower/ e’er lifted its head to the sun!” It is probably fair to deduce that it was a bit of Scottish dialect from the Dutch which has little or nothing to do with our modern understanding of crap.
And then there is the use of the word to describe defecation. The starting point is to recognise that what comes out of our bottom is smelly rubbish that has been discarded by our digestive system. In other words, it fits the earlier sense of crap. Rank is everything in the army and the lower ranks have to give way to their seniors, even when it comes to relieving yourself, if a poem by John Churchill, published in 1801, is to be believed. A subaltern, seeking to use a latrine, has to make way for various officers until he can hold on no longer. “And, not quite aware of priority S—-ING,/ Squeez’d awhile; “Well!” says he, “then, the best friends/ must part;/ Crap! Crap! ’twas a moist one! a right/ Brewer’s ****!”
The Oxford English Dictionary cites a reference dating to 1846 to a crapping ken or a privy, although there are earlier citations of cropping ken – interesting to see the interchangeability of crop and crap again. What is clear that in the first half of the 19th century, crapping was an established term for defecation.
And so where does this leave Thomas Crapper? He didn’t start going about his business until 1861 and didn’t invent the flushing toilet but the happy coincidence of his surname and his chosen profession – what the grammarians call an aptonym – meant that he is indelibly associated with crap.
Crapper which is American slang for a toilet did not appear until the early 1920s. The story goes that American soldiers serving in London during the First World War, seeing the ubiquitous Crapper name on the porcelain in the lavvy, adopted it as their own piece of slang. There is no evidence to directly corroborate this story but it would be nice to think it was true and it would mean that although Mr Crapper wasn’t the originator of the word crap, he did have a hand in popularising it in the States.
Filed under: Culture, History Tagged: Allan Cunningham, aptonym, crapper, crapping ken, John Churchill, origin of crap, The Young Maxwell, Thomas Crapper
This post first appeared on Windowthroughtime | A Wry View Of Life For The World-weary, please read the originial post: here