MANSFIELD: The Newfound Respectability of the “S” Word

At many of the meetings I’ve attended over the last year or so, someone, usually a younger person (but considering my advance age, everyone to me is a “younger person”), can be heard using the once-verboten “S” word. I’m not offended in any way by its usage and, while I have to admit to a degree of surprise, that surprise is tinged with a degree of glee.

Of course the “S” word I’m referring to is “shit,” a word once relegated to poolrooms, locker rooms and street corners, where “talking shit” is often learned at an early age. Me, I’ve always prided myself on being a first-class shit talker, acquiring the skill in my early teens in the poolroom where I dropped my schoolbooks every day after classes.

But the meetings I’m referring to where the scatological term is being bantered about often take place in boardrooms, not poolrooms. And evidently the practice of sprinkling remarks with a bit of soul happens in conversations where the subject matters are as disparate as air pollution, early childhood development, city planning, you name it. And the speakers are not just from the grassroots; I’m hearing members of academia mouthing the “S” word also.

Language is vibrantly alive; it’s never static. It’s forever changing and new words spread with lightning speed around the globe due to the Internet. But “shit” isn’t a new word, so something is happening within our culture to cause it to gain this new respectability — and not just with men. I’ve heard women use it with just as much aplomb and a complete lack of self-consciousness. Good for them.

The word has been around in one form or another probably for as long as there has been language. No doubt some prehistoric artist somewhere in the world carved a depiction on a cave wall of someone taking a shit. And the word certainly is a useful descriptive, transitioning with ease from a verb, to a noun, to an interjection, to an idiom. The utility of the “S” word is beyond question.

But I nevertheless have to admit to being somewhat startled when I heard it being thrown around last week at a meeting in Baltimore. The American Friends Service Committee (an organization founded and funded by Quakers, albeit there were no members of that sect present at the meetings) invited me to speak at a gathering of farmers — some nascent, tending lots in the inner city, and others indigenous peoples who have been engaged in caring for the Earth for centuries in the deserts of New Mexico. My new friend Patrick stated, “What the white man doesn’t understand is that, in the desert, water runs uphill towards money. They think that it’s about land, but it isn’t, it’s about water. It always has been.”

As farmers, they all know that if we don’t do something about climate change, in the not-too-distant future, the grape-growing regions of California will be decimated due to drought, and they were seeking my expertise on the subject of establishing vineyards in their locales.

The eclectic mixture of earnest and sincere folks made for very interesting conversations over the two days, and the “shit” word was used more than once as a descriptive of bad behavior on the part of elected officials or greedy developers. The expressed feeling that “we’re not going to take this shit off of them anymore” was given voice on a couple of occasions and its use was as energizing as it was correct.

The word “shit” seems to aptly capture the zeitgeist. And if my estimation is correct, the public use of the word coincides with the results of the last presidential election. The word expresses in simple and succinct terms that as citizens, human beings and members of the universal family of man, we’re tired of this shit, and we’re not willing to take it anymore.

And I’m down with that shit.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at

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2 Responses to “MANSFIELD: The Newfound Respectability of the “S” Word”

  1. Harry

    Well Put And Well Said!!

  2. Harry

    Well Said!!

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