Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I heard someone use the expression "he cracked the shits" today which is universally recognised (at least in Australia) to mean "lost his temper".

It struck me that it is a strange expression and the origin is not obvious. It is often used in a context where a threshold of frustration has been reached and the person "cracks it" or loses control and responds angrily, so this may be part of it. Perhaps "the shits" is just tacked on as an intensifier.

I'm pretty sure I've only heard it in the context of Australian English. Is this expression known and used outside Australia, and does anyone have a better explanation of how it might have arisen?

share|improve this question
1  
+1 OK, this can find a place on ELU's archives of useful references. :) –  Kris Apr 28 '13 at 4:42

2 Answers 2

I think this phrase is predominantly restricted to Australia, but with some use found in New Zealand. I've never heard it in British or American English, and wouldn't have understood it without suitable context.

Early use

The earliest example I found in Usenet is from 1994 in rec.motorcycles.dirt by someone in Melbourne, Australia:

The conrod, piston, bearings etc etc I ordered finally arrived in the hotel a couple of days after I checked out. The hotel let it sit there for another few days before they let me know. I cracked the shits over the phone and the hotel fell for it. They've paid for express delivery to Aus. He he he he he....

I was nearly in *DEEP* shit when I got home. Dumb me left that photo in my suit case. Wife wanted to know whose tits they were.

I found nothing earlier in Google Books or newspaper searches.

Possible derivation

My guess is the phrase is a combination of crack meaning to "open up" and the shit meaning "trouble". For example, from AllDownUnder.com's list of Australian slang phrases:

Crack a tinnie
Meaning: open a can of cold beer
Example: Come over to my place and we'll crack a tinnie.

And if someone is "in the shit", they're in (serious) trouble, as shown in the Usenet quote above and defined in this dictionary of Australian slang:

In the shit - in serious trouble.

And in A Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Eric Partridge/Paul Beale):

12. In in the shit, in trouble: low coll.: since mid-C.19. Often land (another) in the shit, or fall in the shit (oneself): since ca. 1879. Cf. the envious (e.g. he) could fall in the shit and come out smelling of violets (roses, etc.) 13. Hence, among soldiers in WW1, in the shit = in the mud and filth in mud and danger; in great and constant danger. [P.B.: E.P. was one of those soldiers, and no doubt wrote this entry with feeling.]

So crack the shits could be derived from losing one's temper and putting other people in deep trouble.

share|improve this answer
    
"Crack a sad" and "chuck a sad" mean the same thing as "crack the shits", perhaps they're related. –  Hugo Apr 28 '13 at 10:25
    
Good answer @hugo, but my feeling is that the "crack" in "crack a tinnie" is an unrelated usage. My (completely unsourced) intuition is that it is onomatopoeic: the satisfying "crack!" as you pop the top of a beer can. There are, however, other usages in some of the comments that I didn't think of which are closer to the sense we are looking for- your "Crack a sad" being a good example. –  ianjs Apr 29 '13 at 2:50
    
The "in the shit" in terms of "in trouble" doesn't quite seem to fit either. It feels to me to be more related to something like "I was shitty (upset,angry) about it" –  ianjs Apr 29 '13 at 3:16
    
I like the answer @hugo - the "crack a tinnie" idea also forms a nice analogy with "open up a can of whoop-ass". That doesn't make this derivation true, of course, but it's nice all the same :) –  tinyd May 3 '13 at 8:45
    
@tinyd As I mentioned "Cracking a tinnie" has none of the sense of anger that is implicit in "crack the shits" so it a different case altogether. It's usage is no more than to "open" a can, albeit with some enthusiasm given that a tinnie is invariably beer :-) –  ianjs May 5 '13 at 0:19

It is a variation of "get the shits", which means to to become angry, upset or short tempered (as well as the more literal meaning of getting diarrhea). Related phrases are to "get shitty" or to "be shitty", including getting shitty with someone or at someone.

While "get the shits" implies a level of sulking, to "crack the shits" is taken to mean a sudden attack of anger. Other Australian slang phrases use chucking or cracking (often interchangeably) to mean a sudden movement or change of mood, such as chucking or cracking a u-ey (a sudden u-turn while driving), chucking a wobbly or cracking a fat.

share|improve this answer
    
I think you're right, it's definitely related to the sudden, explosive response so this a good answer. Between this answer and @Hugo's I think we may have pinned it down. Not sure if we can mark the question answered though given we don't have any specific historical citations, but I think we have described the correct Australian usage for any interested googlers. –  ianjs May 5 '13 at 0:39

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.