English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Three questions:

  1. Is it appropriate to say "shit happens"? I mean isn't it obscene?
  2. When is it appropriate to say "shit happens" and when not? Is it always obscene or it can be used in some situations?
  3. What can we use instead of "shit happens"? What are the similar phrases?
share|improve this question
My dad always says "C'est la vie...French for 'shit happens.'" I just thought I'd share. :P – kitukwfyer May 28 '11 at 20:05
@kitukwfyer Um, it seems to me that C'est la vie is French for "That's life". – Dronz Apr 27 '15 at 4:40
@Dronz It does indeed. It's a joke. :P – kitukwfyer May 7 '15 at 22:53
Not as a question title. – Hot Licks Feb 20 at 13:40
up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Appropriate" depends on context and audience, but I know what you mean. To answer your question, there are no uses of shit that would not be considered profanity, and it should not be used in "polite company" in any context.

The most common non-profane substitute for "shit happens" is "stuff happens." It's suitable for general audiences, but everyone will know what you really mean anyway.

share|improve this answer
Indeed, saying "shit happens" in some situations might not be the best choice lol :D – Alenanno May 29 '11 at 0:17

It's not "obscene" -- obscenity relates to sexuality, so "fuck" is obscene; "shit" is scatological.

Using a word like "shit" around children will make you unpopular with their parents (though probably popular with the kids themselves). It's accepted in private conversation with most adults.

The phrase "shit happens" is very dismissive of misfortunes, so I would advise you not to use it in reference to other people's troubles, unless you know them very, very well and they can be sure of your actual sympathy. Shrugging off your own difficulties with those words, while vulgar, shows a fine stoicism.

share|improve this answer
And what can be used instead of "shit happens" (or "stuff happens" like phenry supposed) if I don't want to be dismissive and I want to show my empathy concerning some person's difficulties? – Dmitry Lobanov May 28 '11 at 19:50
@Dmitry - If you want to tell them that their current misfortunes aren't the end of the world (without being as dismissive as "shit happens"), the English have a great phrase: "Worse things happen at sea." You could also use this to minimize your own troubles. If you wish to express your symapthy/empathy without minimizing their troubles, you could say "I feel your pain", or something similar. – MT_Head May 28 '11 at 20:05
Obscenity is not confined to the realm of sexuality. It also relates to swearing and cursing. – Arlen Beiler May 28 '11 at 20:11
The legal definition of obscenity (in the US) revolves around "prurient interest", which can be broader than just sexuality -- and for some sad individuals can include scatology -- but that, strictly defined, wouldn't include "shit" in this sense. – Malvolio May 28 '11 at 20:23
Perhaps "vulgarity" would be a more appropriate term than "obscenity" in this case, as it covers a multitude of audience-inappropriate language :) – scottishwildcat May 31 '11 at 19:22

I'm one of those crazy people who don't curse at all, unless quoting someone else, and then reluctantly. I generally use "C'est la vie" (Actually French for "That's life.") or "Que sera sera" (Spanish for "What will be, will be," just like in that song...)...With some people I'll use "wyrd bið ful aræd," but I generally translate it to "Fate is inexorable." The last one, especially, might come off as a bit pretentious, but "C'est la vie" and "Que sera sera" are well-known enough, at least in the US, that you shouldn't come off as over-educated or anything.

None of these are as flippant as "Shit happens." If you want to reduce the vulgarity, but keep the same level of flippancy, you could probably use "Crap happens." Most people do use "Stuff happens," though.

share|improve this answer
"C'est la vie" is what I was looking for! The funny thing is that in Russian we also use this phrase from time to time. – Dmitry Lobanov May 29 '11 at 18:45

Recently here in Australia the Leader of the opposition got in political trouble because, in response to an Australian soldier dieing in Afghanistan he said (on television) "sometimes shit happens". He wasn't criticised for saying "shit", he was criticised for being flippant about a soldiers death.

I cant speak for other cultures, but here the dismissive nature of the comment is potentially more rude than "shit", a word which is regularly heard from journalists, politicians, academics, etc.

If you said "crap happens" or "stuff happens" people would think you were being pretentious.

In general though the best advise with swearing in a language / region other than your own is don't :)

share|improve this answer
You've got an interesting point of view either. How do you think what should the politician say instead of "shit happens"? I suppose that even saying "c'est la vie" isn't appropriate... "yes, it's always sad to hear about our guys dying at war" perhaps? – Dmitry Lobanov May 30 '11 at 4:23
@Dmitry, certainly in Australia it would be a political mistake to brush off a soldiers death no-matter which words you chose. That is more of a political issue than a language issue though. – jsj May 30 '11 at 9:48

As I've taught my daughter, if she's not sure if something's appropriate and she has to decide on her own, just think of this question: "Would The Queen approve?"

share|improve this answer
Yeah, but what queen? – CesarGon Jun 21 '11 at 1:34
Oh, yeah, good question (+1), heheh! I'm Canadian, so that would be our Head of State, The Queen of England. – Randolf Richardson Jun 21 '11 at 1:39
;-) And there are even places with no queen at all! – CesarGon Jun 21 '11 at 17:52
@CesarGon: ...for certain occasions, there's always the King's English: "-Ahem-, I pinched my finger in the door!" – Randolf Richardson Jun 21 '11 at 18:12
Indeed! – CesarGon Jun 21 '11 at 20:40

protected by RegDwigнt May 30 '11 at 7:53

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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