When is the term "droppings" used for faecal matter, and when is it not applicable?

I can see the term being used for rats, insects, or birds, but can't envisage it being used for humans or cows or elephants. Does size and/or moisture content play a role?

The Free Dictionary, citing Collins English Dictionary, says

the dung of certain animals, such as rabbits, sheep, and birds

which suggests there's a logic as to when the term is used, but isn't too specific.

  • 2
    I won't close vote here, though you could have provided some research findings. There are, for instance, over 30 000 Google hits in a search for "elephant droppings". I'd say that 'droppings' is rarely appropriate for human faeces, as it implies 'faeces dropped on the ground'. But the size factor is probably involved, with the term being more usually used for less sizeable leavings. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '17 at 12:04
  • The size of a drop (water, tear, etc.) is quite small. – user140086 Jan 10 '17 at 12:05
  • It's generally used to refer to the fecal matter of smaller animals, but is sometimes used (with perhaps a hint of sarcasm) for the output of larger animals. I suspect that if you examine uses of "elephant droppings" you will find many instances are being somewhat sarcastic. – Hot Licks Jan 10 '17 at 13:52
  • Droppings is basically a top level hypernym. It isn't ever really wrong, but often, there are more idiomatic terms depending on the situation. aem.asm.org/content/71/11/7285.full – Phil Sweet Jan 10 '17 at 21:29

First, droppings would be appropriate only for fecal material of non-human hosts. I've seen it usually paired with birds, insects, and rodents (that's how the Oxford Dictionary defines it too). I feel like droppings is appropriate when the origin of fecal materials is from individual (or few hosts). In the context of large quantity of fecal material, other terms such as scat, excrement, feces, or waste may be appropriate. There may be other words to describe large quantity of non-human fecal material depending on animal type too (e.g., dung for cattle).


The term is used to refer to the faeces of animals, irrespective of their size:


  • The excrement of animals.


Ngram: cow, elephant droppings.

It is less commonly used referring to human beings:

Ngram: human vs animal droppings.

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