Both bullshit and horseshit are used to mean nonsense or waffle, especially to cover up a lack of knowledge or unwillingness to inform.

An old answer here describes them as near synonyms. If they're not exact synonyms, what's the difference in meaning or usage?

While bullshit may be shortened to bull, I've never seen horse used to mean nonsense. Perhaps this is just that horseshit isn't common enough to be obvious when the shit is elided. If the horse variant is just variation for added colour, are there others in regular use with very similar meanings? They're certainly not common if so.

In British English, bullshit, as well as being a noun, can be a verb (and occasionally an adjective as in a bullshit excuse). Horseshit on the other hand only appears as a noun (I inadvertently gave an example in the comments).

By coincidence, the blog Strong Language posted "a matrix of shits" since I wrote this. It doesn't answer my question, but does illustrate it.

  • I'd forgotten about the latter term but was reminded by a tweet. I know the latter is preferred for fertilising roses, I'm interested in the linguistic use. – Chris H Nov 3 '17 at 7:39
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    This is a personal opinion, which is why it's a comment and not an answer, but I tend to think of horseshit as being merely inaccurate or mistaken whereas bullshit carries implications of a deliberate intention to mislead or confuse. Anyone agree? – BoldBen Nov 3 '17 at 8:07
  • @BoldBen that's an interesting hypothesis. If would be hard to prove as it relies on proving intent: "I wasn't bullshitting you, just talking horseshit". The tweet I linked in my earlier comment seemed to me to refer to a deliberate attempt to mislead but that's a matter of opinion (and context, which of course isn't up to the user on twitter) – Chris H Nov 3 '17 at 8:17
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    There's definitely such a thing as a chickenshit excuse. – Steven Littman Nov 3 '17 at 11:14
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    @StevenLittman, that's a good point, but chickenshit is defined as worthless or contempible so it's not really the same (though closer than apeshit). – Chris H Nov 3 '17 at 12:21

Hardly any two words are "exact synonyms". Each pair has its differentiating connotations. To me bullshit is stronger and more coarse, probably because horses are gentler animals and have been discovered to possess an amazing ability to intuit human feelings (e.g., of their owners).

Anyway, the only real difference I can find is that horseshit is marked in dictionaries as North American or US slang (see the ODO, the OED, and Green's Dictionary of Slang) whereas bullshit is not. (Bullshit originated as US slang but is no longer marked as such.) They both mean nonsense. Or as adjectives contemptible, offensive, worthless.
Green's provides an example of Horses! as an exclamation of nonsense.

As verbs, both mean to talk nonsense or to flatter.

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    Funnily enough I meant to come back and say I'm not aware of horseshit as a verb -- an I'm in Britain. That tends to agree with this answer – Chris H Nov 3 '17 at 15:15
  • I've never heard horseshit used as a verb (AmE, here). – Drew Nov 3 '17 at 23:07

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