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
  • 3
    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
  • 3
    There's definitely such a thing as a chickenshit excuse. Nov 3 '17 at 11:14
  • 1
    @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.

  • 1
    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
  • Horseshit is also excellent for feeding plants. That’s actually what I would think of first if I hear the word.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 9 at 22:30

Late answer on this one, but less formal resources than the print dictionary seem to agree with my impression that "horse--" is more emotionally charged and focuses more on a situation that is abusive or unjust.

Urbandictionary sense 2 has:

as opposed to bullshit, which expresses judgement on shallow, insensible, and false ideas, horseshit puts more emphasis on the speaker's distress about the message just received

Wiktionary sense 1 has:

Serious harassment or abuse

(As a methodological side note, I'd argue that when looking for the definitions of expletives, community sources or less-official sources often have more current and nuanced information than publication-ready dictionaries.)

Essentially, there are two meanings with which bull-- or horse-- are used. For bull--, the more prominent one is "something said without regard for whether it is true or false, in which the speaker has no sincere belief." However, a secondary meaning is "unfair treatment or an unjust situation" (which you'll see contextually from a google search for sports). This meaning is especially invoked when used with an intensifier, "f--g bull--".

My impression--and others would seem to agree, see a blog posting about the distinction in which a commenter succinctly argues "Bull[] is something that is not true and horse[] is a situation that is unfair"--that for horse--, the secondary and primary meanings are reversed. With horse--, the "unfairness" meaning is prioritized, even though it can also be used for bull--'s primary meaning of statements said for convenience rather than truth.

Here's another contextual usage example: this is a T-shirt which has the choice pull quote, "F--g horse--", from the CEO of the Dallas Stars, a hockey team; contextually, he was reacting to the 2018-2019 season, during which two very highly compensated players were under-performing. Horse-- conveys a greater sense of disgust, and can do so just fine on its own; see its use in Titanic, in a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio's character Jack is reacting with anger and disbelief to being framed for grand larceny--the actor's line delivery is typical of the greater emotional charge.

Similarly, as of the morning of June 10 2021, here are the top 10 hits for a Google News search for the term "bull--":

  1. Why the bull--jobs thesis may be, well, bull--
  2. 'This Is Some Bull--': Women's Group Rails Against Biden Inaction on Equal Rights Amendment
  3. Nation Rocked By 40 Million Acts of Total Bull-- (The Onion)
  4. "They talk about national sentiment, but that's bull--"
  5. Book Review: 'Calling Bull--' will help you be a better advocate
  6. Fox Business Host Rolls Over When Trump Spews Election Bull--
  7. Katt Williams Thoughtfully Explains Why The Cancel Culture Narrative is Bull--
  8. The bull- jobs theory may turn out to be, well, bull- (second source reporting on the same study)
  9. How to Tell If Your Company's Pride Campaign Is Bull--
  10. Brooks Koepka lost his train of thought hearing [someone's] bull--

Of these, headlines 2 and 3 are used in the sense of "unfairness," while the rest are used in the sense of "false or nonsense statements."

By comparison, the top 10 hits in Google News for 'horse--' are:

  1. QAnon's cowboy-themed "Patriot Roundup" sure sounds like it was full of horse--
  2. Farmers Only: Dayton comes back from huge deficit. [from blurb, "Brantley 'Ding Dong' Bell singled, walked twice, and scored three runs while Aristides 'Horse--' Aquino has turned into a walk machine"]
  3. After Wednesday's blowout, the Orioles June magic is on hold, for now [from blurb, "Harvey himself said to reporters, 'It's been a couple years now of being really horse--'."]
  4. The horse-- paradox: Why fears about tech are wildly exaggerated
  5. Your Apple AirTag can't say horse-- but it can say poop horse
  6. Samantha Bee Says We Need To Strangle The Filibuster to Death [From blurb, "It's horse--", referring to the filibuster being unjust]
  7. Prison Break Season 6 canceled but why are fans applauding the decision? [Blurb: "Another user comment: 'Season 5 was complete horse--, so I'm glad there's no season 6 to be honest'"]
  8. Thoughts on a 4-2 Rangers loss [Blurb: "Gallo having homered earlier in the inning, was a horse-- call... I mean, that's horse--"]
  9. Cut after 31 minutes: Heal on the outer after shocking move [Blurb: "then cutting a 19yo for lack of experience is horse-- as a GM, as a coach, as an organization and even more so, as human beings"]
  10. In Leaked Video, Mayor Garcetti Compares Unhoused People to Horse--

Of these, only hit 1 refers to "something false or nonsensical". Hits 2 and 7 probably mean "something worthless" (one of them being used as a nickname--I don't know if this was the writer being cute or if it's actually used, baseball is weird). Hits 4 and 10 refer to literal horse excrement, hit 5 referred to the word "horse--", and hits 3, 6, 8, and 9 are referring to an unfair or unjust situation.

  • Please include the quotes/examples you are citing or their transcriptions to make your answer more self-contained and to avoid link rot. Thanks and welcome to EL&U.
    – livresque
    Jun 9 at 22:54

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