What is the etymology of shithole? Did it originate from A) the orifice through which excrement is passed, or B) the hole in the ground intended for the disposal of such excrement?

(This is a serious question for professional research. You don't want to know the details.)

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    Where is the research part?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 10, 2012 at 16:54
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    The word "shithole" should not be censored in the title. There is no consensus yet about censorship of titles, and it is going to interfere with searches.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 10, 2012 at 18:00
  • 3
    @MetaEd The consensus has generally been to avoid it, or censor it if necessary.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 10, 2012 at 19:47
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    @MetaEd It's not about consensus. The Powers That Be have spoken. We have to censor swear words and other things that offend from the titles. See Should EL&U be removed from the multicollider? Jan 10, 2012 at 23:15
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    @meta this is the policy; titles need to be censored, but the bodies (and comments) can be explicit as necessary. If you find this policy unacceptable, please refrain from participating on this website. Jan 11, 2012 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


The OED’s earliest citation for shithole is from the seventeenth century, and it’s given as ‘coarse slang’ for ‘the rectum or anus’. The earliest citation for shithole meaning ‘a toilet; a latrine’ is only from 1947.

  • 9
    That would be the OED’s mellifluous citation attributed to J. Lilliat in E. Doughtie Liber Lilliati, whihc is labelled a 1629 and reads: ‘Six shitten shotes did I shoote in thy mowth that I shot from my shithole.’ Thank goodness they have people doing such lovely research! :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 10, 2012 at 18:57
  • @tchrist: Yep, that's the one. Jan 10, 2012 at 18:59

Why wouldn't it be both? It seems like an obvious production from two easily-combined words, and the meaning, if it even matters, would be obvious in context.

Edit: The Corpus of Contemporary American English shows 73 uses of it, every time referring to a place, never once referring to an anus. So it would seem that the more common use of the word, and probably the original coining, refer to the hole-in-the-ground sense.

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    No, that is incorrect. As @BarrieEngland rightly points out, the original attested meaning was the rectum or anus, dating from way back in the early part of the 17ᵗʰ century. The outhouse or latrine sense came much, much later. If you can antedate the latrine sense even to the 19ᵗʰ century, I’m sure the OED would love to hear from you, because all their citations for that sense are from at least the 20ᵗʰ.
    – tchrist
    Jan 10, 2012 at 18:58
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    The Corpus of Contemporary American English isn't the most appropriate source in this case, as it only dates to 1990.
    – Hugo
    Jan 10, 2012 at 19:31
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    Another point in Barrie's favor: the OP is asking about the history of the word, not its current meaning. Another question about this word (about what it currently means) would undoubtedly answer the place, not the anatomical region.
    – Mitch
    Jan 10, 2012 at 20:03
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    Can someone show if the "latrine" sense is derived from, or coined independently of the "anus" sense? I still think this particular word is actually two words formed trough typical, unsurprising combinations of productive words. Jan 11, 2012 at 14:43

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