[PW] What does it mean?

Suzanne Watkins gilgunn2003 at ymail.com
Tue Apr 10 12:05:27 PDT 2012

Just a thought. In addition to this most useful information, we should also remember that the words of centuries past did not always have the same meanings and/or connotations that they do today. Words who's meanings we take for granted today may have not existed in the era we are researching, or may have had an entirly different meaning back then. 

Take the word "shit". Though used in the sense of "excrement" since the 1580s, the extensive slang meanings now used, other than the noun use for "obnoxious person" (1508), only appeared in the 20th century. The word "shit" was taboo from around 1600 and early rare use in print contained dashes to disguise it. The word "shitty" did not show up until 1924. 

The word "crap" ("...like crap through a goose..." Patton), meaning "defecate", did not appear until 1846. In the early 15th century "crap" meant "weeds growing among corn" then by the late late 15th century evolved to "residue from renderings". In the 18th century, it was used as underworld slang for "money". 

Sue W
"Ní neart go cur le chéile"

--- On Tue, 4/3/12, Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [PW] What does it mean?
To: list at project-wombat.org
Date: Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 4:30 PM

The appearance of the word "shit" in print was restricted in the past.
So I think it makes sense, as a start, to gather evidence by looking
for variants of the phrase in the major text databases.

Here are some variant phrases that appeared in newspapers and
periodicals beginning in the 1880s:

like butter through a tin horn
like water through a tin horn
like mud through a tin-horn

Here is an example of "like butter through a tin horn" in 1887. A boat
was grounded on a bar in a river. Eventually, a strategy was found to
move the boat forward past the bar.

Cite: 1887 October 09, Kansas City Times, Science in Navigation,
[Acknowledgement to Mobile Register], Page 19, Column 4, Kansas City,
Missouri. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
Then the rope was tied to a tree on the bank above and the old Carrier
went over that bar like butter through a tin horn.
[End excerpt]

In the domain of sports, the phrase "water through a tin horn" was
used with quotation marks in 1897. It was used to describe a runner
easily penetrating the defense of the opposing team and scoring a

Cite: 1897 December 26, Oregonian, "Fought In Deep Mud: Multnomah Wins
Christmas Football Game, 10-6", Page 8, Quote in Column 2. Portland,
Oregon. (Genealogybank)
[Begin excerpt]
Wilbur was given the ball, and, with fine interference, plunged
through Multnomah's line like "water through a tin horn" and scored
Portland's only touchdown.
[End excerpt]

The phrase "like mud through a tin-horn" was used in quotes in 1906.
The word "mud" was sometimes used as a euphemism for "shit" in
periodicals. So the phrase "like shit through a tin-horn" may have
been used by a pilot in the following excerpt.

Cite: 1906 December, The Rudder, Volume 17, Number 12, A Fast Trip
Down the Hudson by Walter M. Bieling, Quote Page 735, The Rudder
Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
We got off rather suddenly; our start was most businesslike, and we
went out of the Albany Y. C. basin, according to the pilot, "like mud
through a tin-horn."
[End excerpt]

The idea of a substance moving through a tin horn easily was used in
similes by 1887 or earlier. The substance used in the simile varied:
butter, water and mud all appeared by 1906.  Other options include:
huckleberries, dose of salts, grease, shit, gooseshit, molasses and
more. I do not know why a tin horn was selected for this collection of
similes. This is just a preliminary exploration, but I hope it is
useful to you.

Garson O'Toole

On Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 12:04 PM, Jane Steinberg <dyedivajane at gmail.com> wrote:
> Interesting. What's missing in all these explanations, for me anyway, is
> the sense of satisfaction and ease of accomplishment the expression is
> meant to convey, the voila! element.
> On Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 10:49 AM, <law-nerd at sympatico.ca> wrote:
>> Conjecture, but if you accept the origin of the phrase tinhorn gambler
>> here: <http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tin2.htm>, then it would make
>> a certain amount of sense that the "shit" would be dice that ... um...
>> landed in a way displeasing to the people betting. People commonly use
>> words like shitty or crappy, to describe things they don't like. If someone
>> had just lost money on how dice fell out of a cheap metal chute, describing
>> them as shit would make a certain amount of sense.
>> Regards,
>> Anne
>> > Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2012 10:29:15 -0400
>> > From: dyedivajane at gmail.com
>> > To: list at project-wombat.org
>> > Subject: Re: [PW] What does it mean?
>> >
>> > All delightful information - it's even a URL! - but it still doesn't give
>> > us the origin and meaning. What tin horn? Why is shit going through it? I
>> > love the Patton connection. As you say, about as un-British as you can
>> get.
>> > So scratch the British connection. Still want to know where it comes
>> from.
>> >
>> > On Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 10:23 AM, John Cowan <cowan at mercury.ccil.org>
>> wrote:
>> >
>> > > John P. Dyson scripsit:
>> > >
>> > > > Not your question and heaven knows why you might need your simile
>> list
>> > > > enlarged, but around here we say "through a goose." It seems a good
>> > > > deal more apt.
>> > >
>> > > Dorothy Parker once tried to use this expression in the form "like shot
>> > > through a goose" (birdshot, I suppose), but Thurber doesn't say (in
>> _The
>> > > Years With Ross_) whether it got printed or not.
>> > >
>> > > In any case, George S. Patton's famously profane Speech to the Third
>> Army
>> > > contained both expressions: "We are going to go through [the enemy]
>> like
>> > > crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!"  I can hardly
>> think
>> > > of anyone less likely to be influenced by British English than Patton.
>> > >
>> > > The phrase is still current, too:  see http://shitthroughatinhorn.com,
>> > > an epitome of all craptastic websites.
>> > >
>> > > --
>> > > I now introduce Professor Smullyan,             John Cowan
>> > > who will prove to you that either               cowan at ccil.org
>> > > he doesn't exist or you don't exist,
>> http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
>> > > but you won't know which.                               --Melvin
>> Fitting
>> > > _______________________________________________
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