Imagine an open mouth: o. Now imagine a hand in front of it: p. Start with the hand there, take it away, put it back: poop. In place of the hand, just close your lips: closed, open, closed. If you blow out, you make a little blast of a whistle; if you vocalize while the mouth is open, you may a sound like a steam horn. Both of these are sounds associated with ships.

And so is the poop deck. But the poop deck does not take its name from the sounds. Nor does it take its name from the deposits left by seagulls. Rather, that word poop comes, by way of French, from Latin puppis, which means “the stern of a ship” – which is where the poop deck is.

So, for those who were hoping for some more excremental explanation, I hate to be the party pooper, but that’s the real poop on it. That it is the back end of the ship is happenstance, not a relation to other back-end work. But of course there’s lots more poop to give you the scoop on.

For starts, there’s the balcony in the mess hall at West Point Military Academy, which is called the poop deck, and from which important announcements are made. Apparently on the basis of this, the term originating at West Point for an information sheet is poop sheet (which really does sound vulgar in its way, doesn’t it?). And from poop sheet comes poop meaning “information”.

Aside from that, however, other uses of poop tend to trace back to a more imitative source. It can’t be hard to imagine poop being spontaneously used to refer to a passage of wind out not the mouth but the other end of the digestive tract. And this simple origin has had some extended meanings dumped on it. Perhaps most common is that substance that parents of infants must deal with in great quantity (and can’t seem to stop talking about – parent to parent, the down-and-dirty on the down-and-dirty, i.e., the poop on the poop).

Also evidently from that is the term meaning “fool” or “bore”, which might come from nincompoop, but nincompoop appears to get its poop from guess where. This poop lately travels a lot with old, and that phrase no doubt got a boost from On Golden Pond, in which Ethel Thayer (“Thoundth like I’m lithping, doethn’t it?”) – played by Katharine Hepburn – regularly calls her husband Norman (Henry Fonda) you old poop.

And then there is poop meaning “exhaust” (I mean the verb!), usually showing up as a past participle: “I’m pooped.” This poop might be related to poof – so another imitative or expressive usage – or it might be related again to the same poop as shows up near diaper. Or both. And from this poop of exhaust (what an image) may come party pooper – or that may just come straight from the source by the backdoor. As it were.

Naturally, poop shows up all over the place. (Ew.) When I was a kid, we had these little funny rubber figures with parachutes attached, called Poopatroopers. Poop is indeed popular among children, and apparently is not a word for adults; when I try to search it on clusty.com (now called yippy.com), I get the top news stories (the poop of the day!) with the notice “The term ‘poop’ has been removed from your query because the adult filter is on.” How did it know I was an adult?*

OK, well, and are we almost dung? I mean done? Indeed. The evening draws to its perigee, so blow out the candle – and what mouth gesture do you make in doing so? It’s no riddle of the sphincter. I mean sphinx. Nighty-night, toodle-oo, poop-poop-pe-doo.

Thanks to Elaine Freedman for suggesting poop, as in the ship deck.

*It would seem that Yippy, though useful for its clustering (hence the older name Clusty), turns out to be a very overtly conservative service. I find now that it says unabashedly that it censors anything not in line with what are clearly triumphalist neo-conservative values; therefore, I must disendorse it, and although it has been useful for clustering results, I cannot support it. Readers take note: if you disagree with a search engine that states that it censors “anti-Conservative views or opinions” and declares that “conservative values will bring us our victory in the market place,” you may find yourself more than a little conflicted when using Yippy.com. If, on the other hand, you feel that its positions match yours, you will be quite happy using it. Of course you are also still free to read my postings if you so wish, no matter what your views. Some of them probably are not findable through Yippy.com, though. You also may not find this little capper, to finish with a smile: icanhascheezburger.com/2009/04/26/funny-pictures-in-cow-poop/.

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