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Is “Crap” a Bad Word?

December 2, 2012
swearing in cartoon Suomi: Kiroileva sarjakuva...

When a guy is THAT angry, “crap” might not be one of the words that he says. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the hierarchy of profanity (or vulgarity), the word “crap” is pretty low.  It’s probably not quite as bad as “damn” but a little worse than “hell,” depending on the context.

Times have changed.  When I was a kid, “crap” was higher up on the list.  It wasn’t as bad as “sh*t,” but it was still pretty bad.  “Sh*t” was what you said when you accidentally bonked your head against a cabinet door.  “Crap” was what you said when you forgot something but could easily go back and get it .

Either way, I would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap.  Looking back, getting punished for saying the word crap ticks me off so much that I even wrote this book about it,  Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!: and Other Topics Polite People Don’t Discuss.

*****

THE MEANING OF CRAP

Kids today think “crap” means “stuff,” or “stuff of low quality.”  I don’t think they realize that “crap” is/was the kinder, gentler version of “sh*t.”  When I tried to explain to some friends of my kids why “crap” was vulgar (I was the chaperone in a public place), I ended up engaged in a circular argument.

“’Crap is a bad word?” a friend of my daughter said loudly in public.

“Yes,” I tried to explain.  “It’s a word you should not say out loud in public.”

“I say ‘crap’ all the time,” my daughter’s friend blurted out.

“Maybe you do, but please don’t say it around us.”

“Why can’t I say ‘crap’ around you?”

“Because ‘crap’ is a mild form of profanity, and you’re too young to say it.”

“‘Crap’ is a bad word?”

“Yes! Now stop saying ‘CRAP,’ YOU LITTLE SH*T!”

I try to be patient, but when I snap, I go all out.

I was probably fighting a losing battle.  And maybe I shouldn’t have been fighting it at all.  If “crap” is losing its vulgarity, it doesn’t affect my life at all.  If all vulgar words lost their vulgarity, then I wouldn’t have to keep a checklist of what my kids (and their friends) can’t say around me.

*****

WHAT MAKES “CRAP” VULGAR?

That question could be asked about all profanity.  The way I understand it, vulgarity comes down to syllables and body parts/functions.  The root of almost every profane word and expression has one syllable.  For example, “sh*t” and “crap” both have only one syllable, and both are synonyms for “defecate” (or “defecation”) which is not considered profane or vulgar.

Yes, “crappy” is two syllables, but the root word is “crap.”  Yes, “crapfest” is two syllables, but the root word is “crap.”  “Defecate” is three syllables, so it is automatically more sophisticated (and less vulgar) than “sh*t” or even “crap.”

*****

WHY CRAP ISN’T VULGAR

The word “crap” (according to Merriam Webster) goes back all the way to Medieval Latin (crappa).  Old French converted it “crappe” (It probably sounds elegant).

In its original form, “crappa” meant chaff or residue or waste.  Somewhere along the way, “crap” went from trash waste to human waste.  Trash isn’t vulgar.  Chaff isn’t vulgar.  But crap is vulgar.  This is where “sh*t” and “crap” are different.  From what I’ve researched (and I’m no linguist or etymologist, so I could be very wrong), “shit” has always meant defecate or defecation.  Since one syllable words for body functions are often considered vulgar, it makes sense that “sh*t” would be considered profanity.

But “crap” originally meant residue or chaff or trash.  The original definition (as I understand it) had little to do with a body function.  So maybe (just maybe) “crap” shouldn’t be considered vulgar after all.

I’d love to go back in time and say “crap” in front of my mom and then explain to her why it isn’t vulgar.

Etymology or no etymology, I’d probably still get my mouth washed out.

*****

IS CRAP VULGAR OR NOT?

I rarely change my mind about things anymore.  My mind is pretty much set when it comes to politics, religion, and sports.  I rarely even discuss a couple of those topics anymore because my (few) friendships are more important than my opinions, but I’ve just changed my mind about something.

All my life I’ve believed that “crap” was a (mildly) vulgar word.  But since it did not originally mean “human waste,” then there’s no reason for it to be considered vulgar.  “Crap” may be a clean word, and I admit that I may have been wrong all these years.

But I still won’t let my kids say it.

*****

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From → Etymology

47 Comments
  1. I have a friend from South Africa who considers crap a much worse word than sh*t.

  2. My 13 is lucky he can say ass in front of me…but crap does not bother me nearly as much. I suppose at the end of the day as long as he never says F… Or s… I can be happy!

  3. I understand society moves the mark for what is morally acceptable or not throughout time, but I personally think it is arbitrary to assign a certain set of syllabus a “vulgar” status. What is vulgar to one is not to another. From culture to culture, this changes. People who don’t say “hell” still say “H E crooked letters”, or instead of f*uck people will substitute the word “fudge,” which means the same thing, so why is one vulgar but not the other? It just seems arbitrary.

    I don’t allow my students to use profanity (nor do I use it in front of them), but that’s really just because it isn’t allowed at my school. In my personal life, I don’t care if people use that language. They are just words.

    • I know what you mean, but when I crack my head against a cupboard door, yelling out “FUDGE!” just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe I should try “Ouch!” and see if that helps.

    • Marie permalink

      I got up on this page because my 5 year old son tells us not to say crap. Because we told him not to. When I was a kid I couldn’t say hell. Damn. Even though the words were in the bible. Obviously, I couldn’t say the other words. But I could say oh lord(Southern raised btw). My neighbors all said crap. My Yankee friends said crap. So I didn’t know if it was my parents paranoia. Or just good politics when you are raised on welfare. My parents would tell me. We are poor but we aren’t trash. Any thoughts. No radicals. What do I mean by radicals? If you have to ask. Don’t comment.

  4. I always got away with “crud”, but not “crap” around my dad. Perhaps “crud” is less offensive???

    By the way, this was a hoot…
    “‘Crap’ is a bad word?”
    “Yes! Now stop saying ‘CRAP,’ YOU LITTLE SH*T!”

    • “Crud” was a perfect replacement for “crap” when I was a kid too, but I don’t hear anybody say “crud” anymore. Maybe “crap” is the new “crud,” or “crud” was the old “crap.”

    • Anonymous permalink

      My friend say crap and she is proud of it so Is it a bad word.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Crap isn’t swearing…GET OVER IT🙊

  5. I wasn’t allowed to say “crap” in front of my dad until I was 16. Maybe that’s why I still love poop humor as much as a 12 year old boy.

  6. samssocial permalink

    I didn’t know crap was a swear word until I said it in front of my mum when I was like ten. It only happened once :0/

  7. Crap was a Middle English word back in the 16th century, presumably with roots in both the Early French word crappe or the Dutch crappen, but it did not toss off its original meaning and begin to refer to human waste products until 1846 according to the OED. Now we probably encounter the word less as referencing waste and more as a metaphor for the detritus of civilization.

    There are many words, usually through some metaphoric turn, that have perfectly acceptable usage in daily conversation but when the subject turns to sex, it’s Katie Bar the Door. And like crap, there are many well known but seldom spoken in polite company words that have broadened their meaning through metaphorical associations.

    Here in the States, the comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested in the 1960s for saying the words, “ass, balls, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits.” George Carlin later declared the last seven of those words as verbotten on television. Of course, if you watch broadcast television these days, several of those words have occasionally been aired without the world exploding and if you watch cable television you’ve heard them all over and over again. Remember when the word “pregnant” was not allowed on television? Notice that “crap” is not one of Bruce’s or Carlin’s dirty words.

    When Grover Norquist hesitated and accused the Obama campaign of painting Mitt Romney as a “Poopy-head” did that really convey the same meaning as the presumably intended “Shit-head”? Will Americans ever grow up?

    As someone said, they’re all just words. I tend not to show off my well-versed potty mouth in public, just as I tend to wear clothes even though my body is a perfectly natural artifact of the ’60s.

  8. This was a really interesting post! I hardly swear at all just because… I dunno, I don’t get too bothered by stuff. But I remember being surprised that one of my friends said crap all the time.

  9. Thank you for the laugh this morning. The title of this post caught my eye and reminded me of the time my oldest daughter (7 at the time) came home from school, and with an awed look on her face whispered to me “Mom, Jody said the “C” word in school today”.

    OK…let’s just say that in my mind crap is not an alarm ringing, lights flashing swear word, so my brain went to the other “C” word. The “C” word that when you think of a 7 year old saying it – brings on the alarms ringing and the lights flashing.

    But then I realized I could be wrong. So I asked my sweet little girl, “What “c” word did she say? It’s ok to say it just this once.”

    My sweet daughter’s little voice whispered “crap”. Oh the relief that washed over me! Whew! (Add in dramatic hand swipe on my brow.)

    We discussed how crap isn’t a good word to use and how glad I was that she knew that.

    Fast forward to today…my sweet little girl is now 23 and swears like a trooper.

    Go figure!?!

    Oh well, a Mom’s work is never done…I still tell her to watch her mouth.

  10. I’ve had my mouth washed out with soap more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I have sqeaky clean teeth and gums, but I still swear like a sailor.
    Sorry, Mom.
    Loved the post. 😉

  11. If you say, Get in the friggin’ line, that’s considered bad with kids today. They know that means ‘f*&k.

    • I don’t know. I like the near-swearing like “friggin” if it’s used rarely. It’s like the old guy who says “Guldurnitt” or “Dagnabbit!!” All of us know what those mean too, and it’s harmless.

  12. Hey all you people

  13. Anonymous permalink

    Actually shit is ship high in transit. Manuer pallets were stamped with.this during times when cargo was hauled on boats for fertilizer. They were shipping it in the cargo hold and sometimes the methane gas would build up; when an inspector would go into the cargo hold with a lantern the ship would blow up. Therefore, they started shipping manuer high in transit, meaning above deck.
    Shit is missed used meaning the actual manuer itself now and then as human waste. It should’nt be vulgar.

  14. My mom always says crap but I never say anything and I keep hearing that it is a curse word but I ignore. I never get my mouth washed out for saying “crap” but I always hear it from everyone so I think it isn’t voulger even little kids say it when I’m around so I say it too.

  15. Sonja keesee permalink

    Thank you for this post. This is a ongoing battle in my household. I don’t allow the kids to say it but I have preteens and young adults that say it all the time ! I just prefer that they don’t say around me or say it around people that will tell me That they said it.

    To me and my husband saying crap is like them trying to say s#*t ! To me it is their way of cussing without getting in trouble !

    Here are some examples of how they try to get away with cussing !

    Crap – S#*t
    Frick or fricking – F#*k
    Shite , shizzle – S#*t
    Frack – F#*k
    So those are the examples of the words my kids say to cuss without actually cussing !!! however they get in trouble with me for saying these words !

    Thanks again for the post !

    Keesee mom of 6

  16. Barb permalink

    I love this. My grandson just said ‘crap’ and his mother chastised him. So she then asked me, her mother, if crap was a swear word. I said no. And my grandson jumped for joy.

  17. Eva permalink

    Hi. I really like this article

  18. Anonymous permalink

    I shit my pants

  19. Anonymous permalink

    Sooooo crap is a bad word
    Never know that

  20. Curses!

  21. popeyesquirm permalink

    “Crap” is lower than “hell” and “damn” but higher than “sucks.”

  22. Anonymous permalink

    I never knew that it was bad

  23. Well, its fair that my mom gets to say”S***” when I got water on a $700 laptop.

  24. Crap is obviously not swearing, but it is kinda of not really a bad word, not as bad as sh**.My friend didn’t invite me to her bday party Bc I said crap and she thought it was swearing 😭

  25. Anonymous permalink

    My old school said “stupid” was a bad word and im just like BOI REALLY?!

  26. Anonymous permalink

    YAY IM ANONYMOUS LIKE BOI

  27. Anonymous permalink

    fucking luv lyfe crap is lyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyfe (im drunk) 8D

  28. Anonymous permalink

    None of the comments really tell the truth about the word Crap, or where it originated from. Who invented the flushable chain pulling loo? … The most modern flush toilet was invented by a 19th-century British plumber named Sir Thomas Crapper. Hence the word Crapper, shortened to the word Crap (1836-1910) But the flushing toilet was invented by John Harington in 1596. Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778. George Jennings in 1852 also took out a patent for the flush-out toilet. So no, the word “Going to take a Crap”, “Oh Crap” and the phrase “Going to the Crapper” is definitley NOT a swear word.

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  1. Is saying ‘crap’ the same as saying ‘shit’? – Melinda Yeoh

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