AskDefine | Define horseshit

Dictionary Definition

horseshit n : obscene words for unacceptable behavior; "I put up with a lot of bullshit from that jerk"; "what he said was mostly bull" [syn: bullshit, bull, Irish bull, shit, crap, dogshit]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. vulgar slang Serious harassment or abuse.
    That scumbag dumped a whole carload of horseshit over his associates.
  2. vulgar slang Blatant nonsense, more likely stemming from ignorance than any intent to deceive.
    Don't you realize that's horseshit?
  3. vulgar slang bullshit

Extensive Definition

Bullshit (often abbreviated BS), also Bullcrap, is a common English expletive. It can also be shortened to just "Bull".
Most commonly, it describes tautological, incorrect, misleading, or false language and statements. Literally, it describes the feces of a bull. As with many expletives, it can be used as an interjection (or in many other parts of speech) and can carry a wide variety of meanings.
Bullshitting is usually used to describe statements that are false, or made-up. Usually people describe other people's action of making a lot of statements as bullshitting in arguments, when one is making up rules or making examples that are not anything to do with what they are discussing or when one is making statements by using examples that need different rules to be applied, so this person is bullshitting
As it contains the word "shit", the term is usually considered foul language, hence the use of the euphemistic abbreviations "bull" and "BS". Nonetheless, the term is prevalent in American English and, as with many words, the term is used in a variety of countries, some dating back to approximately the same era World War I. In British English, bollocks is a comparable expletive, although bullshit is now a commonly used expletive in British English also.
While bullshit can be used in a deprecating sense, the term 'bullshit artist' may imply a measure of respect for the skill required to "bullshit" effectively.
In popular explanations of philosophy, the word bullshit is used to denote utterances and speech acts which does not add to the meaning of the set of sentences uttered, but which is added purely to persuade interlocutors of the validity or importance of other utterances. The accuracy of the information is irrelevant whilst "bullshitting"; whether true or false, "bullshit" is the intention to distort the information or to otherwise achieve a desirable outcome, making "bullshit" a close cousin to rhetoric as Plato conceived it. The philosophical use of the term was first systematically described by Harry Frankfurt (see below), but has been used longer than that, for instance by proponents of Analytical Marxism.


"Bull", meaning nonsense, dates from the 17th century (Concise Oxford Dictionary), whereas the term "bullshit" is popularly considered to have been first used in 1915, in American slang, and to have come into popular usage only during World War II. The word "bull" itself may have derived from the Old French boul meaning "fraud, deceit" (Oxford English Dictionary). The term "horseshit" is a near synonym.
The earliest attestation mentioned by the Concise Oxford Dictionary is in fact T. S. Eliot, who between 1910 and 1916 wrote an early poem to which he gave the title The Triumph of Bullshit, written in the form of a ballade. The first stanza goes:
Ladies, on whom my attentions have waitedIf you consider my merits are smallEtiolated, alembicated,Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,Impotent galamatiasAffected, possibly imitated,For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.
The word bullshit does not appear in the text of the poem, though in keeping with the ballade form, the refrain "For Christ's sake stick it up your ass" appears in each following verse and concludes the envoi. Eliot did not publish this poem during his lifetime.
As to earlier etymology the OED cites bull with the meaning "trivial, insincere, untruthful talk or writing, nonsense". It describes this usage as being of unknown origin, but notes the following: "OF boul, boule, bole fraud, deceit, trickery; mod. Icel bull ‘nonsense’; also ME bull BUL ‘falsehood’, and BULL verb, to befool, mock, cheat."
Although as the above makes clear there is no confirmed etymological connection it might be noted that these older meanings are synonymous with the modern expression "Bull" otherwise generally considered (and intentionally used as) a contraction of "Bullshit". Bullshit is often considered a vulgar word, and in the U.S. and New Zealand, it must be censored from over-the-air radio broadcasts.

Uses of "bullshit"

Bullshit is commonly used to describe what often occurs in situations where truth and accuracy are far less important than the ability to achieve a suitable response in the audience, often needed in politics, religion or advertising).. In many cases, such a response helps to gain popularity or favor.
All skewed, spinned, knowingly dubious, carefully framed, pretentious, misleading or vacuous statements are referred to as "bullshit". Examples of "bullshit" can include sales/marketing pitches, public relations releases, and demagogic or disingenuous pronouncements made by politicians. More mundane examples of the word's use often involve the lives of ordinary people. For example, it is not at all uncommon to hear of people "bullshitting" a job interview, or attributing their performance in an examination to their ability to "bullshit". In this sense, "bullshitting" walks the line between extemporaneous speaking and lying outright. It is also common for people to "bullshit" friends or acquaintances, by spinning an elaborate tall tale. The object here is to make the bullshittees look foolish by dint of their gullibility in accepting the bullshit as fact. "Bullshit" does not necessarily have to be a complete fabrication; with only basic knowledge about a topic, bullshit is often used to make the audience believe that one knows far more about the topic by feigning total certainty or making probable predictions. It may also merely be "filler" or nonsense that, by virtue of its style or wording, gives the impression that it actually means something. In his essay on the subject (see Further reading), William G. Perry called bull[shit] "relevancies, however relevant, without data" and gave a definition of the verb "to bull[shit]" as follows:
To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content.
The "bullshitter" generally either knows the statements are likely false, exaggerated, and in other ways misleading or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other. "Talking bullshit" is thus a lesser form of lying, and is likely to elicit a correspondingly weaker emotional response: whereas an obvious liar may be greeted with derision, outrage, or anger, an exponent of bullshit tends to be dismissed with an indifferent sneer.
Sometimes called "shooting the shit", bullshit can also be the act of having a very casual conversation with little value. A lot of times, people will say "that's bullshit" when something bad or unexpected happens.
Bullshit is also used in the popular saying "money talks, bullshit walks" meaning that people who "do something" such as "put their money on the table" will get more results than people who merely talk. Making this statement indicates that the talking up to this time has been bullshit and that it is now time to do something or the speaker will walk away from the proposed deal.
Bullshit can also refer to excessively complex, unreasonable, or burdensome requirements demanded of an individual or organization by another, especially by government agencies or other bureaucracies. For example, a contractor wishing to bid on a government job may refer to the paperwork required to do so as "government bullshit."
The word "horseshit" is often used in vulgar slang as a synonym for "bullshit" to refer to nonsense. The usage of "horseshit" (a less common term) differs slightly from "bullshit". People may refer to their own statements and presentations as "bullshit", as in the traditional folk saying, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit". "Horseshit" is more often used as a reactive exclamation or profoundly distrustful assessment.
Bullshit can also be a noun. e.g. "Don't give me that bullshit." The common expression "Don't give me that" probably arose as a euphemistic shortening.
"Bullshit" implies dubious credibility with an understood lack of true malevolence, whereas "horseshit" suggests uncompromised ignorance or deception. "Horseshit" carries with it a certain connotation of indignation; stating that something is a "load of horseshit" usually implies that the speaker feels somehow cheated or wronged by the current situation, whereas calling something "bullshit" can imply anything from indignation to a joking and good-natured intent.
(There are several non-vulgar words nearly equivalent with bullshit - such as: "baloney", "prevarication" and "embellishment" that may be used on more formal occasions).
Furthermore, the exclamation "Bullshit!" can also be used to express surprise, shock and/or humour at a truthful tale - often because the end result of the story or incident is of such fortune that if you didn't know any better you'd instantly assume the tale to be fictional. The statement of "Bullshit!" in this context is more likely followed up by a question (such as "Are you serious?"), or combined in a question (eg. "No way! Are you bullshitting me?"), which serves the purpose of asking the person telling the story to reconfirm the truthfulness of the tale.
It can also be used to describe two people who are "bullshitting" otherwise just having a small conversation about nothing. It can also be known as shooting the bull.

"Bullshit" in philosophy

In his essay On Bullshit (written in 1986 but not published until 2005), philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University characterizes bullshit as a form of falsehood distinct from lying. The liar, Frankfurt holds, knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead instead of telling the truth. The "bullshitter", on the other hand, does not care about the truth and is only seeking to impress:
Frankfurt connects this analysis of bullshit with Ludwig Wittgenstein's disdain of "non-sense" talk, and with the popular concept of a "bull session" in which speakers may try out unusual views without commitment. He fixes the blame for the prevalence of "bullshit" in modern society upon anti-realism and upon the growing frequency of situations in which people are expected to speak or have opinions without appropriate knowledge of the subject matter.
Gerald Cohen, in "Deeper into Bullshit", contrasted the kind of "bullshit" Frankfurt describes with a different sort: nonsense discourse presented as sense. Cohen points out that this sort of bullshit can be produced either accidentally or deliberately. While some writers do deliberately produce bullshit, a person can also aim at sense and produce nonsense by mistake; or a person deceived by a piece of bullshit can repeat it innocently, without intent to deceive others.
Cohen gives the example of Alan Sokal's "Transgressing the Boundaries" as a piece of deliberate bullshit. Sokal's aim in creating it, however, was to point out that the "postmodernist" editors who accepted his paper for publication could not distinguish nonsense from sense, and thereby by implication that their field was "bullshit".


"Bullshit" has a number of euphemisms:
  • BS
  • bull
  • bull butter (alluding to something that would be as absurd as a bull producing milk/butter)
  • bullcrap
  • bullish (used under stock market trends)
  • bullplop
  • bullroar (especially when intimidation is involved)
  • bullpucky
  • bullshark
  • bullhonkery
  • bovine scat (retaining the initials)
  • bovine stercus
  • horsefeathers
  • horse hockey
  • stierenpoep (as a direct translatian of present Dutch)
  • stercore tauri

Further reading

  • — Halifax academic Laura Penny's study of the phenomenon of bullshit and its impact on modern society.
  • — Harry Frankfurt's detailed analysis of the concept of bullshit.
  • Perry, William G. (1967). Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts. Originally published in Harvard College: A Collection of Essays by Members of the Harvard Faculty.
  • Holt, Jim, Say Anything, one of his Critic At Large essays from The New Yorker, (August 22, 2005)
  • Eliot, T. S. Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 (Harcourt, 1997) ISBN 0-151002-74-6
  • Royston, Chris. My Life - No Bullshit, I Actually Do Get Blank Cheques (Royston Publishers 2007)


horseshit in German: Bullshit
horseshit in Italian: Stronzata
horseshit in Dutch: Bullshit
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