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Great Moments in ‘Shithole’ Literature

by Ben Zimmer

What more can be said about Donald Trump’s reported remark about “shithole countries”? Media outlets have by and large decided it was newsworthy enough to report without censoring, so we’ve been seeing and hearing the word shitholeeverywhere. More important than the word itself, of course, is the hateful sentiment behind it, as many commentators have pointed out.  

The 1629 manuscript containing the first-known use of the term can be found at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Trump’s use of the word was in the service of a disparaging slur on countries, including Haiti and African nations, from which he thinks the U.S. should be limiting immigration. (Despite his vague protestations on Twitter, the White House pointedly did not deny that he dropped the S-bomb in front of a room full of lawmakers.) But shithole doesn’t have to be used in such a vile way. In fact, despite its scatological origins, the word has something of a literary pedigree, which is worth appreciating as an antidote to the enervating news cycle.

Please, read the article on the website of the Atlantic Daily, January 12, 2018.








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