Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Word is Crapulous

The first planting in the word garden.

Crapulous is how you feel on Thanksgiving Day after ingesting two pounds of turkey, three cups of stuffing, mounds of mashed potato, and four glasses of red wine. You feel, in short, like crap, and yet crap and crapulous are not related to one another. Crapulous derives from the Latin crapula, meaning intoxicated, though in English the word has been associated since the sixteenth century not just with overindulgence in drink, but also with gluttonous eating.

Crap, on the other hand, belongs to the Germanic branch of Indo-European; the word also exists in Dutch, for example, where it is spelt krappe. Originally, back in the fifteenth century, crap denoted the husks that were removed from grain in the milling process — what we would now call chaff. By the sixteenth century, however, crap was being used to denote the crunchy residue left over after rendering pig fat. Also known as graves, crap was considered dog food in the sixteenth century, but by the mid nineteenth century it was being served to company with tea, usually seasoned with salt, mustard, and vinegar. It would seem, however, that crap was considered by most Victorians to be a second-rate snack, as the word developed a further sense of excrement in the late nineteenth century.

By happy coincidence, the development of this sense of crap occurred around the same time that Thomas Crapper, a London-based plumber, began to market a toilet that he promoted as "Thos. Crapper's Patented Waterfall No. 1." The name-brand recognition of "The Crapper" was no doubt facilitated by the accidental word play implied by his surname.

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