"Don't Shit Where You Eat" Grosses Out A Nation

Say what one will about 2010, did it accomplish one momentous thing: a backlash against the most disgusting phrase in the American lexicon?

There's a part of The Kids Are All Right where Annette Bening's character asks Julianne Moore's character, "Haven't you ever heard the expression, 'don't shit where you eat?"

"Yes," snaps Moore's Jules, "and I think it's disgusting!"

She has a point. And whoever wrote the line wasn't alone. Let's turn our attention to the most recent issue of Time Out New York in which a dude wrote into sex column "Get Naked" asking about the advisability of pursuing an affair at work. "So I cheated on my wife, and I shit where I eat; what now?" says the dude.

Responded Jamie Buffalino,

Most normal adults probably don't make lists of their most-hated aphorisms, but I do, and No. 1 on that list is the thoroughly repulsive phrase don't shit where you eat. But despite my disdain for the phrase, I have to admit it's effective because it really conveys how dumb and gross and stupid it is to have a fling with a work subordinate.

And there's the rub: it does kind of get the point across in a visceral way no euphemism can convey. But where does it come from? The Dictionary of Slang is only semi-helpful:

Don't shit on your own doorstep (,you). A warning against carrying on sexual intrigues at one's place of work, residence, etc. Late 19th-20th centuries.

But it doesn't really get at the derivation. (Although one such website did prompt this bemused comment: "Why would anyone regard sexual intercourse as analogous to emptying one's bowels? I find both the concept and the form of expression repugnant in the extreme, and I wish it would go back to wherever it came from.")

For some reason the expression suggests bears — or maybe any woodland animal, and I'm just thinking "bears" because they're always prancing around wielding toilet paper on TV. (Dogs, on the other hand, don't seem to have a problem with it.) But even in the cartoon landscape, it's true: those bears are never seen mixing meals withe their Charmin. Yogi Bear, by contrast, never pops a squat in his culinary peregrinations. Because in addition to being unappetizing, it would obviously be unsanitary in the extreme.

I'm really hoping this disgust with the expression carries over into 2011, but I do recognize that we need a substitute. The variation "don't piss in your own pool" just doesn't have the same punch, not least because most of us don't have pools. "Don't shit where you sleep" is almost as disgusting, but more evokes someone passed out drunk than the outright depravity of outhouse-snacking, or maybe a chamber-pot. But if anyone has an aphorism to suggest, a folksy hand-me-down to share or simply a less stomach-churning neologism, now's the time.