“Crapulence” Doesn’t Mean That
A reader called my attention to a sentence in which these words appeared:
…a cesspool of its own crapulence
I turned to my browser and found so many examples of “wallowing in their/his/its own crapulence” that I conclude that the expression has already become a cliché.
Apparently a lot of people imagine that crapulence means excrement.
Columnist Jonah Goldberg thinks so:
Two decades of crapulence by the political class has been prologue to the era of coprophagy that is now upon us. It is crap sandwiches for as far as the eye can see.
Actually, crapulence and its related forms crapulent and crapulous, come from a Latin word meaning “intoxication.” and have to do with drunkenness.
crapulence: great intemperance especially in drinking –Merriam-Webster
crapulence: 1. Sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating; 2. Gross intemperance, esp. in drinking; debauchery. –OED
crapulous: “sick from too much drinking,” from L. crapula, from Gk. kraipale “hangover, drunken headache, nausea from debauching.” The Romans used it for drunkenness itself. English has used it in both senses. –Online Etymology Dictionary
The vulgarism crap, on the other hand, is used as a noun to mean excrement, and as a verb to mean defecate.–
Merriam-Webster gives the etymology of crap as:
Middle English, from Middle Dutch crap, crappe pork chop, greaves [“cracklings”], grain in chaff, from crappen to tear or break off
The use of crap with excremental associations has been in the language since the 19th century. The Online Etymology Dictionary indicates that crap belongs to a
cluster of words generally applied to things cast off or discarded (e.g. “weeds growing among corn” (1425), “residue from renderings” (1490s)… “dregs of beer or ale”
The OEtyD entry concludes that the word probably comes from the Middle English word crappe, “grain that was trodden underfoot in a barn.”
In case the meaning of coprophagy in the quotation above is not evident from the context, here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster:
coprophagy: the feeding on or eating of dung or excrement that is normal behavior among many insects, birds, and other animals but in man is a symptom of some forms of insanity
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