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Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. XLV

October 23, 2009

It's not often than I have a plea for help thrown in my direction. I mean, aside from the occasional damsel in distress trapped in a tower or something. This one is of an entirely language-oriented plea for help.

This is just what I found a couple of weeks ago when my good friend (and probably yours, too) Jace over at Sawdust and Cowpies needed some help with the origins of a certain phrase. The phrase? Royal dipshit. Cowguy himself suggested that it clearly has roots in Latin and, well, he's half right. Let's take a look, shall we?

Royal (or its seldom-used variant, roial) comes into English via French. The French form was roial which is derived from the word roi meaning "king." Roi has its roots in Latin, of course, from the word rex, most often seen in Tyrannosaurus rex (king tyrant lizard...if you don't mind mixing your Greek and Latin). Rex was turned into "royal" in Latin through the suffix -alis, which is used to turn nouns into adjectives, thus producing regalis.

Dip, however, is English. It is found in the Old English verb dyppan, which means "to dip". Over time, the y turned to an i and we dropped the end part, most likely in a way of dyppan--->dypp--->dipp--->dip (modern form).

Shit is also English, but has a root in common with German and the other Germanic languages. Originally, in Old English, it was scite, which cognates well with German schei├če, Dutch schijt, Swedish skit and Norwegian skitt, as well as Icelandic skitur. Eventually, we turned the "sc" into "sh" and dropped the long i sound to the modern "shit".

Now, while we've had royal as an adjective since the middle of the thirteenth century, throughout most of the centuries it was used only to refer to things good enough for a king. However, since the 1940s, royal has taken on a second meaning, and this one implying that something is colossal on a grand scale (like a royal ball, but in a negative sense). Interestingly enough, the word "regal" entered into English a couple centuries after royal, again through French with the same Latin roots, but it's meaning has retained that of stately, befitting a king.

Dipshit, interestingly enough, is only about forty years old. It pops up around 1962 and comes via the military. In order to figure out whether the latrine was full and a new one needed to be dug, someone would have to go and check it. Usually, the least popular guy in the unit and/or the man of lowest rank would be given a stick and told to go check the depth of the shit in the latrine. Since we already had dipstick from the 20s and the birth of the automotive industry, those clever military guys coined "dipshit" for the poor moron who had to go to the latrine and check its remaining free volume. Dipshit then came to be used for anyone of lower intelligence who might be found spending their free time poking sticks into piles of shit to see how deep they are.

Now, since we've just taken an exciting trip down through the derivation of the phrase, we might as well learn how to say it in Latin, right? Right!!!

Mergivit ipsa stercum regium!

Pronounced "Mare-gee-weet ip-sah stair-coom ray-gee-oom!"

Hovertext for the translation...more for tradition than need...

If you must have a literal translation, it is "he has dipped himself in royal shit". I realized it's a little different than "he's a royal dipshit", but I thought that having it in the past tense makes more sense than "he dips himself in royal shit". The phrase also means "she has dipped herself in royal shit", but you'd have to change it from regium to regiam.

If you wanted to turn this toward a person and say "You're a royal dipshit", change it to mergivisti instead of mergivit and then use the proper masculine or feminine form of the adjective.

That's a lot of learning. Anyone got a drink?


Sass said...

I didn't know that about the origin of "dipshit." I think that's pretty freaking cool.

And yes, I have a drink.

It's I'm on my third cup of coffee.


LiLu said...

I love hovertext.

Moooooog35 said...

Dipped himself in royal shit..LITERALLY.

Have you seen the chick he 'dipped?'

I'd rather fuck my own foot.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Bloody Mary or Mimosa?

Can you also do some research on the word dipstick? I'm curious about its origins as well.

Also... what, you were a recruited basketball player?!

Gwen said...

I got kicked out of Buckingham Palace in 1993 for something eerily similar.

Travis said...

I like to think I am a pretty intelligent guy.

I don't think so anymore.

Thank you.

red said...

Oh, Steve Phillips *shakes head*

carissajaded said...

I don't often use the phrase "royal dipstick" but I think I'm going to have to definitely bring in into the current 300 words I use a day, because now I feel it is more elegant.

And I'm in on that drink too!


Wonderful said...

um, I think I need another cup of tea before I read this again. My brain is sleepy today.

But in case you didn't know, it's apparently Mole Day, as in the day that chemists celebrate the mole.

JenJen said...

I'm exhausted.
I need a smoke and a stiff drink.

Eric said...

I must carve that into a marble slab.

Jon said...

Dammit. Andy Moog beat me to the punch. I was going to make a "Steve Phillips had an affair with a wildebeast" joke too, but I'm just a little too late.

adrienzgirl said...

Dude, I am glad I didn't get to this until now, I am going to get a martini....

Ed Adams said...

That was some royally heavy shit.

JennyMac said... uber nerdy and hot at the same time.

Drinks? Oh plenty.

Margo said...

thanks. I've been wondering about this my whole life!