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Saturday March 6th

UNC professor credited with first use of ‘shit happens’

UNC prof. of English Connie Eble studies linguistics and slang, and is credited with having the earliest documentation of the phrase "shit happens". The phrase was submitted on one of the many notecards which the professor asks her students to submit definitions of current popular slang. Here prof. Eble is posing with the earliest notecard describing "shit happens".
Buy Photos UNC prof. of English Connie Eble studies linguistics and slang, and is credited with having the earliest documentation of the phrase "shit happens". The phrase was submitted on one of the many notecards which the professor asks her students to submit definitions of current popular slang. Here prof. Eble is posing with the earliest notecard describing "shit happens".

Written on that card is the first known printed use of “shit happens,” forever linking her name to the phrase.

“If you go on Wikipedia and look at ‘shit happens,’ you see my name,” Eble said.

It started as a class assignment. Every semester, Eble asks her students to write down new catch phrases on index cards that she collects and compiles into a list.

And on the list from 1983 is first alleged recorded use of “shit happens.”

“A female student turned in ‘shit happens,’ and wrote this: ‘When informed that he flunked the test, the guy replied, ‘That shit happens.’’”

Although that student remains anonymous, Eble has gained more recognition for coining the phrase than she’d like to take credit for.

“This gets brought up every so often,” she said. “Will this never die? I didn’t come up with it — it just so happened that my list was the earliest citation. And now it’s become sort of an urban myth.”

Eble gives her lingo lists privately to academics — never posting publicly.

“I don’t put it online because it’s full of objectionable vocabulary that I’m sure North Carolina taxpayers would not appreciate,” she said.

Some of that vocabulary is found on the 2015 list, including “bang” and “bone,” which allude to sex; “crossfaded” and “wavy,” which are about partying; and “weenie-shrinker” and “Carol!” which are terms used to express disappointment.

There is also a section dedicated to the most popular terms — “on fleek,” “bae,” “turnt up,” “ratchet” and “yaas.”

She said this crass vocabulary is typical of slang. In most cases, she says the phrases are negative or passing harsh judgment.

“It’s not usually uplifting. It’s a lot of ways of saying nasty things and being judgmental. But when they get into the general population, they become less negative. They lose their shock value.”

In her 45 years of teaching, Eble has picked out favorites, like “the struggle bus.” She said students help her with the meanings of the latest phrases.

“My favorite recently is ‘Netflix and chill.’ Right away my students swore to me that it has sexual innuendos, but I still hear people from my generation use (the phrase) incorrectly. They think it means relaxing. But my students keep me informed.”

First-year Josh Deena took Eble’s honors class, “English in the United States,” in fall 2015. Since then, he’s made a name for himself on Urban Dictionary, thanks to one of Eble’s assignments.

“She wanted us to try and get a word published on Urban Dictionary,” Deena said. “It was around the time that people were getting angry at Starbucks for changing the design on their cups.”

Deena used his friends’ outrage to create his entry, “Starbucksing,” which means “waging a war on Christmas.”

“I just found it very amusing that people were getting so upset over a disposable cup,” he said. “But I was surprised that it made it on the website.”

With new slang created every day, Eble said there’s no way of knowing what’s next.

“Did you see the video where ‘on fleek’ came from? It was just something stupid, but it took off. Even these little video clips will get picked up, and you just don’t know which one is gonna strike a fancy.”

Junior Rachel Bonesteel, who read Eble’s book, “Slang and Sociability,” in class, said she related to the book’s discussion of college lingo.

“I think it’s really interesting because some of the things we were saying freshman year, like ‘YOLO,’ were a big thing then, but we don’t say it now.”

There’s no way of knowing what will catch on next — but it might already be on an index card in Eble’s office.

@ErinWyg28

arts@dailytarheel.com



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