Introduction to the shitty feature

A look at the different ways we think about excrement

Defecation is something that everyone deals with. Although we don’t often talk about it, it plays a role in every person’s day-to-day life.

We use a variety of words to describe it: shit, crap, feces, scat, poo, turd, dung, droppings, excrement, and waste. Each has different connotations and is generally used in different contexts. Babies poop; animals leave dung, scat, or droppings; cities deal with waste; and you might “look like shit” after catching the flu.

The terms we choose to describe our excrement have a major impact on how we collectively think about it. Shit was the first of the seven dirty words George Carlin famously said that “you could never say on television,” and it’s still considered a vulgar word.

On a societal level we tend to think of feces as waste – a by-product to be disposed of as opposed to a resource to be harnessed. A prophetic environmentalist friend of mine once described our modern waste disposal system as “an extremely expensive water slide for shit.” As you might imagine he also took issue with the term “waste disposal,” preferring the more shit-respectful “materials management.”

It’s this tension that I hoped we could unpack in our shitty feature.

The intent was for our contributors to take a more comprehensive and analytical look at a topic that affects everyone’s life but that’s normally reduced to something “gross.”

At the most recent meeting of the Manitoban’s Editorial Board, at least one editor was incredulous at the thought of focusing our next centrefold on excrement.

When I began to explain the intent, members of our editorial board, including the shit-topic skeptic, began interjecting with examples of interesting ways the topic could be addressed.

“What about how different cultures deal with it?”

“How about its role in agriculture?”

“Someone could write about the different words we have for it!”

To my joy, the conversation quickly ran away from anyone’s control – it turned out to be an engaging topic for us, and hopefully for you.

This feature will include a look at how human excrement was dealt with through history, a profile of Winnipeg’s sewage management system, a look at some medical bowel disorders, a poem about a parent’s experience, and a personal narrative about installing a composting toilet.

I hope this unconventional topic piques your interest, and that it makes you think about shit in a new light.