Crap can mean many things in the English vernacular. As always, how did this word come about? I would’ve stuck this in my Swear Words series, but I felt it didn’t belong as especially in this context. Let’s start at the beginning.
The word crap can be traced back to 1801 in a poem by J. Chruchill. Chruchill’s poem tells a story about a subaltern in the army who needs to relieve himself. The subaltern runs to the only outhouse nearby to find a major already there and is forced to wait. He is losing the battle of nature when a captain comes:
Just adding (for some only mind number ONE)
‘I, I shall go in, when the major has done’:
The Sub, who was, now, a most terrible plight, in;
And not quite aware of the priority S—-ING,
Squeez’d awhile; ‘Well!’ he says, ‘then, the best friends MUST PART’;
Crap! Crap! ’twas a moist one! a right Brewer’s ****!
And, finding it vain, to be stopping the lake;
‘Zounds!’ says he, ‘then, here goes man! I’ve brew’d; so, I’ll bake.’
Majority of dictionaries state crap first appeared in 1840s, which is probably true when Chruchill’s poem popularized. Onward with the story of crap.
The most popular myth concerning crap is with Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing lavatory. This isn’t accurate. The first inventor of the flushing lavatory is Sir John Harington during the Elizabethan period. His invention was installed at Kelston, Somerset manor where its said Queen Elizabeth used it herself. He also wrote a book on the subject, A New Discourse Upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax. An ajax was an Elizabethan slang word for privy. Also, note the toilet cleaner brand name, Ajax. And, “going to the john” saying didn’t come from John Harington, but perhaps from a jax as an alteration.
What about this Thomas Crapper? Well, Crapper lived between (1836-1910) in New York and traveled to London for an apprenticeship as a plumber. The 1850s was the golden age for plumbing and Crapper formed his own business, Thomas Crapper & Co. He invented the ballcock system which saved water being wasted when refilling and added extra devices while contributing to his own line of butt thrones.
Crapper’s lavatories were used in the Prince of Wales residence and installed the plumbing at Westminster Abbey where his name still lives on on manhole covers. But, crap is not named after Crapper.
In Britain, Crapper dominated. But in America, no one has heard of the name Crapper or crap. The word isn’t used until 1917 when America declared war on Germany and sent 2.8 million men over the sea where the name Thomas Crapper & Co. ruled the scene. After the First World War crap, crapper, crapping around and crapping about appeared in the U.S vernacular.
In a nutshell, crap in England didn’t come from the man at all; but in America, he had spread the word.