What is the most commonly used English word in Taiwan? If you guessed “shit”, you’d be correct.
It’s a personal bugaboo. I get why people like swearing in a foreign language. It’s fun. It speaks to the soul. In a practical sense it can be a great entrée into the language. Personally, I get pure joy from cursing in Taiwanese. [Cursing in Chinese doesn’t have quite the same panache]. In my mind it makes me seem very street, if the street is 秀朗路。I undoubtedly look like an English-speaker, who possibly could curse in Chinese [what’s street about that?], using Taiwanese in an ultimately ridiculous attempt to gain cred, to the sotto voce amusement of all. None of this detracts from my exhilaration.
I get it.
But, as an English teacher it assaults my sense of the language to hear shit being poorly used. Taiwanese usually use it as an expletive, which is at least a correct usage, but they do it with the wrong feeling. They usually say the word like she-TTTUUUUHHHH, ending with a prolonged and stressed “tuh”. It makes them sound—if not dumb—then like amateurs. Other than as an expletive, it is most commonly used to call someone “a shit guy”, which in English has no meaning. Most would assume they mean shitty guy, someone who is bad or immoral. Instead it refers to someone who never catches a break or attracts bad luck.
It’s amazing the Taiwanese manage to find incorrect usages for shit, since it has such multitudinous uses. You can exclaim shit or shit on a stick. I’ve been shit-faced, shit on, and shit over, but never given a shit. You can take a shit, have a shit, work for shit, or work for a shit, but best not be a shit, though it’s good to be the shit. You can get your shit together, or leave shit everywhere; work for shit, do shit work, or do shit all. Shit can be real, or a lying sack. You can shit the bed, or the sheets, shit a brick, shit disturb, but don’t shit on your own doorstep or where you eat. It’s possible to know jack shit, ratshit, or go apeshit, but still be kingshit, a dipshit, or a dumbshit. You can have it on a shingle or a burger, in a sack, or through the eye of a needle. Never try to shit a shitter when shit happens. I have a shit-eating grin just writing this, but I’m no shit-eater. I know what you’re thinking—what a shithead.
I have spent most of my adult work-life teaching English in Taiwan. That is to say I’ve spent my life pissing into the wind, but my greatest career failure has been allowing the most commonly used English word in Taiwan to be used so poorly. Shit is clearly grandiloquent, but my students deliver it with neither grammatical—nor stylistic—correctness.
It makes me sad. I’m a professional and give a shit. No shit!