In an interview with CBS News Monday morning, anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist said that President Obama won the 2012 election by portraying Mitt Romney as a “poopy head.” When did people start calling each other “poopy head”?
The 1980s, roughly. People have been calling each other names like block-head, stupid-head, and bone-head for more than a hundred years, but it’s only in the last few decades that poopy-head joined the ranks of children’s favorite insults. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blockhead is as old as a 16th century translation of the Bible, in which a passage in 1 Corinthians is translated to describe “A blockeheade that hathe loste the iudgemente of nature.” Stupid-head, meanwhile, is at least as old as Dickens: In Oliver Twist, the bumbling police officer Blathers asks the butler Giles, “Think it’s the same boy, stupid-head?” Bone-head, knuckle-head, and dick-head are all 20th century inventions that also predate poopy-head, according to the written record.
Before poopy-head entered the lexicon, we called stupid people manure-head and shit-head. In the 1932 Broadway play The Great Magoo, one character insisted, “By God, no manure-head’s gonna stop me,” while in the 1945 Southern Folklore Quarterly one American lieutenant describes the French as “shit heads” who “don’t know their ass from third base.” The first known instance of poop head, according to the OED, was Rebel Without a Cause (1955): In both the play and the movie Buzz Gunderson calls two adults a “couple old poop-heads.” Even then the term poop was relatively new, having evolved at the end of the 19th century from an onomatopoeia for the sound of pooping. The modern poopy—meaning excrement—came later, around 1970. In the 1950s and 1960s poopy actually described those who were like a poop, which meant a stupid person. The first appearance of poopy cited by the OED is one of these usages, from a 1957 issue of The New Yorker, which described “some nice old poopy elder statesman.”
One of the earliest recorded instances of poopy-head actually uses the phrase as a pet name: On Valentine’s Day 1983 a romantic declared his love for his sweetheart in The Springfield Union by writing “I LOVE YOU Poopy Head.” Three years later, self-help author Wayne Dyer wrote a column suggesting that parents learn to play with their children by calling them “a poopy-head once in a while in jest.” By the 1990s poopy head was described in the Illinois newspaper The Pantagraph as a popular childish insult on the same level as “booger-face, butt-head and snot-brains.”
Norquist is not the first to speak of “calling someone a poopy head” as shorthand for political mudslinging and name-calling. A 1994 article in the Dayton Daily News also compared running negative campaign ads to calling your opponent “a big fat poopy-head.” The term first appeared in the New York Times in a similar context. In an article about how Wikipedia was protecting itself by imposing waiting periods before you could make changes, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales warned New York Times readers, “If someone really wants to write, ‘George Bush is a poopy head,’ you’ve got to wait four days.”
Thanks to Ben Zimmer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com.