The Slatest

But Isn’t “Shithouse” Actually More Insulting Than “Shithole”?

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Donald Trump, and Georgia Sen. David Perdue at the White House on Aug. 2, 2017.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Donald Trump, and Georgia Sen. David Perdue at the White House on Aug. 2, 2017.
Zach Gibson/Pool/Getty Images

The already-quite-embarrassing story of the president calling Africa a “shithole” took an even more embarrassing turn over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend: It turned out that Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who’d denied that Trump used the term, did so under the extremely flimsy and technical justification that what they’d actually heard him say was shithouse.

This distinction seems to have been leaked to other reporters as well, which suggests the White House wants America to think the president might have called Africa a “shithouse.” This is a curious choice: Shithole could be used in a borderline-affectionate way to describe, let’s say, a dive bar or ramshackle cabin. Shithouse, by contrast, doesn’t describe anything except an outhouse.

To be clear, the president was clearly not using “shithole” to describe Africa affectionately. But the word’s potential to be used differently—the fact that it is sometimes dissociated idiomatically from the actual thing it describes—dampens its impact on the listener. Shithouse is more specific and novel and thus more evocative and demeaning. It can only suggest the image of a place where people shit.

Either way, though, the idea that the administration would try to make such a fine distinction between insults instead of simply apologizing makes one start to wonder whether they actually have any respect for Africans at all!

Update, 11:20 a.m.: Oh, come on.

Update, 12:10 p.m.: LOL