The other day I was thinking about the words bullshit and horseshit. Where I am from, these words are used almost interchangably in situations where you think a statement or assertion is false, ridiculous, a lie, etc. I thought it was interesting that we have two very similar words to use in the same situation.
But then I thought about it some more and realized that they aren’t exactly the same. I wanted to share my thoughts about it and possibly get some feedback on whether or not the following applies to your understanding of these words.
At first I came to the (possibly wrong) conclusion that bullshit had a more broad application than horseshit. It could be situational as well as verbal, whereas horseshit couldn’t be.
For example, if you are angry at being forced into some situation against your will, such as having to wait in a long line, you can say “This is bullshit! I can’t believe it takes an hour to get a movie ticket.” Using horseshit here might be acceptable, but to my ears it sounds slightly unnatural.
When I think about my little brother, the difference is even clearer. My brother used to play Starcraft a lot. Sometimes something bad would happen in the game due to network latency – maybe a shuttle full of reavers gets killed because the game was slow to register his clicks. When this happened, he would slam his fist on the desk and shout, “F**king bullshit! I moved the shuttle away.”
Here, I think slamming your fist and shouting “F**king horseshit!” sounds completely unnatural. Only bullshit fits.
So is that it then? Is the difference between bullshit and horseshit that you can’t use the latter situationally? Not quite.
After some more thought, I imagined that my brother has had a minute to calm down after losing his shuttle full of reavers. He turns away from the monitor to look at me in disbelief. “Fucking horseshit. I moved that shuttle away,” he says shaking his head, inviting some sympathetic response from me. Yes, I saw you click away. It was the game/lag’s fault. Here, horseshit sounds completely natural to me.
This I think is the key. Bullshit is emphatic. You can shout it at the sky, fists shaking with rage.
Horseshit is softer. You might say it with disgust, disbelief or a dismissive tone, but you don’t scream it.
Don’t get me wrong. You can use bullshit in any situation where you use horseshit. Just not the other way around.
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