We’re Number One

-“Ode to That Four-Letter Word

going with the flow brings us to our very next topic—
pissing (17thC). Pissing (17thC) derives from the
French pisser via Old French and vulgar Latin. It was
Standard English until around 1760, as in “He would
not once turn one for a kisse. Every night he riseth for to pisse”
(Hazlitt). About the same time it became a popular expression in
the United States, a nation with few “pe-ons” and a highly ener-
getic pioneer stock full of piss and vinegar.
Pissing has been received differently depending on the culture.
It was anything but number one (nursery term, 19thC) to the fol-
lowers of Mohammed, who were so repelled by it they chose to
squat in the act rather than let a single drop fall on their person.
The Hottentots, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to get enough of
it. The high point of their marriage ceremony came when the priest
urinated (c. 1599) upon the bride and the groom.
Here in the West we are generally more pissed off than pissed
upon. When you piss people off, you get them angry. President
Lyndon Johnson was one who got pissed off frequently. But even
he could be selective about it. Queried once as to the reason he
retained the difficult J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, he explained: “I’d much rather have that
fellow inside my tent pissing out than outside my tent pissing in.”
There have, however, been a few exceptions where piss has
been welcome. In the seventeenth century we used piss as a
facial cleanser and to remove birthmarks and freckles. Today, it’s
the critical ingredient in the kinky activity known as water
Though pissing is a universal phenomenon, not everyone can
piss well. Some people are notoriously piss-poor. Clemenceau,
the French Prime Minister during World War I, pissed and
moaned about his prostate, lamenting enviously of Lloyd George,
his British counterpart, “Ah, si je pouvais pisser comme il parle.”
(“If only I could piss like he can talk.”)

When Nature is calling, plain speaking is out
When ladies, God bless ’em, are milling about,
You make water, wee-wee, or empty the glass;
You can powder your nose; “Excuse me” may pass;
Shake the dew off the lily; see a man ’bout a dog;
Or when everyone’s soused, it’s condensing the fog.
But be pleased to consider and remember just this—
That only in Shakespeare do characters piss!