“What about [ahem] …guano,” Batman wanted to know.
“Well, as Steven Pinker points out in The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, the number of Eskimo words for ‘snow’ is small potatoes compared to the range of English words for ‘feces.’ English boasts (if that’s the right word) several dozen turd terms.
“Guano, as you probably know, refers to the droppings of seabirds as well as those of bats. I’ve gone to the OED Online on my phone; see? Here’s their first definition:
A natural manure found in great abundance on some sea-coasts, esp. on the Chincha and other islands about Peru, consisting of the excrement of sea-fowl.
“And here’s their earliest citation:
They are heapes of dung of sea-fowle..They cal this dung Guano,” José de Acosta · The naturall and morall historie of the East and West Indies (transl. Edward Grimeston) · 1st edition, 1604.
“As the editors explain, English got the word from Spanish, which took it from the Quechua (Inca) word huanu, meaning ‘dung.’ Does that answer your questions?”
Apparently it did, because he was out of my office like a bat out of the inferno. Good thing he paid up front. What a character! Thinking he could get discovered at Grauman’s Chinese! Speaking of guano, that guy was just plain batsh*t crazy.
Then a crazier thing happened. My phone sounded. It was food, health, science, and travel writer Jenny Neill.
“Hey, Lexie. I’m starting a blog series on dung and its role in our environment and health. So, I’d like you to help me out.”
“I’d like you to do a guest post on the origins of the expression “batsh*t crazy.”
So I did. You can see it here on Jenny’s blog.