ship my pants

Passed on by Karen Chung on Facebook, a HuffPo piece (with video) about a Kmart ad with ostentatious taboo avoidance:

‘Ship My Pants’ Kmart Ad: For The 12-Year-Old In All Of Us

Looks like Kmart has finally said, “F it, we’re not Target and we’re not Walmart… we’re @#$%*! Kmart.”

Touting the fact that if you can’t find what you’re looking for in store you can find it online and then have it sent to your home, Kmart has introduced its “Ship My Pants” ad… which you will make you laugh despite your higher aspirations.

Not since Benny Bell’s immortal “Shaving Cream”, has the word shit not been said [repeatedly] with such glee.

We shall endeavor to ship our pants very soon. Thanks, Kmart!

I’ll get to the syntax of shit one’s pants in a moment. But first a return to “Shaving Cream”, discussed on this blog here:

[from the WorldLingo site] It is a novelty song which uses innuendo; the verses end in a way that implies that the next word is “shit”, while the refrain begins with the words “Shaving Cream,” with exaggerated emphasis on the “sh” sound, e.g.,

I have a sad story to tell you
It may hurt your feelings a bit
Last night when I walked into my bathroom
I stepped in a big pile of
[Refrain] Shaving cream, be nice and clean
Shave everyday and you’ll always look keen

Now, shit one’s pants (and crap, pooppiss, pee as well) — with a (reflexively understood) possessive-marked object — is related to shit [etc.] in one’s pants by “transitivizing P-drop” (brief discussion of transitivizing P-drop on this blog, here, somewhat longer discussion on my website, here). Similarly, shit [etc.] (on) oneself, with reflexive object.

The reflexive constructions came up on ADS-L back on 4/2/08, with Wilson Gray claiming a distinction between WE (White English) and BE (Black English), with WE having the transitive (direct-object) argument structure (He shit/shat/pissed himself) and BE having the prepositional (oblique-object) argument structure (He shitted/pissed on himself). (I’ll disregard the differences in verb forms here.) Larry Horn in response:

Actually, the latter two forms are perfectly acceptable in varieties of WE I’m familiar with, and there’s a slight semantic / pragmatic / register difference between the two versions. If I inadvertently allow a couple of drops to hit my shoe, I pissed on myself, but I didn’t piss myself. This actually follows from the general association with direct objects and “affectedness”, as in the difference between loading the hay onto the truck and loading the truck with the hay. I also suspect there may be another difference here for many speakers besides that of degree-of-affectedness:

He intentionally shat/pissed on himself. [vs.]  ??He intentionally shat/pissed himself.

Perhaps not all WE speakers share this latter intuition.

My follow-up:

The connection between direct objects and affectedness is a nice (though subtle) example of iconicity in grammar: closely linked objects (i.e., direct objects) tend to be understood as denoting more affected referents, and less closely linked objects (i.e., oblique objects, marked by prepositions) tend to be understood as denoting less affected, more tangentially connected, referents. Tighter syntactic connection, more direct connection in meaning.

(This is not a novel observation of mine, by the way.  For “functionalist” linguists, it’s a commonplace.)

Bonus observation: All this means that “direct object” is not a half-bad name for this syntactic function. Not exactly transparent, and certainly not a definition, but suggestive.

The discussion then shifted to the possessive pronoun construction (shit [etc.] (in) one’s pants). Charlie Doyle noted that he’d listed this case of alternative argument structures in a note in American Speech 52:28 (1977).

(Lexical note: the alternations are available for only some verbs meaning ‘defecate’ and ‘urinate’; for others, only the oblique structure is possible. This is true of defecate and urinate themselves: I defecated / urinated in my pants / on myself, but *I defecated / urinated my pants / myself. And of slang dump and whiz and coy piddle and tinkle (I dumped / whizzed in my pants / on myself, but *I dumped / whizzed my pants / myself).

Larry Horn:

Ah, I still get the <+/- affectedness> distinction there. If he shit in his pants, a bit of scrubbing followed by detergent and the hot water setting might do the trick. If he shit his pants, best to just toss ’em out.  (Talk about putting the “object” back in “direct object”…)

Later, on this blog on dispose toilet paper vs. dispose of toilet paper:

As I’ve said before in connection with P~Ø alternations, the intransitive, or oblique-object, version is more explicit about the relationship between the V and the object, while the transitive, or direct-object, version is briefer and suggests a stronger real-world bond between the referent of the V and the referent of the object. Different virtues.

back on ADS-L, Ben Zimmer finished off the shit my pants topic:

I feel this conversation wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the classic Saturday Night Live pseudo-commercial for the adult diaper known as “Oops! I Crapped My Pants”…

Ben’s link is to the transcript. The video;

Oops! I Crapped My Pants

Most of the occurrences of ship my pants in the Kmart ad depend on another argument-structure fact about the verb ship, namely that it can be used with a direct object to convey not shipping the referent of that object, but having the referent shipped. as when the kid in the ad exclaims, “I can’t wait to ship my pants, Dad!” That sets things up for the (imperfect) pun ship/shit.

One Response to “ship my pants”

  1. Today’s baffling taboo avoidance | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on this blog: to a Kraft campaign with Zesty Anderson Davis; to the “ship my pants” ad; and to “Ship happens” (with links to other X happens […]

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