Q From Bob Fleck: An item circulating digital under the title Interelaxing History claims, “They provided to use urine to tan animal skins, so households used to all pee in a pot and then when a day it was marketed to the tannery. If you had to carry out this to make it through you were ‘piss poor’.” This screams of folk etymology. Can you offer genuine clarity?

A It certainly can be a people etymology, other than that the item is in its intention simply a mischievous attempt to deceive its readers. However before, as via other tongue-in-cheek suggestions about beginnings, a grain of fact exists in it. Urine has been commonly supplied in many type of parts of the world in the preparatory stperiods of tanning, in specific to assist rerelocate the hair from hides prior to using tanning agents.

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Tanners at work, from Microcosm by W H Pyne, 1808.

The Romans, for example, collected urine for this function systematically and also also put a tax on it. The most well known taxer was the emperor Vespasian in the first century ADVERTISEMENT. The long-gone French public pissoirs were given the name vespasiennes as a direct link to him. Vespasian’s boy is sassist to have objected to the disgusting beginning of the taxes revenues, to which in legend his father replied pecunia non olet, money doesn’t smell, a tag that from time to time is still employed to argue that money isn’t tainted by its origins.

However, the expression piss-poor is current and has actually nothing to perform with tanning. The existing state of research study says that it might have actually been designed in the time of the 2nd World War, bereason the first examples in print day from 1946. Though it is still classed as low slang by dictionaries, its mildly unpleasant associations have end up being blunted by time and also familiarity.

The beginning is straightforward. Piss started to be attached to various other words throughout the twentieth century to intensify their interpretation. Ezra Pound developed piss-rotten in 1940 (distasteful or unpleasant, the initially instance on record) and also we’ve considering that had actually piss-easy (exceptionally easy), piss-weak (cowardly or pathetic), piss-elegant (affectedly refined, pretentious), piss-awful (exceptionally unpleasant) and other creates.

Piss-poor began life in a comparable figurative sense for somepoint that"s third-price, inknowledgeable or useless, as it does in this recent example:

Larkin’s letters, composed Philippe Auclair, writer and broadcaster, were “extremely funny, extremely beautiful, and extremely sad; the grace of an angel, the precision of a geometer, and also the short-sighted, intolerant piss-bad idées fixes of a provincial buffoon”.

The Spectator, 27 Nov. 2010.

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Americans who know the idiom so poor he didn’t have a pot to piss in, sometimes in the fuller create ... or a home window to throw it out of, could wonder if this is the origin. The idiom appears in Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, published in 1936, so it does preday piss-poor. However, it’s a graphic literal reference to poverty; as piss-poor was initially provided in a figurative sense, it"s unmost likely to have actually been affected by the older idiom. In reality, the literal feeling of too much poverty for piss-poor didn’t come alengthy till a couple of decades later on, which additionally gives one more reason, if one were necessary, that the story you quote is nonsense.