Colloquial speech abounds in references to defecation and associated organs and processes. Until recently they were regarded as a form of obscenity and were taboo in general society, so becoming a powerful mark of communal solidarity within the subgroups (usually male and/or juvenile) which did use them among themselves. Currently, they are freely uttered across a far wider range of society than at any previous period in England. Used in anger, they shock or insult, but they are also often deployed for humorous effects; they are common in minor verbal genres such as riddles, playground rhymes, and limericks, where the humour may consist either in uttering the offensive word or cleverly avoiding it. Many jokes and idioms exist in both a coarse and a polite version - as an expression of incredulity, 'My foot!' is acceptable anywhere, but 'My arse!' is not.
   Beliefs about actual excrement are few. To step accidentally on dog dirt or a cowpat is said to bring good luck, as attested by two 17th-century proverbs: 'muck is luck', and 'shitten luck is the best'. Some say the reason some burglars befoul the scene of their crime is as a charm to ensure they will not be caught
   (N&Q 11s:1 (1910), 296-7).
   In folk *medicine, a poultice of cow-dung in brown paper was used to induce local warmth, for example for easing rheumatic pain. Since at least the early 17th century, it was thought that to throw somebody's excrement into a fire, or plunge hot iron into it, would cause violent bowel pains and fever; mothers were cautioned against harming their babies in this way, while doctors, on the same principle, placed the patient's excrement in cold water to cool a fever. As with *urine in a *witch bottle, the principle could be exploited as a *counterspell (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 141-2). See also *bird droppings.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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