Q From Bob Fleck: an object circulating online under the title Interesting History claims, “They offered to usage urine to tan animal skins, so family members used to all pee in a pot and also then once a work it was offered to the tannery. If you had actually to carry out this to make it through you to be ‘piss poor’.” This screams of individual etymology. Have the right to you offer actual clarity?

A It absolutely might it is in a people etymology, other than that the item is in the intention just a mischievous attempt to deceive its readers. However, similar to other tongue-in-cheek suggestions around origins, a grain of fact exists in it. Urine has actually been widely provided in countless parts of the people in the preparatory step of tanning, in specific to help remove the hair indigenous hides before applying tanning agents.

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

The Romans, because that example, collected urine for this function systematically and even put a taxes on it. The most renowned taxer to be the emperor Vespasian in the an initial century AD. The long-gone French windy pissoirs were given the name vespasiennes together a direct connect to him. Vespasian’s kid is claimed to have actually objected come the disgusting beginning of the taxation revenues, come which in legend his father responded pecunia no olet, money doesn’t smell, a tag the from time come time is quiet employed come argue that money isn’t tainted by its origins.

However, the expression piss-poor is recent and has nothing to carry out with tanning. The current state the research suggests that that may have been invented during the second World War, due to the fact that the very first examples in print date from 1946. Despite it is quiet classed together low slang through dictionaries, the mildly unpleasant associations have come to be blunted by time and familiarity.

The beginning is straightforward. Piss began to it is in attached to other words during the twenty century come intensify your meaning. Ezra Pound created piss-rotten in 1940 (distasteful or unpleasant, the an initial example on record) and we’ve due to the fact that had piss-easy (very easy), piss-weak (cowardly or pathetic), piss-elegant (affectedly refined, pretentious), piss-awful (very unpleasant) and other forms.

Piss-poor started life in a similar figurative sense for other that"s third-rate, incompetent or useless, as it go in this current example:

Larkin’s letters, created Philippe Auclair, writer and broadcaster, to be “very funny, really beautiful, and very sad; the grace of an angel, the precision of a geometer, and also the short-sighted, intolerant piss-poor idées fixes the a provincial buffoon”.

The Spectator, 27 Nov. 2010.

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Americans who understand the idiom so bad he didn’t have actually a pot to piss in, periodically in the fuller form ... Or a window to throw it out of, might wonder if this is the origin. The idiom shows up in Nightwood through Djuna Barnes, released in 1936, so it does predate piss-poor. However, it’s a graphic literal reference to poverty; as piss-poor was very first used in a figurative sense, it"s unlikely to have actually been affected by the larger idiom. In fact, the literal sense of too much poverty for piss-poor didn’t come along until a pair of years later, which likewise provides another reason, if one to be needed, that the story friend quote is nonsense.