Ah, the joys of live television. MSNBC unexpectedly aired a fine example of unexpurgated profanity when political strategist Rick Wilson appeared on “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” Thursday night. O’Donnell asked Wilson about Republican members of Congress who are optimistically whispering about the possibility of Vice President Mike Pence assuming the presidency. Wilson said:
Well, a lot of those guys right now, you know, are in that category where they’re still supporting Trump publicly because they feel like they have to. They’re afraid of the mean tweet. They’re afraid of Donald Trump going crazy, you know, ripshit bonkers on them.
MSNBC couldn’t have been too happy with Wilson’s colorful characterization, but “ripshit bonkers” is a perfect turn of phrase to describe Trump-style enraged craziness. And I was especially pleased to hear Wilson use ripshit, since I had been introduced to this wonderful word just a few days ago. It came up in a conversation with American Heritage Dictionaries executive editor Steve Kleinedler, who was amazed I had never heard it before. So of course, in accordance with the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I’ve quickly encountered ripshit again — on national television, no less.
After talking about ripshit with Steve, I started wondering about its origins and usage. In Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS), Jonathon Green glosses rip-shit as “afraid” or “angry,” though “angry” seems to be the more common meaning. Wiktionary defines it as “enraged or otherwise highly emotional,” and provides citations back to 1984, in Ken Hartnett’s novel A Saving Grace:
“You know, Tommy, there really isn’t much to worry about. It’s a matter of a few days. Then the heat’s off. The only thing we have to worry about is that Connie will get so ripshit he’ll queer the deal.”
GDoS has a 1985 citation from another novel, The Nurses by Richard Frede, which supports the “afraid” meaning:
I get scared. For both of you. I get fucking ripshit […] I get so scared.
It’s possible that Boston was an early locus of ripshit, since both of these novels take place there. But as far as I can tell from its scattered usage, the word isn’t currently a regionalism.
And how might ripshit have been formed, morphologically speaking? GDoS suggests it originates in the phrase rip shit out of, defined as “to assault physically.” A related phrase, rip shit up, means “to have a party, to act energetically, to make a disturbance,” as in Snoop Dogg’s guest rap in Dr. Dre’s 1993 song “Deeez Nuuuts”: “Cause Dr. Drizzay’s about to rizzip shit up.” (That’s rip shit up with Snoop’s patented -iz- infixation.)
Fellow StrongLanger Kory Stamper (who was also surprised that I’d never heard of ripshit) suggests that rip-roaring meaning ‘noisily excited or exciting’ might be an influence. If you get rip-roaring drunk (or, more simply, ripped), that might lead to a ripshit condition of heightened or angry emotions.
I’d posit that rip (the) shit out of contributed more significantly to the formation of ripshit. (I acknowledge this is pure speculation, since the word wasn’t previously part of my idiolect, though it totally is now.) Rip the shit out of fits the construction “VERB the TABOO TERM out of (something),” which I’ve discussed here in the past: see my posts on “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” and “I agreed the fuck out of it.” (There’s also scare/bore the shit out of, which, as Brendan O’Kane noted recently on Language Log, has generated the “fecal intensifiers” scared/bored shitless. I’ll return to that in another post.)
Regardless of its exact origin, ripshit has joined other “crazy” terms like apeshit and batshit. For more on apeshit, see Kory Stamper’s post, “Add -shit and stir: The intensifying affixal -shit.” (Batshit is discussed in the comments.) Kory also mentions dipshit, which is just one letter off from ripshit — though its meaning, “a stupid or incompetent person,” isn’t that close.
To return to Rick Wilson’s usage, ripshit bonkers nicely intensifies bonkers to indicate that Trump can easily get super-crazy in a heightened or enraged fashion. It’s similar to the use of batshit as an intensifier: the OED dates batshit crazy to 1993 (from Toronto Life: “His mug is emblazoned with the words: full-blown bat shit crazy.”) The way things are going, I think we need as many words for intensified craziness as we can possibly get, so I’m glad to add this to my lexicon.
Update, May 19: The redoubtable word researcher Hugo van Kemenade turned up an early example of ripshit used as an intensifier (“ripshit furious”), in Beth Powning‘s short story “Benny,” published in the Summer 1976 issue of The Tamarack Review:
I couldn’t understand it, but it was like Benny alternated between humbling himself and pleading, and then getting really ripshit furious and yelling with the red under his eyes glaring.
(Powning is from Putnam, Connecticut, and moved to New Brunswick, Canada.)
And Rick Wilson responds on Twitter.
For further evidence of the Boston connection, Lindsay Gonzales notes the lyrics from the Pixies song “Is She Weird?” from their 1990 album Bossanova:
Your heart is ripshit
Your mouth is everywhere
I’m lyin’ in it
And thanks to Colleen Newvine Tebeau, I discovered that George Carlin included “the ripshit” in a list of different types of farts in a routine on his 1974 album Toledo Window Box.