Where does term "pissed off" come from?
August 3, 2006 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Where does the term "pissed off" come from? Doesn't seem to be related to being angry. You are more likely to piss your pants when you are scared.
posted by zackdog to Writing & Language (18 answers total)
Some ideas here.
posted by acoutu at 10:10 PM on August 3, 2006

I don't know if this is true, but I've wondered if there is some correlation between 'pissed off' and 'piss'=alcohol, given the increased likelihood of people getting angry when drunk.
posted by Lucie at 10:41 PM on August 3, 2006

In the UK, "pissed" is slang for being drunk. But that's not a standard usage in the US, so unless that derivation appeared first and then migrated to the US, it doesn't seem likely that they're related.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:08 PM on August 3, 2006

From here:
We can be sure that the angry meaning of pissed off became popular among the Armed Forces in World War II, and entered into mainstream use during the post-war years. In 1946 it was defined as a new word in American Speech XXI: "This means roughly, fed-up, irritated, depressed." Some linguists and historians think the expression must have been well known during the war years, citing a story about General Eisenhower's dog. The story goes that the dog (Felix) urinated on a map and the officers joked that the enemy was "pissed off." (Leonard Mosely, Marshall, 1982).
Good story even if it's not true.
posted by tellurian at 11:11 PM on August 3, 2006

Oops! What acoutu said.
posted by tellurian at 11:14 PM on August 3, 2006

I've heard it explained but I can only vaguely recall the (very interesting) explanation. It related to the shipment of cargos of urine via boat for use in dying fabrics and gunpowder production. This must have been hundreds of years ago. Crews who had been assigned shipments of urine rather than more conventional wares were said to be "pissed off." Obviously the reaction to this unsavoury task gave meaning to the term. Can't find any reference to this online, but I recall hearing it on Radio 4 a few years ago.
posted by fire&wings at 3:59 AM on August 4, 2006

Isn't it possible this derives from the older (1916) U.K. "ticked off", applied to children and subordinates, meaning "chastised or told off" (and derived from the action of ticking off, or checking off, items or persons on a list). In U. S., the meaning of ticked off has migrated to mean the same as pissed off, probably by substituting ticked as a euphemism for pissed. So the route would be -- old OK usage "ticked off"/told off, gets picked up in wartime by US troops in contact with Brits, vulgarized to "pissed off", and modified a bit in meaning -- the party who is "ticked off"/told off, is, naturally, annoyed/irritated or "pissed off". Finally the older UK "ticked" is substituted back for "pissed" (note 1959 OED citation in first link) by folks wishing to keep their language clean.

Further back, "ticked off" may also have linkage with "tickled" meaning "irritated, used by Shakespeare and Pepys, discussed here.
posted by beagle at 5:47 AM on August 4, 2006

I remember learning it from watching Monty Python back in the 70's.
posted by JJ86 at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2006

In a very related diggression...

In Portuguese we have a word (usual in some locations, unusual in others) for angry that's "Enfezado". I discovered recently that it's etymology comes from "full of feces", alluding to the fact that constipated people tend to be in a bad mood.
posted by qvantamon at 6:12 AM on August 4, 2006

Just want to emphasize that all that can currently be said about the expression is contained in acoutu's link (first comment). There's really not much point trying to invent explanations (and that "cargos of urine" one is really ridiculous). The origins of many, perhaps most, slang expressions are irretrievably lost in the mists of time. All that can be said is that wherever it came from, it had a good ring to it and people immediately took to it and started using it.

N.b.: Language is not logical.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2006

Better to be pissed off than pissed on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2006

I suspect a related slang phrase is "full of piss and vinegar."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2006

The German slang for "pissed off" is angepisst, which, literally, is closer to "pissed on" than it is to "pissed off".
posted by syzygy at 7:33 AM on August 4, 2006

Also, don't forget the British usage of "piss off". It's a command, meaning something similar to the USian "fuck off" or the German "verpiss dich".
posted by syzygy at 7:36 AM on August 4, 2006

When I went to college in Indiana from NY I was surprised to discover that a "pisser" was not a good thing to seemingly anywhere else in the country. This was 1972. I was sad because pissing is such a satisfying experience overall and it seemed an appropriate application of the term.
posted by pointilist at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2006

fire&wings, why in the world would a boatload of urine cargo be shipped anywhere? Not like it's a rare commodity. I'd suggest the reason you can't find any online reference is that this program was some Radio 4 comedy/satire.
posted by Rash at 10:55 AM on August 4, 2006

l-hat: I don't think all of those legends were being 'invented', so much as relayed...
posted by baylink at 3:33 PM on August 4, 2006

Rash - urine was shipped everywhere, that much is fact. The exact nature of how the term came to be is a different matter.
posted by fire&wings at 7:13 PM on August 8, 2006

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