Life is the pits

English translation: The worst of all possible worlds/situations. Slang, of uncertain and disuputed 20th c. U.S. origin.

GLOSSARY ENTRY (DERIVED FROM QUESTION BELOW)
English term or phrase:Life is the pits
English translation:The worst of all possible worlds/situations. Slang, of uncertain and disuputed 20th c. U.S. origin.
Entered by: Christopher Crockett

21:53 Apr 2, 2005
English to English translations [Non-PRO]
Art/Literary - Idioms / Maxims / Sayings
English term or phrase: Life is the pits
Hello, does anybody know what does this saying mean? and is there a story behind it?

Thanks
Claudia Alvis
Peru
Local time: 14:53
originally....
Explanation:
I don't think that the expression has anything to do with the "pit" of any fruit, cherries or otherwise.

The Oxford English Dictionary is somewhat ambiguous on the question, but rules out the "seed" origin for sure :

PIT:

1. a. A hole or cavity in the ground, formed either by digging or by some natural process.

e. A deep hole or chamber in which prisoners were confined, a dungeon. ? Obs. exc. Hist.

1512 Act 4 Hen. VIII, c. 8 Preamb., The said Richard was taken and imprisoned in a doungen and a depe pytt under grounde.

4. The abode of evil spirits and lost souls; hell, or some part of it, conceived as a sunken place, or as a dungeon or place of confinement. Often in phr. the pit of hell.

a1225 Juliana 15 (Bodl. MS.) To forwure wi him..ie putte of helle


14. the pits (slang, orig. U.S.), the worst or most despicable example of something; freq. applied to a person considered particularly obnoxious or contemptible.

1953 Newsweek 2 Nov. 54/3 A bad exam experience would be ‘I'm wasted’ at Howard,..‘It was the pits’ at Vassar.

1965 Amer. Speech XL. 194 Pits, n. This is a slang abbreviation of the term armpits, again with an extension of meaning to entail the idea of body odor (‘He's got the pits’) or, more broadly, something unpleasant (‘It [the party] was really the pits’).

1976 New Yorker 1 Mar. 87/3 If there are gradations in the pits, ‘I Will, I Will..For Now’ is even worse than ‘Gable and Lombard’. It combines the most simperingly forced elements of fifties mistaken-identity farces with a mushy, soft-core version of the sex-manual pornos.

1979 New Society 20 Dec. p. xi/3 If Dors is the very personification of the buxom backside of the other Britain..then Joan Collins is the pits. Just the pits.

1981 Observer 22 Nov. 11 I've never been fined for saying something obscene. It's always been for saying ‘You're the pits,’ or something.John McEnroe.

1985 J. FULLER Mass viii. 239 Hey, give me a little comfort here. This weather is the pits.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2 days 17 hrs 16 mins (2005-04-05 15:10:01 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

The full resources of the reference room of a large midwestern U.S. university are not enough to settle the question of the origin of the term, apparently.

About the only thing all dictionaries of slang agree on is that it is of U.S. origin, becomming common in U.K. English only relatively recently (c. 1970, says Eric Partridge).

Most suggest an initial date of circa 1950, though one said \"19th century or before\". None gave specific references, however.

Ruth\'s suggestion of a junkie/jazz origin looks probable at first glance, but I can\'t find the expression in any book on African American Slang --which is curious in and of itself.

\"Pits\" as short for \"armpits\" is mentioned in some dictionaries, but others suggest the \"pit = hell\" meaning, which has, as the OED says, a *much* longer history of use.

One of the problems with nailing down the first usage of a slang expression is that it can be in rather wide use before it appears in print.
Selected response from:

Christopher Crockett
Local time: 15:53
Grading comment
gracias a todos por sus sugerencias, esta vez fue difícil escoger a quien darle los kudoz
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer



Summary of answers provided
3 +11life is hell! the worse...
Gabo Pena
5 +2LIFE IS HELL
Octavio Solorio
5in the pits
davidjgordon
4 +1originally....
Christopher Crockett


  

Answers


2 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): +11
life is hell! the worse...


Explanation:
.

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Note added at 2005-04-02 21:55:50 (GMT)
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worst

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Note added at 2005-04-02 21:56:51 (GMT)
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I believe the etymology is that when you eat a fruit and the pit (or seed) is left, it\'s hard and a pain (difficult) to get the substance away from it.

Gabo Pena
Local time: 12:53
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in SpanishSpanish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Robert Donahue (X): I agree. This is the counterpoint to your other question Caliaa : )
3 mins

agree  Iman Khaireddine
6 mins

agree  Can Altinbay
29 mins

agree  Kim Metzger: But there's no "the worse" in English. It's "the worst." ADDED: Oh, sorry, I see you caught it yourself.
1 hr

agree  Anna Maria Augustine at proZ.com (X)
1 hr

agree  jennifer newsome (X)
5 hrs

agree  Alfa Trans (X)
6 hrs

agree  Alp Berker
6 hrs

agree  mportal
11 hrs

agree  Saleh Chowdhury, Ph.D.
14 hrs

agree  Kirill Semenov: how true sometimes... ;-)
14 hrs
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1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +2
life is the pits
LIFE IS HELL


Explanation:
Life is hell.....

PIT used with THE means HELL and plural PITS, as in THE PITS means worse.

WEBSTERS DICTIONARY.... pit\ 2: a: HELL -- used with THE b: a place or situation of futility, misery or degradation c pl.: WORST <it's the ~s>



Octavio Solorio
United States
Local time: 12:53
Native speaker of: Spanish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  juvera
13 mins

agree  humbird
4 hrs
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18 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +1
life is the pits
originally....


Explanation:
I don't think that the expression has anything to do with the "pit" of any fruit, cherries or otherwise.

The Oxford English Dictionary is somewhat ambiguous on the question, but rules out the "seed" origin for sure :

PIT:

1. a. A hole or cavity in the ground, formed either by digging or by some natural process.

e. A deep hole or chamber in which prisoners were confined, a dungeon. ? Obs. exc. Hist.

1512 Act 4 Hen. VIII, c. 8 Preamb., The said Richard was taken and imprisoned in a doungen and a depe pytt under grounde.

4. The abode of evil spirits and lost souls; hell, or some part of it, conceived as a sunken place, or as a dungeon or place of confinement. Often in phr. the pit of hell.

a1225 Juliana 15 (Bodl. MS.) To forwure wi him..ie putte of helle


14. the pits (slang, orig. U.S.), the worst or most despicable example of something; freq. applied to a person considered particularly obnoxious or contemptible.

1953 Newsweek 2 Nov. 54/3 A bad exam experience would be ‘I'm wasted’ at Howard,..‘It was the pits’ at Vassar.

1965 Amer. Speech XL. 194 Pits, n. This is a slang abbreviation of the term armpits, again with an extension of meaning to entail the idea of body odor (‘He's got the pits’) or, more broadly, something unpleasant (‘It [the party] was really the pits’).

1976 New Yorker 1 Mar. 87/3 If there are gradations in the pits, ‘I Will, I Will..For Now’ is even worse than ‘Gable and Lombard’. It combines the most simperingly forced elements of fifties mistaken-identity farces with a mushy, soft-core version of the sex-manual pornos.

1979 New Society 20 Dec. p. xi/3 If Dors is the very personification of the buxom backside of the other Britain..then Joan Collins is the pits. Just the pits.

1981 Observer 22 Nov. 11 I've never been fined for saying something obscene. It's always been for saying ‘You're the pits,’ or something.John McEnroe.

1985 J. FULLER Mass viii. 239 Hey, give me a little comfort here. This weather is the pits.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2 days 17 hrs 16 mins (2005-04-05 15:10:01 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

The full resources of the reference room of a large midwestern U.S. university are not enough to settle the question of the origin of the term, apparently.

About the only thing all dictionaries of slang agree on is that it is of U.S. origin, becomming common in U.K. English only relatively recently (c. 1970, says Eric Partridge).

Most suggest an initial date of circa 1950, though one said \"19th century or before\". None gave specific references, however.

Ruth\'s suggestion of a junkie/jazz origin looks probable at first glance, but I can\'t find the expression in any book on African American Slang --which is curious in and of itself.

\"Pits\" as short for \"armpits\" is mentioned in some dictionaries, but others suggest the \"pit = hell\" meaning, which has, as the OED says, a *much* longer history of use.

One of the problems with nailing down the first usage of a slang expression is that it can be in rather wide use before it appears in print.

Christopher Crockett
Local time: 15:53
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
Grading comment
gracias a todos por sus sugerencias, esta vez fue difícil escoger a quien darle los kudoz

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Refugio: The story I have heard is based on the meaning of "armpits". The term was coined back in the 20's by heroin users whose arm veins were scarred or collapsed, then they would inject into the armpits. Like so much jazz slang, it passed into the mainstream.
1 day 15 hrs
  -> Possible, I suppose. But it seems like a rather UpScale expression, to me, How many junkies were there at Vassar in 1953? Thanks, Ruth. Could be jazz slang frrom the '20s. The OED isn't as au courant for U.S. slang. See my latest addition.
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2096 days   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
life is the pits
in the pits


Explanation:
"in the pits" was first used by me in 1974. It was in reference was to the physics laboratory I was teaching as a graduate student, which was in the basement of the physics building at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. The origin, if I remember correctly, had to do with working in the coal pits of Scotland/England in the 19th century. The environment and the audience (somewhat cynically) seemed the same.
I don't believe I was influenced by any other source so I claim at least one branch of the original source.

davidjgordon
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