Meaning of Idiom ‘Built Like a Brick Shithouse’
To be built like a brick shithouse, said of a man, means to be very solidly built and muscular. When a woman is said to be built like a brick shithouse, it means she has a very shapely figure.
In North America, this slang expression was almost exclusively applied to women and refers to a woman with an attractive, shapely figure. This usage confuses many who cannot imagine how it could be a compliment to refer to a woman as being similar to a “shithouse.” Like many idioms, it does not need to make literal sense to those who use it, but the origin below explains the figurative allusion.
Examples Of Use
“Did you see that woman?” asked Denny. “Talk about built like a brick shithouse!”
“You know that girl I was trying to pick up last night? Turns out she has a boyfriend. The guy was built like a brick shithouse. He looked like he could break me in half.”
A “shithouse,” or in Australia a dunny is an outhouse used for urinating and defecating. These buildings, used before indoor plumbing was common, covered one or more toilets which were usually nothing more than holes or “latrines” dug in the ground. The buildings were usually built cheaply out of odd bits of wood and were meant to be easy to move once the hole was filled with waste.
An outhouse built out of brick, therefore, would be one that was much more well-built than usual, hence the allusion in the idiom. So, to be built like a brick shithouse is to be better built (in terms of physique or figure) than usual. The intention behind the expression changes based on whether it is used to describe a man or a woman. When a man is “well-built” it usually means he is large and muscular. When a woman is well-built it means she is shapely and comely. In either case, despite the disgusting reference, the expression is meant as a compliment.
The expression is rarely heard today probably because of social mores and it’s offensive vulgarity, but it originated as early as the 1930’s and was quite common until the 1950’s. Many sources insist that the phrase was always applied to a man. However, in North America, it was used almost exclusively for women, while it was applied to men in the UK.
In the American South, the expression was often embellished, e.g. “built like a brick shithouse with hot and cold running water.”
Brick House by the Commodores
The iconic Commodore’s song “Brick House,” was based on the idiom, with the vulgar part taken out. The allusion is the same and the song is about shapely, or “solidly built” women.
Read more about the history of the song.
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