Ep071: Expression – To Be Up Shit Creek [Without A Paddle]

In this Expression episode of Aussie English I teach you guys the meaning of the expression “To be up shit creek” and how to use it.

Ep071: Expression – To Be Up Shit Creek [Without A Paddle]

So, in today’s episode I want to run you guys through an expression and this expression is an expression that I use quite a bit in English, and the expression is “To Be Up Shit Creek”, “To Be Up Shit Creek”.

So, what does “To Be Up Shit Creek” mean? “To Be Up Shit Creek” means to be in deep trouble. So, to be in deep trouble with no solution, to be in a difficult situation. It means these sorts of things. Ah… I’ll run you through the different words in this phrase first before sort of talking about how and when I would use this kind of expression.

So, I’ll do it backwards. So, I’ll run through the “Creek” first. “A Creek” is a stream or a minor tributary of a river. So, it’s a small flow of water. It’s…. a river tends to be pretty big, a stream is slightly smaller, and then a creek is a very very very small um… river, a very very small river. A creek is the kind of um… flow of water, or river, or stream that you could probably jump across.

So, “Shit”. “Shit” is a rude slang term for poo, for feces, for crap. If you go to the toilet you either do a piss or a shit if you want to be rude and say those two variants, or you pee and poo. So, that’s what “Shit” means. I’m sure you’ll all know the rude word “Shit”.

“To be up”, “To be up”. Literally up obviously means the direction of above, “Up” as opposed to… to be down. In terms of a river, a stream or a creek, if you are “Up” a creek, or a stream or up a river, it means that you’re away from the end of the river, stream or creek. So, you’re near [nearer*] where it starts. You’re up along the river, the stream or the creek.

So, “To be up shit creek” literally in my head when I say this is makes me think of someone in a boat, a small boat or a canoe, paddling up a creek, up away from where the creek ends, and in this case a “Shit creek” is not a creek of water but a creek of shit. So, imagine you have like a um… a sewage plant somewhere that takes all of the human waste and sewage and it explodes and you have a… a tiny little creek or river of all of the… all of the effluent, all of the um… the shit coming out of that plant, you could imagine that that turns into a creek of shit or a shit creek. So, that’s what conjures up… that’s the image that conjures up in my head when I use this expression. If I’m up shit creek I imagine myself being in a canoe on a creek of shit and it just means that I know that I’m in a lot of trouble. So, if you were in… if you were literally in a canoe on a creek of shit you can’t really fall in, you don’t want to jump out, you just… you don’t want to be in the shit. So, you’re in trouble.

An interesting thing to add with regards to this expression too is that you’ll often hear it paired with, “up shit creek + without a paddle”, “Up shit creek without a paddle”. Um… so, without a paddle, a paddle is the thing that you use in order to… in order to paddle, paddle’s also a verb. So, it’s like an oar, an oar that you would use to row if you were in a… what would you be in? In a rowing boat or in um… yeah in a rowing boat I guess. So, if you were paddling, you’re using… it’s more the double… double handed paddle, and if you don’t have the paddle obviously you can’t control the canoe. So, if you’re up shit creek without a paddle it’s added in there to suggest that it’s um… intensified in difficulty, or the situation is even worse than if you were just up shit creek with a paddle. Now you’re up shit creek without a paddle.

And there’s an Australian variant that I wanted to um… add for you guys, to mention, that I found online that was pretty funny. And I hadn’t heard this, but it is definitely the kind of thing that Australians would say. And that is, “To be up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe with a rusty spoon for a paddle”. So, that probably conjures up a pretty funny image in your head. I’ll repeat it again. “To be up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe with a rusty teaspoon for a paddle”. So, first and foremost you’re up shit creek, then you’re in a canoe that’s made of barbed-wire, and if you know what barbed-wire is, it’s the wire along fences on farms that have little spikes. So, they’re little barbs. The wire is barbed, and it has spikes. Imagine a canoe made from that wire. So, obviously water’s going to get it. It’s going to be unpleasant to sit in. So, you’re in a barbed-wire canoe and then instead of a normal paddle you have a spoon that’s rusty. So, it could almost be falling apart, and that’s what you have to use as a paddle in shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe. So, I found that pretty funny. That’s a… that’s a fairly typical example of applying hyperbole to freshen up a… an expression. So, you sort of exaggerate and make it a little more funny and yeah, it just sort of turns it into a story.

One question that I know you guys will probably ask is, “How offensive is this kind of expression, “To be up shit creek”?”. You’re not really calling anyone a name in this example. So, you’re swearing, which… which does elevate the offensiveness of this expression but because you’re not really calling anyone a name, you’re not swearing at someone, you’re kind of swearing with regards to a situation, it’s not really… I wouldn’t claim that it is that rude, at least, people aren’t going to get offended if you use this in front of them. But I’ll clarify. Because you are using a swear word I would not use this in formal situations. This is the kind of phrase that I would say with friends, um… with certain family members, some family members you just may not want to say the word “Shit” in front of, but if you can say the word “Shit” in front of a person then you can use this phrase obviously. So, that’s one thing to consider. I wouldn’t use it in formal situations at work, in an interview, in any of those sorts of things, but if I was out having a drink with my friends at a pub, at a bar, whatever it is, then I would definitely use this kind of language.

Alright. So, let’s give you guys some scenarios, some situations where you might want to use this kind of expression.

The first one is, say, that you are the best man at a wedding, and the best man is the sort of… the friend of the groom, the guy who’s getting married, who’s sort of in charge and has to sort of lead the wedding. So, give a speech, do all of that sort of… that sort of stuff to help the groom on his day while he’s getting, you know, ready to get married. So, say you’re the best man and you’ve got to give a speech but you forget to write the speech. So, you forgot to write the speech and the day of the wedding comes and the… the groom says to you, ah… “How’s the speech going? Are you ready?” and you say, “Oh crap… I’m up shit[‘s] creek. I’m up shit creek. I’ve totally forgotten to right the speech”. So, that’s an example where you could say, “I’m up shit creek. What am I going to do?” You’re in a bad situation.

Another example could be that you have a… you have an assignment that’s due today at university and you’ve forgotten to write it because you’ve been partying all week. So, you kept sort of postponing it, “Oh… I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow”, but instead tomorrow never came and all of a sudden the… the ah… assignment is due today, ah… then you’re definitely up shit creek.

Ah… one more example could be that you and your girlfriend have your yearly anniversary today and you’ve forgotten to go home after work to spend the night in with her doing something romantic, maybe you’re going to have dinner, maybe you’re going to watch a movie, maybe you’ll even go out see a movie or go to a restaurant. And instead you’ve gone to the pub with your mates and you’re having a drink, um… when you get home you are definitely going to be up shit creek, and probably without a paddle. So, that is definitely a situation where when you get home your girlfriend or wife is going to be incredibly angry that you’ve forgotten the anniversary, and so you are going to be up shit creek.

One more example, and this is probably where you would add that hyperbole and really use that sort of expression of up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe with a rusty spoon for a paddle. It’s sort of when there’s like multiple events that have happened that have really lead you into a lot of trouble. So, an example here could be you’re driving home late at night. It’s the middle of the night. You’re in the middle of nowhere and you get a flat tire. So, you pull your car over to the side of the road and you realise as you get out to change the flat tire that you actually had a flat tire the week before, but you forgot to get a replacement tire. So, you took the flat tire off the car, put it in the back, switched the tires around, drove off. That happened last week. This week you’ve gotten a flat tire again just by chance, but the spare tire, the replacement tire that you have in the back is flat. It’s got a whole in it because you didn’t replace it. So, that’s problem number 1. As you get out of the car it starts to piss down, and “To piss down”, “To piss down”, means to rain really heavily. So, “To piss down raining”. So, that’s problem number 2. Problem number 3. You pull your phone out to call for help, to call your wife, to call the RACV [Royal Automobile Club of Victoria], um… we call [them] in Victoria. So, they’re the um… they’re who you would call to come and pick you up and help repair your car. And you realise your phone’s battery just went flat. So, this is definitely an example where you could say you’re “Up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe with a rusty spoon for a paddle.” “Up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe with a rusty spoon for a paddle.”

So, that’s probably long enough for this one today guys. I might do a quick listen and repeat exercise here at the end so that you can practice your pronunciation, but I hope that it’s given you some insight into how we would use this… this kind of funny expression. It’s definitely the kind of thing that if you as a… a foreigner, you speaking English as a foreign English to you, if you use this with me it would really make me laugh, you know. As an Australian who uses this kind of phrase, if you were to say, you know, you got in trouble, one of these kinds of situations happened, and then you said to me, a native English speaker, “Oh man and I was totally up shit[‘s] creek” or “Up shit creek”, I would definitely laugh and be like, “Oh this is so cool. It’s so funny that you know that expression”. And yeah, I might also add that it can be said sometime where you’ll say “Shit’s creek” instead of “Shit creek”, and I think I did that two or three times in this… in this um… episode, and that’s where you’ve just made “the creek” possessed by “Shit”. So, it’s “Shit’s creek” instead of “Shit creek”. It can be either.

So, listen and repeat after me guys.

Up shit creek x 5 

Without a paddle x 5

Up shit creek without a paddle x 5

So, that’s it for today guys. Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I’ll chat to you soon. All the best!

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