Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

  • phawkins
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Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

(Note by moderator (EvM): this post is in response to Arno's post from 4 November who said "I would even accuse WASH experts and senior officials for indirectly contributing to this behavior when they use swear words to describe human excreta." (See here: www.forum.susana.org/forum/categories/71...he-dirty-fight#10829 ))


Dear Colleagues

We have used the term “shit” – which I do not classify as a swear word when not used as an expletive, just a good old-fashioned and very specific Anglo-Saxon-based word in the English language – in the same spirit as the CLTS fraternity have been successfully using it for years, to avoid circumlocution and ambiguity, and possibly to shock. Otherwise, how do we get past the taboo? The SFD* is not aimed at the general public, but at decision-makers. If they can’t deal with the term “shit” it is likely that they have taken the common attitude that “it’s something we don’t talk about – and do even less about” and so need to be woken up. Note also that CLTS is NOT about shame, but rather about harnessing the natural disgust we humans (usefully) have for our shit. I would rather say it is about pride and a natural aspiration to abandon insanitary practices, which society has persuaded itself to accept partly by hiding the problem behind taboos and circumlocutions.

It was by pointing out to the Mozambican Planning Ministry using a national SFD showing that we have more than 10,000 tonnes per day of shit to deal with that government woke up to the sanitation issue, and has established a national sanitation program. So at least in this neck of the woods, using this approach was a turn-on, not a turn-off. I cannot vouch for the exact equivalence of “merde” in Portuguese with “shit” in English, but I think they are close enough.

If you feel that your audience is just too sensitive, the alternative “fecal waste flow diagram” can be used instead of “shitflow diagram”. But avoid terms like “wastewater” or “sludge” which do not describe what we are looking at here.

Best regards
Peter


* SFD = Shit Flow Diagram, see here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/53-fae...dy-in-12-cities#7084
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  • arno
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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Hi Peter.
Thanks for the comment regarding the "Shit Flow Diagrams". My reaction to this is that using the term shit in this context trivializes and glosses over the need for better and deeper understanding. It definitely creates an initial reaction but the question is will it precipitate action? If this is meant to engage policy makers to make priorities and spend public and private funds, I think the topic needs a much higher status. Is traffic safety handled in this manner using euphemisms about people's health and safety? Why should excreta be anything different? And terms mean a lot here since they interpret images and ideologies. The term biosolids has evolved as a euphemism for sludge from human excreta and blurs our understanding.

The Flow Diagrams will be used to compare various cities around the world and as seen from the first reports, highly dysfunctional sewage systems will be exposed to the world creating media attention. I would expect mayors of cities to react strongly to these diagrams since there will be impacts on tourism and land value. In a way this may turn out to be the CLTS campaign for urban centres. So be prepared for necessary follow up.

There was an attempt to do a similar exercise within the EU at "Name and Shame" seminars where European cities that were not complying with the Urban Wastewater Directive were hung out and taken to "court". europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-01-409_en.htm As you can see from this news release from 2001 the list of cities is long and revealing eg Brussels didn't get its first ever sewage treatment plant until 2000. I don't think the name and shame route had much impact on the taxpaying public mainly because it didn't explain what the risks and benefits of sewage treatment are.

For policy makers in cities to understand why sewage treatment is an important priority and to set aside funds for this requires a well informed public. Will "Shit Flow Diagrams" serve this purpose and provide a solid basis for better understanding about the risks? Or will we end up with trivial euphemisms?

Here is an interesting piece on how eco-euphemisms confuse our understanding of environmental destruction. www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/el...nmental_destruction/

Regards

Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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  • muench
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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Dear Peter and Arno,

I am really enjoying your exchange on whether the word "shit flow diagram" is helpful or not or in which contexts it is more helpful than in others.*

Peter you said:

We have used the term “shit” – which I do not classify as a swear word when not used as an expletive

I had to look up the word "expletive" - it means something like "shouting out".
I am not a native speaker but I think shit is definetely used in every day language as a swear word, not as a "normal" noun. Same with the word "Scheiße" in German.

Maybe you could arge that if the word is used enough and by enough people it will change in people's perception, just like perhaps the term "sex" has changed over time. I also remember in German the term "schwul" used to be something one wasn't allowed to say ("schwul" means gay in German) and now it has become a normal word. However, I would say for the term "shit" it is still a long way for it to not be considered a swear word anymore?

Regards,
Elisabeth

* I am wondering if I need to split off this thread into two threads, as we have a mixture of things here: shame, CLTS, using shit as a word, shit flow diagrams?

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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  • cecile
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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Hi everyone,

I currently have to translate in French an article about the "shit flow diagram" and my search on SuSanA's forum just led me to this interesting debate. Actually the reason why I was looking for more information about the "shit flow diagram" was to try to find a way not to use the word "shit" which I personnaly find offensive and offbeat in a context where we are designing policies and planning sanitation development.

But as Arno points out, will employing the word "shit" in that context precipitate action ? Giving it a second thought maybe no, maybe yes ...
Faecal waste (what about excreta ?) are pretty clear alternatives to me at least in English, but in French it is more tricky... What would be the point of view of the French speaking members ?

Aux lecteurs francophones :
Il y a un débat actuellement sur le forum sur l'utilisation de l'expression "shit flow diagram", de son caractère potentiellement offensif et de son efficacité ou pas à inciter des actions et des changements pour améliorer les conditions sanitaires.
Dans le cadre de la traduction d'un article sur le sujet en français, j'hésite à employer l'expression "diagramme de flux de la merde" ...
"diagramme de flux des fèces" ne me semble pas vraiment mieux (incomplet, urine, eaux de nettoyage, papier toilette ... sans parler de l'ambiguité du mot "fèces" à l'oral.)
"diagramme de flux des excréments" ...
J'ai un penchant (:-) pour "diagramme de flux des matières fécales". Qu'en pensez vous ? Quelle expression utilisez vous dans les projets francophones (Burkina Faso, Burundi ?)

Merci de vos contributions !

Cecile

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  • kevintayler
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Re: Shame in Sanitation (article in Indian newspaper: The Dirty Fight)

Hi Cecile

I could not agree with you more about the use of the term 'shit'. Its slang and I too find it rather offensive. I would use the term excreta to include both faeces and urine and those terms where appropriate when talking about components of excreta.

I am writing this as an English speaker but am so pleased that someone has raised this subject.

Kevin Tayler
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Re: Shame in Sanitation (article in Indian newspaper: The Dirty Fight)

Hmm just a quick thought (not sure where to take that), but in many places the language these things are communicated in are not the primary language of the people the message wants to target (like most of francophone or anglophone Africa).
Obviously translating it in yet another language (say Swahili or Hindi) has its own problems, but when talking in the secondary or tertiary language, easier words might make a lot of sense. Everyone knows "shit" or "merde" and can instantly relate. I have also often thought that people consider swear-words less offensive in their non-native language for whatever reason.

Krischan Makowka
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Shame in Sanitation (article in Indian newspaper: The Dirty Fight)

I too, like Kevin, consider the word "shit," offensive. Yes, I too would prefer the good old term excreta. Every now and then, I come across the terms poo and loo. Boy! who invented them?

F H Mughal

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Re: Shame in Sanitation (article in Indian newspaper: The Dirty Fight)

Kris you have a very good point here ! You are absolutely right !

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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Dear Peter,

I am interested in knowing the terms in Portuguese you used when talking to the Mozambican Planning Ministry. Every time I translate into Portuguese it sounds awkward to me. I have faced diverse reactions in Brazil. I normally use 'Diagrama do fluxo da merda' or 'Diagrama do fluxo de dejetos', but I am still not sure how to address this issue.

Kind regards,
Cecília.

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  • caetano
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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Hi,
As Cecilia correctly mentioned shit is translated as "merda" in Portuguese (at least in Brazil), not "merde" as mentioned in Peter's post. However, "merda" in Portuguese, in my opinion is a bit offensive; particularly if you are speaking to people in a more authoritative position in formal contexts. I think though that anyone would agree that if you use "merda" to describe the Brazilian World Cup performance, nobody would have any issues with you :)
I believe the question at hand is engaging with your audience. For sure you can take a "if they are offended, then they need to be woken up" approach. However, at the end of the day, if you have lost your audience... well, I guess you really haven't advanced. So, it may work in some cases and not in others... it all depends on the communicator and the context. That said, I guess if an offensive term is said by a foreigner, I can see how some might actually find it cute and quirky.
As for other synonyms in Portuguese that may be more in line with an appropriate "technical" vernacular I would suggest "fezes" or "excrementos". The issue I have with "dejeto" is that, for me, it also has a "solid waste" connotation. For a more popular and perhaps less offensive choice, I would go with "cocô" (not to be confused with "coco" which means coconut - important when in holidays in Brazil!). However, I say this as a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker. Not sure how all this can be useful or relevant in Mozambique.
Anyhow, these are my two crappy cents...
Cheers,
Caetano

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  • pippa
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Re: RE: shit flow diagrams - does it need to be shit?

Hello All,

I think the term 'shitflow' is very catchy and helps decision makers quickly appreciate what the diagram is showing. That said, one of the great strengths of these diagrams is as an advocacy tool i.e. that you can in fact walk into a Ministry and show unequivocally the sanitation status of their city, it would be a shame to lose that leverage over a point of language or offence.

I developed an excreta flow diagram as an analytical tool for my phd research several years back and used the terms "sanitation pathways" which can probably translate ok as well as "Excreta/feacal sludge flow" and "sanitation cityscape" (i.e. the urban sanitation landscape) although the latter might only work in some languages? Are those of any use? Link here: dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/8493

Cheers,
Pippa

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  • phawkins
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

"Sanitation pathway" sounds good to me. I'm sure we can be creative. In the end we want to get the mesage across, and that will depend on the way we feel and the way our intended audience feels. I still have no issues with "shit" and dislike circumlocution, but if we can use words that convey the meaning OK, then fine. What we DO need to do is avoid using terms like "wastewater" when that's not what we mean.


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