The pits


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pits – The'?

Other phrases with

The worst or most despicable example of something.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pits – The'?

There’s not a great deal to be said about this little expression. It has been suggested that it derives from the age-old practice of sawing timber in which two sawyers cut a log longways – the senior being at the top and the junior in a pit below. The top sawyer was called the top dog and it is surmised that the lower sawyer experienced ‘the pits’. There are two problems with that explanation.

Firstly, the expression ‘top dog’ may be associated with sawing but there’s no proof that it is.

Secondly, ‘the pits’ originated in the USA in the 1950s – long after people stopped using saw pits. Around the same time, and logic dictates that this came earlier, Americans began using ‘pits’ as shorthand slang for armpits. ‘The pits’, with its suggestion of bad odour, was synonymous with ‘the armpits’. The first example that I can find of ‘the pits’ being used as slang with that meaning is from Newsweek, November 1953:

A bad exam experience would be ‘I’m wasted’ at Howard… ‘It was the pits’ at Vassar.

Trend of the pits in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.