The other day I was characterizing somebody’s action that was pretty darned brazen. The phrase that immediately popped into my mind was “it takes crust,” so that is what I used. To my surprise and disappointment, the other party to the discussion had never heard that phrase before and had no idea what I was saying.
I can identify the source of this particular phrase with precision. It was one of Grandma Webner’s favorites, and always said with a look of abject disgust. It meant that the person in question was acting with unmitigated gall, impertinence, recklessness, and a complete lack of regard for social mores and Grandma’s accepted rules of behavior. Usually there was a certain element of hypocrisy in the mix, too. For example, if somebody with a well-earned reputation for sketchy and dubious behavior insisted that another person be held to the highest standards of conduct in their personal affairs, Grandma would get that look and say “it takes crust for so-and-so to do such-and-such.” And everyone who heard her knew exactly what she meant.
It’s a great little bit of American slang that apparently was much more commonly used in the early 1900s, although it seems to have fallen out of favor recently–as the bewildered reaction to my use of the phrase indicated. I’ve always thought that the phrase must draw from the meaning of “crust” as a kind of protective coating, and reflects that the impertinent actor must be hardened or oblivious to how polite society will react to their conduct. But “crust” is just too good a word to fall out of slang usage entirely, and according to the Urban Dictionary it is now used to described a particular kind of fast and garbled punk music, and it can also refer to a thing or person that is unappealing.
I like Grandma’s sense of the word better, and I’ll continue to use it, explain it when necessary, and do my part to ensure that “it takes crust” doesn’t fall completely out of usage.
Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part: “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”
There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.
First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world. I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment. But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world? In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”? What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?
Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative. Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative. In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.
And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before. The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush. The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place. Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?