Why is it called “taking a dump?”

a bear taking a dump

A couple days ago, a colleague sent me an article about a bear that broke into a house in Wyoming, took a dump in the living room, then went on his way. Max Breiter, who was home at the time of the incident, described the scene: “The bear walked into the living room and took two poops on the floor… and then it broke out of a screen window and proceeded to run down the hill.”

First off, that’s unfortunate. I’ve never cleaned up bear shit before, but I’m sure it’s not pleasant. And then, you know, there’s the whole having a bear in your house thing — that was probably pretty unnerving.

But what stuck with me the most was the “took two poops” word choice. We hear people say that they “took a dump” or “took a shit” so often that it doesn’t register as anything out of the ordinary. But here, the specificity of “two poops” made me pause and think about the phrase.

Why is it taking a dump and not giving a dump? After all, that bear left the house with less, not more, than he came in with. So how could he have taken anything?

I did a quick search and discovered that plenty of other folks have had the same question over the years.

Here are some of the most popular theories:

  1. Other physical activities (take a breath, take a nap, take a drink, etc.) were already using the word take, so people decided to just use the same phrasing for pooping.

    I don’t know. Maybe, but that seems far-fetched to me. Those other things, for the most part, actually involve taking something into your body.
  2. It’s called “take a shit” because you’re taking the time to shit. It’s like taking a vacation.

    Again, I’m not convinced. Pooping and vacationing seem like fairly different things to me.
  3. In a way, you’re taking the dump out of your body, the same way that you would take the trash out of your house.

    Okay, maybe. “I’m taking out the trash. I’m taking out the poop.” And then, over time, people just dropped the out?

But, in the end, none of these are right. The actual answer can be found in the definition of the word take. Scroll far enough down, and you’ll see that #17 is this: “to undertake and make, do, or perform.” Examples include, “take a walk,” “take aim,” and “take legal action.” Sadly, “take a shit” isn’t listed there, but it would definitely fit right in.

Of course, this means that we probably started out by saying, “I’m going to undertake a poop.” That certainly sounds more impressive.

I’m going to try it out tomorrow, right after my morning coffee.