Shut Up

“Oh, Shut Up!” 🙁 “Really? Is It True? Shut Up!” 🙂

by Owen Fourie

Is it time to shut out the phrase shut up from the English language?

The term “shut up” can cause annoyance and confusion. It’s your choice whether to use it or not, but be aware of its meaning and its effect if you do use it.

This phrase is seen in writing, but it is more commonly heard in speech, most often as an expression of anger.

In creative writing, it can be put in the mouths of your characters, but it has no place in formal writing and formal speech.

Shut up: as it was

Although its use to enforce silence was not unknown in earlier centuries, it was seldom used in this way before the twentieth century.

More often, its use meant the imprisoning or the quarantining of a person.

If you locked something away for safekeeping or you closed business for the day or for good, shut up could describe your action.

Shut up: as it became

Through the 20th century, this phrase was used more and more as an imperative to stop noise, babbling, and unruly talk.

It conveyed the irritation and anger of the person uttering it.

Often, the recipients of this command deserved to have it said to them, and the speaker could be reasonably justified in using it. Take the case of a hardworking teacher saying “shut up!” to silence a noisy class. Today, such use is frowned upon.

Shut up: as it later became

Such use, which is expressive of irritation and anger, came to be regarded as impolite and something to be avoided.

This did not stop its use. If anything, it took on an even angrier character with the addition of coarse expressions.

Shut up: as it is now

Shut up continues to be used

  • in its older sense;
  • in its imperative sense with irritation and anger;
  • in its coarse sense.

There is a happier use of the term. It appears to be gaining ground, but to many who are more familiar with the angry usage it sounds odd.

This usage is an expression of surprise, amazement, or disbelief, generally, as a reaction to some unexpected good news. There is confusion here because the user of the phrase really wants to hear more.

Shut up!

It is doubtful that this phrase will decrease in usage, not while anger shows no abatement, and while music and movies seem to indulge its use.

  • You Tube features “100 Greatest Shut Ups in Films”;
  • “The Black Eyed Peas” sing “Shut Up”;
  • Rihanna sings “Shut Up and Drive”.

Wikipedia has a fuller treatment of shut up if you wish to know more.

Enough said! Perhaps it is time to shut up.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Why would you like to see “shut up” disappear from English usage? Why would you like to see it remain?

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