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"Shut up" is a slang phrase with a meaning similar to "be quiet"', but commonly perceived as an angrier, "meaner", and more commanding attempt to stop someone from talking or making noise. The phrase is probably a shortened form of "shut your mouth up". More forceful forms of the phrase may be constructed by the interposition of modifiers, including "shut the hell up","shut the fuck up". In instant messenger communications, these are in turn often abbreviated to STHU and STFU, respectively. Similar phrases include "hush" or "hush up", and "shut your mouth".

Prior to the Twentieth century, the phrase "shut up" was rarely used as an imperative, and had a different meaning altogether. To say that someone was "shut up" meant that they were locked up, quarantined, or held prisoner. For example, several passages in the Bible instructs that if a priest determines that a person shows certain symptoms of illness, "then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days".[1] This meaning was also use in the sense of closing something, such as a business, and it is also from this use that the longer phrase "shut up your mouth" likely originated.

As early as the late 1859, use of the shorter phrase was conveyed in a literary work:

A sneering infidel, who uses Scripture for a jest-book, raves about "cant," and retails and details every inconsistency, real or imaginary, that he hears respecting parsons and hypocrites, will be told to " shut up" for a few times; but will, if he persevere, make an impression on a workshop.[2]

One 1888 source identifies the phrase by its similarity to William Shakespeare's use in Much Ado About Nothing of the "the Spanish phrase poeat palabrât, 'few words,' which is said to be pretty well the equivalent of our slang phrase 'shut up'".[3]

The objectionability of the phrase has varied over time. For example, in 1957, Milwaukee morning radio personality Bob "Coffeehead" Larsen banned the song Mama Look-a-boo-boo from his show for its repeated inclusion of the phrase, which Larsen felt would set a bad example for the younger listeners at that hour.[4] In 1968, the use of the phrase on the floor of the Australian Parliament drew a rebuke that "The phrase 'shut up' is not a parliamentary term. The expression is not the type which one should hear in a Parliament".[5]

References

  1. ^ Leviticus 13:4 (King James Version).
  2. ^ The Christian Miscellany, and Family Visiter (1859), p. 244.
  3. ^ Sir Henry Irving, Frank Albert Marshall, Edward Dowden, commentary on The Works of William Shakespeare‎ (1888), p. 252.
  4. ^ Billboard, March 23, 1957, p. 74.
  5. ^ Parliamentary Debates, Senate weekly Hansard (1968), Volume 70‎, p. 2864.

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