This expression, which I have heard more times than I care to remember
in all the states of Australia and in the UK, is actually rendered in full as:
Up Shit Creek, without a paddle, in a barbed wire canoe.
The expression is a typically Australian one, relying on multiple metaphors
to obscure the meaning as much as possible. The three metaphors are as follows:
- Up Shit Creek means you are in a very unfortunate situation
indeed. Not only are you navigating a fast flowing, unforgiving
waterway, the name of this god-forsaken stream is Shit Creek. In the
grand Australian tradition of unimaginative naming conventions (see Shark
Bay or The Great Sandy Desert), Shit Creek is a little bit too eponymous to be anything other than
a nightmare location.
- Without a paddle is almost self evident. You have nothing with
which to struggle hopelessly but bravely against the current. Being up Shit Creek, and the only way to attempt a change of direction being with some part of your body, you're not going to escape unscathed should you attempt to modify the speed and direction of your flight to hell.
And if you've ever tried to actually use a paddle, you'll know it isn't the
easiest implement of propulsion ever engineered. You don't have, in effect, even a bad plan for deliverance.
- In a barbed wire canoe describes not only the utter
foolishness of your situation, but exactly how ill-prepared you
were, and how uncomfortable you are at the present time. Sitting on a nest of sharpened twisted
wire is not too many people's idea of fun.
So there you
have it. The only thing that remains it to put this phrase into a few sentences.
Here are a couple:
- "Mate, me missus has caught me red-handed with my bit on the side!
I'm up Shit Creek in a barbed wire canoe, without a bloody paddle!"
- "I hear your chariot broke down outside
"Yeah, we were up Shit Creek without a paddle in a
barbed wire canoe until the towies arrived."
The Australian focus here is easily explained: researching this phrase has provided some evidence that it was coined in World War II by Australian Diggers. It has certainly been in common use in Austalia since the 1950s, and was one of the many colloquialisms uttered by Australia's unofficial ambassador during the 1960s, Barry Mackenzie. Whatever its origins, the phrase and variations are now in common use throughout the English speaking world.