I still remember the first time I heard something was "the shit". The "the" in "the shit" is vitally important, for without it, the statement means the exact opposite.
When something or someone is "the shit", it means they're the best, but when they're just "shit", it means they're... well.... shit. Personally, I'd rather be "the shit".
But when did "the shit" become a good thing? A post on Urban Dictionary attributes it to drugs.
The best. Originated as a term to describe high quality drug substances. IE, "this is good shit."
Evolved to common usage for any item of high quality. However, in typical usage, the article "the" is required to denote superiority. Without the word "the" prefacing the word "shit," a different, usually negative, meaning applies.
This joint is the shit./This is potent marijuana.
His new car is the shit./His car is excellent.
This joint is shit./This is poor quality marijuana.
His new car is shit./His new car is not desirable.
Wikipedia is less helpful:
In slang, prefixing the article the to shit gives it a completely opposite definition, meaning the best, as in Altered Beast is the shit, or The Oregon Trail is the shit. Again, other slang words of the same meaning, crap for example, are not used in such locutions.
Does anyone know when we started saying something awesome was "the shit"? Can anyone confirm the origin of this term?