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What does “pisseth against the wall” mean?

pisseth against the wall
Question: "What does ‘pisseth against the wall’ mean?"

Several times in the King James Version of the Bible, we find the colorful phrase pisseth against the wall. To piss is to urinate, so the verses referring to someone who “pisseth against the wall” could read “urinates against the wall.” We should note that the word piss is considered vulgar today, and modern Bible translations replace the reference to pissing with something else.

Pisseth against the wall was an idiomatic expression used in ancient Israel. It refers to males, who are the only ones who can urinate against walls. When someone in the Bible refers to someone else pissing against a wall, it’s understood that the person urinating is a male and not a female. Some interpreters detect an added nuance in the phrase. It’s possible that the main reference is to dogs, since male dogs often urinate on vertical surfaces. The application of the phrase to men would then carry the idea that the men in question were ignoble individuals of low character. Saying “I shall discomfit all that pisseth against the wall” would translate into “I’m going to utterly defeat every male, down to the last low-life cur.”

Some biblical characters who used the idiom are David, when he was angry with Nabal: “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall” (1 Samuel 25:22, KJV). The historian who wrote the book of Kings: “It came to pass, when [Zimri] began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends” (1 Kings 16:11, KJV). And God Himself, speaking of the pending judgment of Ahab: “The whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall” (2 Kings 9:8, KJV).

Again, it’s mainly the KJV that translates the Hebrew phrase as “pisseth against the wall.” Most other translations simply put “male.” For example, the NIV translates 2 Kings 9:8 as “I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel.” The KJV is more literal (the Hebrew does indeed refer to urination), but the NIV and other modern translations do a bit of interpretation in that they render the idiom as “males.”

Recommended Resource: 1 & 2 Samuel: NIV Application Commentary by William Arnold

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