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What does BS mean in the sentence "We call BS"?

I saw an article about protests in the US that said the following (see here the video):

Florida student Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers and gun advocates: 'We call BS'

I've checked Cambridge dictionary and I found that BS is an abbreviation of "bullshit". Then, now it's absolutely not understood to me what "we call bullshit" means.

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    There is a card game called BS in which you literally call out "BS" when you think someone is lying. I'm sure the game came from the phrase (not the other way around), but it's what I and many others think of when the phrase "call BS" is used. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Feb 18 '18 at 19:28
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft I actually suspect that the phrase "call BS" may have come from the game, which of course took its name from the latter expression. – chrylis Feb 19 '18 at 2:36
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft We should post an English Language & Usage question asking about the origin. – jpmc26 Feb 19 '18 at 5:45
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Surely people were calling, "bullshit!" before the game, but the specific term "to call bullshit" has indications of being spawned from the game. In typical use otherwise, the word "call" would be a bit awkward IMO. Since the game has solidifed that terminology, though, it has become ubiquitous to use the entire phrase. – Darren Ringer Feb 19 '18 at 14:47
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    There is now a course at the University of Washington called "Calling Bullshit". The goal of the course "is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument." – eipi10 Feb 19 '18 at 22:42

10 Answers 10

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The expression is used to call out (= to draw attention of others upon) a lie or a negligent or deceitful mistake.

As you have found already, BS stands for bullshit, a profanity that basically means "nonsense".

The verb "to call" can mean "to cry out", and it is often used when someone says something short in order to stop everybody else from going further. For example, a refree can call "foul" when playing some sport.

Therefore, "I call BS" means "You are lying/wrong, and I'm telling everyone".

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    It's a bit more than just wrong. It would be an overreaction to accuse somebody of bullshitting for making a simple factual mistake. You'd only really use that if you felt they were being deceitful or at least negligent. – David Richerby Feb 18 '18 at 15:24
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    More than just "nonsense", "BS" carries the implication of deliberately lying, or at least misleading. – DJClayworth Feb 18 '18 at 20:09
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    I always thought "call" in this expression was not meant in the sense of "cry out", but instead in the sense of calling a bluff. – David Z Feb 19 '18 at 6:11
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    @DavidZ I think it is very much like calling a bluff in poker. I've always thought of saying "I call BS" as a challenge. I would be surprised if this phrasing is not derived from poker. You basically saying you are not going to let the statement or claim pass without something to back it up. – JimmyJames Feb 19 '18 at 14:31
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    "Call" might be most clearly shown in the context of sports, where referees call fouls, or judges call points. – fectin Feb 19 '18 at 18:12
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To call is to declare a decision or judgment, especially in a game or contest, but in any context where the participants are expected to abide by certain rules.

For example

The referee called the ball out. (sport)

I call heads. (a coin toss)

I call foul. (the speaker believes his or her adversary has broken a rule or has acted in an unsportsmanlike manner)

So, to "call B.S.", is to declare such a judgment about another person's behavior.

In other words, I declare that you are speaking BS (bullshit, tripe, nonsense). The rules of proper civil debate require participants to take cogent positions that don't distort the facts.

20

You say I/we/etc. call B.S. when someone is being insincere, untruthful, or when something is false, misleading, or some similar circumstance. It generally means you don't believe someone. You can similarly just say "B.S." or "bullshit". For example

  • A: I ate three cheeseburgers for lunch today.
    B: I call B.S. Two, maybe. But not three.
  • A: I pulled an all-nighter studying for this test.
    B: Bullshit! You can barely stay awake past 10.

Regarding the OP, Gonzalez doesn't believe the politicians when they talk about gun violence. For example, she says in this video (CNN)

They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S.!

  • Thank you for your clear answer. I'd like to ask if it should not be "we call it BS"? For example if my government says that they take more tax in order to help poor people, can I say "I call BS" or "I call it BS" (like "It's bullshit")? – Judicious Allure Feb 18 '18 at 22:31
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    @Incompatible_alterations It's different. Using "it" sounds to me like the name of their action is "BS", or something like that. You might want to ask a new question if you're seeking a detailed answer. – Em. Feb 18 '18 at 22:54
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    Very slightly different. "We call it bullshit" means "we believe your statement is untrue, although it's possible that you're not deliberately lying". "We call bullshit" means "you are deliberately trying to deceive us, and we would like to expose you as a liar". – Dawood ibn Kareem Feb 19 '18 at 6:51
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The verb 'call' has many meanings. As @Zachiel has said, it can mean 'cry out', and most other answers seem to agree:

Oxford has the second definition for this meaning of 'call':

2 [with object] Cry out (a word or words)

‘he heard an insistent voice calling his name’

‘Meredith was already calling out a greeting’

But I disagree with this interpretation of 'call' in the given context. Instead, I'd say that the 'call' here means the seventh definition of Oxford:

7 [with object and complement] (of an umpire or other official in a game) pronounce (a ball, stroke, etc.) to be the thing specified.

‘the linesman called the ball wide’

Let me first show the whole transcript of the video that includes "we call BS":

(1) Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS.

(2) They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.

(3) They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS.

(4) They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS.

(5) They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS.

(6) That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.

As seen above, "we call BS" in this context is not intended to be a standalone phrase, but is intended to be construed along with the boldfaced phrase or clause that acts like an object of the verb 'call', and 'BS' acts like a predicative complement of the object.

Now, the object is fronted because it's way too long (even a clause) to come between the verb 'call' and the predicative complement 'BS'.

If the verb 'call' simply means 'cry out', then the relationship between the verb and what comes before 'we call BS' becomes unclear. Therefore, I think it's better to think of the verb as defined in the seventh definition above.

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It's an idiomatic version of "We say BS", i.e., we say that you're talking garbage. Strictly speaking, it's redundant – they could just say "BS!" instead of saying that they're saying "BS" – but idiomatic expressions often work that way.

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When you "call someone out" it means that you are bringing attention to something about them that they are not intentionally showing.

Also, think of the word "call" in the same way that a referee "calls" balls or strikes in baseball.

The students are making a declaration or judgement about reality. "They call (ie, they declare)" .. "b.s. (ie, that the politicians are disingenuous. The politicians are making statements that the politicians themselves know are not true.")

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BS=Bullshit and is an an interjection or adjective colloquially used to mean rubbish or nonsense.

Bull is a word that has been used since the 17th century meaning "nonsense." It may be derived from the Old French bole meaning "fraud, deceit."

Bullshit was first used in print by TS Eliot in an unpublished poem titled, "The Triumph of Bullshit."

Bull and BS are not generally considered expletives but bullshit is.

Wikipedia-Bullshit

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    Thank you. My question was about the meaning of "We call BS", I know what it is bullshit. But anyway thank you for your answer. – Judicious Allure Feb 18 '18 at 22:09
  • I think linguistically, all three forms are "expletives", in the sense of informal intensifiers. The key point is that "BS" is usually considered less rude than "bullshit", so acts as a euphemism for it. (But this a digression, as he question was clarified to be more about the "call" part.) – IMSoP Feb 20 '18 at 12:48
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We call BS means that we are disregarding everything you are stating as untrue. When someone says "we call bs" bs does in fact stand for "bullshit". The original term "bull" dates back to the 17th century. "Bullshit" however was a term that is believed to be dated to 1915 in British and American slang. (Wikipedia)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit

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There is a difference between noticing that someone is talking BS and calling them on that basis. An official may notice a rule infraction and call it out "foul!" or may not see the offense and it is officially ignored. You may mutter under your breath or just think "that's BS". But when you "call BS" the person is put on notice. They have been publicly decorated as (declared) a "bullshitter" - you are in effect belling a cat ( I'm not following the fable ) to preserve the birds. This especially when the one called out is usually due some deference if only for politeness or to preserve decorum.

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(I'm leaving off the discussion about the "we call" portion of the phrase, as that has been quite suitably addressed in other answers.)

BS can also stand for "baloney sandwich".

Baloney is a word that can be used to refer to something that is false. If someone speaks something untrue, whether from dishonesty or simply error, then that a person could exclaim, "Baloney!".

If someone says something that has a bit of untruth, a person could refer to smelling a bit of baloney in what is being heard. However, if you have a giant whopper of a tale, you could have so much baloney that you have enough to make a decent-sized sandwich out of it. Therefore, a bunch of lies may be referred to as a "baloney sandwich".

This phrasing has seen less usage as widespread profanity has simply become more popular, but if you're interested in keeping language clean of inappropriate language, then BS can refer to "baloney sandwich".

protected by Community Feb 18 '18 at 21:25

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