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I have just watched "The unforgivable" film 2011 played by Sandra Bullock.

There is a scene in which a woman (Sandra Bullock) is working in a house and suddenly she hears some noise so she holds a wrench as a weapon in her hand. When she sees a man, she hits him with the wrench and the man falls over and drops his donuts on the floor.

However, it turns out that the man is her friend. He feels sorry for her so he brings some donuts to her, but she mistakes him for an intruder.

When she notices the man is actually her friend, she says "What are you doing here? You can't do shit like that!".

What does "do shit" mean?

I can not find that phrase in formal dictionaries.

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  • Check Etymology 1, definition 4 at wiktionary, and start using better dictionaries. This is not a set phrasal verb; you must look at the definitions of do and shit, then combine them.
    – randomhead
    Dec 15, 2021 at 1:55
  • I'm leaving this open as most dictionaries don't include a clear definition of "shit" in this sense, and others may have the same trouble the OP did, so the answers here are valuable.
    – gotube
    Dec 20, 2021 at 3:18

3 Answers 3

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"Shit", like "fuck", is a very versatile word in the English language. Even dictionaries that do have multiple correct definitions for "shit" often aren't always fully comprehensive, and probably won't cover the nuance. There's comedy sketch by comedian Ismo that covers the various varieties of usage for "shit" that I would recommend you watch, because although he does assume his audience is aware of all the meanings already, it will demonstrate the breadth of uses you will find.

So, that out of the way, what does it mean?

Firstly, you must understand that the word "shit" is very vulgar, and almost always offensive in public situations. It is not a word you should say at work, within earshot of your mother, or around children. The vulgarity of the word colors most meanings of the word to be somewhat negative in some manner. Most, but not all.

Secondly, it's best to understand most meanings of the word "shit" to be a universal placeholder for... anything. It can be used as a noun, an adjective, a verb, an interjection, an adverb... as I already said, it's very versatile.

So, what does it mean in your specific example?

You can't do shit like that!

Or, remembering that "shit" usually is a placeholder word for anything relevant....

You can't do {placeholder word for anything} like that!
You can't do that like that!

In context, it means "You can't do what you just did, in the manner that you just did it." More specifically, it means "You can't sneak into the house without warning, even if you intended it to be a nice thing by bringing donuts."

Now, he fact that she is using a vulgar word to say this instead of simply "you can't do that" indicates that she is upset. That's the negative aspect of "shit" coming into play. She might be upset at him, or at herself, or at the situation in general... or any combination of the above... but she is definitely upset.

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Do bad stuff.

In this context "shit" means "stuff". It also has a negative connotation, since sneaking around someone's house is bad.

There is no general rule for the exact nature of the "shit" negative connotation. For example the idiom "didn't do shit" means "didn't do anything". With the connotation that they should have done something.

Maybe the best general rule for understanding the meaning is to add "I am angry" to the end of the sentence. For example

"You can't do stuff like that. I am angry!"

"You didn't do anything. I am angry!"

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"do shit" is just a more rude and abusive way of saying "do anything".

Like "you cannot do shit" would be "you cannot do anything".

In this sentence it would mean:

What are you doing here? You can't do anything like that!


As mentioned in the Urban Dictionary:

"do shit" means:

An expression most commonly used when referring to performing a task, often used conversationally. Subsequently, often turned into a lame joke.

Example:

Joe: man, Mike is such a f**king lazy ass, he doesn't ever do shit.

Unfunny co-worker: oh he doesn't "douche it"? that's really unsanitary.

Joe: This is why I never talk to you.

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  • Don't you think "do shit" simply means "do bad things"?
    – Tom
    Dec 15, 2021 at 3:39
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    @Tom No. "do shit", is like "do anything", or "do something" Dec 15, 2021 at 3:40
  • In the context of the film I mentioned above, "do shit" means "do something" right?
    – Tom
    Dec 15, 2021 at 3:42
  • @Tom Correct. Yes. Dec 15, 2021 at 3:46
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    The sense is not "You can't [do shit] like that", but "You can't do [shit like that]" - things like turning up unexpectedly when she is alone. Dec 15, 2021 at 9:39

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