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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why It Matters That San Franciscans Pooped 87,000 Tons Last Year

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2011 at 2:40 PM

click to enlarge There are 556,800,000 more where that one came from
  • There are 556,800,000 more where that one came from

You've heard of shitloads. But that's nothing compared to a "SFload," a term we've coined to identify the unbelievable amount of crap excreted by San Franciscans last year.

According to the just-released "Resource Conservation Ordinance -- 2010 Annual Report," San Francisco wastewater treatment plants last year generated 87,000 tons of biosolids, more conventionally known as poop.


Eighty-seven thousand tons is the same as 2.8 billion ounces.

And according to the Merck Manual, typical adults crap between 3.5 and seven ounces per day, suggesting a mean of five ounces per shit.

San Franciscans, therefore, last year laid around 556 million craps.

This is a bad thing for the workers who have to handle the stuff. But it's good news for metricians -- experts in measuring things. Thanks to San Francisco crappers, there's now a more evocative term -- the SFload -- for truly great quantities of stuff. This might just fill an important hole in the language. 
 
Think about it. In the world of math, there exists a handy term for a number that's unimaginably vast, yet still short of infinity. The term is googol, and it refers specifically to the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. It's not really used in the creation of precise equations. But it's helpful for referring in passing to numbers that are finite -- such as stars in the sky or variations in a chess game -- but too huge to easily comprehend.

Metricians up to now have lacked a

similar colloquial term for vaguely referencing huge amounts of stuff. The number googol is

about counting really high, and doesn't relate to quantities.

Expressing vaguely massive quantities

using googol along with a unit of measurement, such as "Bill Gates has a googol dollars"

adds unhelpful and even misleading precision. Gates doesn't actually have $1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
0000000000000000000000000000000000.

But he does have billions of dollars, which is so much money that it's hard to imagine. In the past, English speakers have only been able to express this thought as "Bill Gates has a lot of money," or "Bill Gates has a shitload of money."

But given that a typical shit weighs five ounces, a "shitload" doesn't really evoke vastness.

But SFload does.

Now, when someone says, "Our government spends an SFload of money," the listener can imagine a sea of more than a half-billion turds. When someone in a bar says, "The Giants are an SFload better than the Dodgers," the hapless L.A. fan will have to come up with a word more expressive than one describing a quantity of shit that, if laid end-to-end in five-inch individual turd segments, would go on for 43,876 miles.

For comparison's sake, consider that an Arctic tern travels 44,000 miles from Greenland to the shores of Antarctica and back.

So San Francisco in essence every year circles the globe with poo.

Now, linguistically at least, everybody else can, too.

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Matt Smith

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