We’ve all heard the word “buttload” and sniffed a little. Isn’t the speaker just trying to indicate a large amount of an item with some exaggeration without being totally crude? It even sounds bowdlerized, like the speaker really meant “shitload” but was trying to be less vulgar. Someone really trying to clean up their phrasing might have a “boatload” of editing or work or laundry, whatever the overwhelming thing is.
But guess what? Anyone who has a buttload of something has a real quantity. A lot of it. A real, measurable quantity, and I hope that person also has enough room to store that much stuff. If they have a boatload of something, I hope for their sakes’ it’s something desirable.
We don’t tend to think of barrels much these days, aside from trash and crude oil, though one might prefer whiskey. But barrels have been a staple unit in commerce for a long time. Anyone surnamed “Cooper” has a barrel-maker or three somewhere back in the family tree.
Barrels as a unit of measurement vary a lot. A barrel of cranberries is bigger than a barrel of cement but smaller than a barrel of sugar. Crude oil has 42 gallons to the barrel, while wine or beer barrels are commonly but not always 31.5 gallons. Because these small barrels require a lot of handling and materials plus labor, a double barrel became an official measurement, called a hogshead.
Carry this “bigger is better” theme up another notch, and you get a quadruple barrel, called a “butt.” Don’t make excuses about having a big butt or a small butt, a butt is 126 gallons or 476.96 liters, informally rounded to 500 liters. I’d like to have a buttload of money, preferably in $100 bills, but even 126 gallons of singles would buy something nice.
How about a boatload? Boats don’t come in one standard size. Modern cargo ships are loaded in unit containers, which aren’t standardized either. A common size of container is a twenty-foot equivalent (TEU), and a common size of that is 20 feet long x 8.5 feet high x 8 feet wide.
A TEU has a maximum weight capacity of 24,000 kilograms (53,000 lb). Subtracting the tare mass of the container itself, the maximum amount of cargo per TEU is reduced to approximately 21,600 kilograms (48,000 lb). That would be a fine quantity of dollar bills, although a bit unwieldy. A large ship that could still get through the old Panama Canal locks can carry 3500-4200 such containers. Even a little “feeder” ship can carry 2500 TEUs.
So a buttload is a lot, and a boatload is much, much bigger, but we tend to say “shitload” when we mean the biggest of all. But think about it. Capacity of a barrel-type butt vs the capacity of a person-sized butt?
I want my good times by the boatload and my troubles by the shitload.