SHTF or TEOTWAWKI?
What's the difference?
Has IT hit the fan yet? I am reluctant to decipher the SHTF acronym, because I believe it
originated with a dumb joke I heard when I was a kid. If your visualization skills are good, this may be
unpleasant. However, as this acronym is so common among preppers and others, and because people using and hearing
it should probably agree on its meaning (i.e communication) here goes:
The dumb joke (as well as I can remember it): A guy goes into a bar or restaurant and
needs to use the toilet. He's directed upstairs and told to turn right, and that there is construction going on
there, not to turn left. He goes up, takes a wrong turn, finds a hole, does his business and comes back downstairs
to find an awfull smell and the place is splattered with excrement. He asks what happened and is in turn asked,
"Where were you when the shit hit the fan?" Today that venerable dumb joke appears to live on in SHTF and can
roughly be translated to mean 'the trouble started'. It's usually personal or limited to a small group, but it is
often used synonymously with the next definition, TEOTWAWKI, The End Of The World As We Know It.
TEOTWAWKI is 'trouble' on a larger scale. TEOTWAWKI?... wasn't he that Aztec ruler or king or
something? Or maybe Mayan? Egyptian? Peruvian? Sumerian? Sorry, none of the above. In our 'culture' of endless
acronyms, we have The End Of The World As We Know It. So what does it mean?
I'll speed things up a bit and start with 'World', because 1) World has various definitions and
2) because this is THE word in the acronym which gives the entire statement meaning. World, according to Webster,
can mean "1) a. the Earth, b. the universe, 2) a. mankind, b. people generally, the public, 3) a. some part of the
earth (the Old World) b. any sphere or domain (the animal world), 4) individual experience or
outlook (her world is narrow); 5) secular life and interests or people concerned with these; 6) a large
amount (a world of good)". So we have everything from universe and planet to individual experience -
it's fairly broad and flexible, and this leads to the misunderstandings of the meaning of TEOTWAWKI.
Example: I am living alone in the desert, and you (I suppose) are probably living among
other people in a city, town or village, right? So you see and hear people, traffic, sirens, dogs barking, and I
see and hear birds and lizards, clouds passing overhead, the Milky Way at night. Your world is concrete,
asphalt and manmade things, mine is sand, rocks, mountains, cacti and no sign of humanity, except aircraft
sometimes. So I might say that we live in different worlds - your daily reality is very
different from mine. Same planet, different lifestyles.
Back to the meaning... I suppose some people actually believe that TEOTWAWKI refers to an event
which results in the end of the planet Earth. I don't know anyone like that, and folks, for the purposes
of this web site, TEOTWAWKI does not mean the end of this planet, but rather a dramatic change in
lifestyle, daily reality. Let me explain:
After some of the disasters I worked at (relief, I didn't create them), there were
many people who were living in a house with family one minute, and just seconds later had neither house nor family.
That, folks, is TEOTWAWKI - the sudden or gradual end of the lifestyle or daily reality - world - you
It may come suddenly, as in an earthquake, or it may evolve over time, as in a recession or
depression. It may be the result of purley natural causes, or it may be created by other people, as in wars, riots
and a 'manufactured' degenerating economy.
No matter how much we damage this planet and the life on it, the Earth will survive and
eventually recover from our abuse, even if we become extinct. So TEOTWAWKI refers to the end of OUR
don't-give-a-damn-about-anything-but-me, use-up-everything, pollute-everything, kill-everything lifestyle, and a
change to a style of life where we are forced to live with the consequences of not caring about each other, our
children or theirs or the world we live in.
The difference between SHTF and TEOTWAWKI is mostly about scale. A category 5 hurricane
slamming your coastal town is not a SHTF event, it is TEOTWAWKI, as was The Great Depression, The San Francisco
Fire, and the 8.6, 45-second-long earthquake I experienced in Guatemala City in 1975. When that many people are
affected by a life-changing event, it really is the end of the world (daily reality) as WE know it.
You put glue on your boss's office chair and he (and his chair) comes looking for the culprit
is a SHTF event. If you get fired, it might be the end of YOUR world as YOU know it, but life for the rest of us
will probably go on as usual.
A SHTF event can lead to TEOTWAWKI. Under GW Bush, Congress illegally gave $700 billion from
the US Treasury to a bunch of crooks: banks, financial corporations and others. Did you hear the sound of shit
hitting the fan? You should have, because the fan is aimed squarely at us. That was our money
those useless politicians gave away, and the consequences will echo on for a long time in our
distressed-and-now-again-abused economy. If the current economic situation worsens dramatically, we will have
Congress, the banks and the rest to thank for what could be TEOTWAWKI happening in slow motion.
see also SHTF Announced!
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