Actually, it’s been a very good year for every iteration of the A-word. According to the media-news site Romenesko, which pays attention to such things, “ass” has appeared 22 times on NPR in the last year, only three times “in reference to the animal.” And there’s been little objection among booksellers to the barely taboo-avoiding title of linguist Geoffrey Nunberg’s latest book, released in August.
Book cover with wall of assholes.
The subtitle—“Assholism, the First Sixty Years”—makes it clear that Nunberg’s A-word is “asshole,” a word Nunberg says originated among American GIs during World War II and entered everyday language in the 1970s.*
I haven’t (yet) seen “asshole” in brand language, but—as noted in this space on several previous occasions—“ass” has been steadily gaining ground in the marketplace. In fact, “bad ass,” noun and adjective, has become practically a badge of brand honor.
Here, for example, is a box of Charles & Charles Washington State rosé, photographed at Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, a generally family-friendly establishment:
“Yes you can drink rosé and still be a bad *ss.”
The winery’s own website, however, compares the taste of Charles & Charles rosé to Jolly Ranchers, which seems kind of candy-ass to me.
Down in Los Angeles, there’s a food truck—excuse me, “gourmet mobile burger concept”—that puts “badass” right up front in the name: Baby’s Badass Burgers.
(Hat tip: Michael.)
Indeed, LA may want to change its acronym to “BA.” TechCrunch reported last month on an infusion of cash for online retailer Nasty Gal, whose offices are in the 213.
Nasty Gal takes its name from the album by Betty Davis, “the patron saint of badass women,” according to the About Us page.
In other news, a movie called Ass Backwards, starring Clueless’s Alicia Silverstone, is currently in post(erior)-production. The film’s writers raised more than $50,000 in funding on Kickstarter but haven’t sent updates to backers in more than 15 months, which sounds downright A-wordish.
And because if I don’t include it I’m sure to hear from several of you, here’s your Big Ass Fans mention. The company, whose logo is a donkey’s behind, is based in Lexington, Kentucky; the ad is in the September 17 issue of the New Yorker and may represent the first time “bespoke” and “ass” have appeared together in a commercial context.
Previously featured on Fritinancy: Bad Ass Booty Balm diaper ointment (“Got a bad ass in your crib?”).
* I heard Nunberg talk about Ascent of the A-Word last month at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, where his interviewer was Robert J. Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule. Because the event was being taped for public-radio broadcast, both gentlemen had to sidestep actual A-words in favor of “A-word.” It was an impressive exercise in forbearance, although Nunberg did slip in a D-word.
For what a second-hand memory is worth: my dad worked as a railroad telegraph operator starting in the 1920's. He told me (when I was a kid in the 40's) that telegraphers had an unofficial signals vocabulary that included "AO," meaning "asshole."
Posted by: john | September 18, 2012 at 09:02 AM
I read Nunberg's book, and recommend it enthusiastically. (If -ly words are still acceptable, that is.) I had no idea the word had such a distinct set of connotations; I suspect I may have misused it with regard to several unworthy individuals I'd sought to denounce.
Posted by: CGHill | September 18, 2012 at 09:20 AM
john, the Online Etymological Dictionary agrees that the usage is pre-WW2.
Posted by: empty | September 18, 2012 at 10:47 AM
I'd say Kid Rock added to the curent usage, as well, with his top-20 Modern Rock hit, "American Badass", a big hit with our uniformed troops ever since its release in 2000. Here's the (barely) NSFW video: http://youtu.be/5G1scyA3UZs
And how about a shout-out for Melvin Van Peebles breakout 1971 tour de force "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song", considered by some to be the godfather (though not "The Godfather") of the blaxploitation genre?
Posted by: Namer X | September 19, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Thank you for the mention of Big Ass Fans in your 'ass' article. We do take quite a bit of flack for our name - and make the most of it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmIYMqTao0A
Posted by: BIG_ASS_FANS | September 20, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Food truck? When I lived in LA it was a roach coach.
Posted by: Dave G | September 20, 2012 at 06:16 AM