The evolution of the asshole

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The evolution of the asshole

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Sep 20, 2012 7:15 am

The online magazine Slate has just published a discussion regarding the origin and usage of the abusive epithet 'asshole', presented both as a podcast and a corresponding transcript. (Surprisingly, the term has only been widely used as an epithet since World War II.)

The discussion is led by Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo, presenters of the Lexicon Valley series of podcasts about language. Their guest is linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, author of a new book titled Ascent of the A-word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years. Nunberg teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, California.
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Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:59 am

I was so surprised to hear that the word had only been in use as an epithet since WWII that I had I had difficulty believing it, so I Googled "ARSEHOLE", "arse" being an older term than "ass" which I believe (without checking so I could be wrong) to be a US word for the fundament, and found that Languagehat reviewing the selfsame publication says, People have been using arsehole to refer to the anus at least since Chaucer's time, and there are citations from the 1860s on for the metaphorical use of the word for the most detestable spot in a region, as in “the arse-hole of the universe.

Surely the word must have been used to describe an individual as well as a place.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:23 pm

aaa
The OED’s earliest quote for asshole is from 1935. Their earliest quote for arsehole is from 1379. And their earliest quote for arsehole of the universe is from 1950.
________________________

Ken – September 20, 2012
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Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:26 am

.. as usual I am amazed that some dick like this can publish a book, get wide publicity, spread bullshit and everyone just believes it .. as clearly shown by Bob's simple google search this Nunberg got it wrong .. unless of course you wish to hang your hat on the ass v arse distinction .. so much for our Professor of "Information" ..

WoZ the profaner

PS Just in case you wonder .. titles, eg "university linguist" don't impress me as much as the truth
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Sep 22, 2012 6:08 am

Wizard of Oz wrote:.. as usual I am amazed that some dick like this can publish a book, get wide publicity, spread bullshit and everyone just believes it .. as clearly shown by Bob's simple google search this Nunberg got it wrong .. unless of course you wish to hang your hat on the ass v arse distinction .. so much for our Professor of "Information" ..
WoZ, I'm afraid you and Bob have both got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Regardless of what he might have thought at the time, Bob was not in fact quoting the Languagehat reviewer, but the reviewer's citation from Geoffrey Nunberg's book. So Bob misattributed the text that he bolded in his posting, and apparently you didn't follow the Languagehat link that Bob provided in order to check for yourself what the reviewer had (or in this case, had not) written.

The full text of the reviewer's extract from Nunberg's book is as follows (for convenience, I have highlighted in bold the part that Bob quoted):
By the time asshole appeared in print, it had undoubtedly been circulating in army slang for quite a while. In fact it doesn't really make sense to ask when this use of asshole was "coined." It isn't one of those items like pizzazz or beatnik that a clever columnist or copywriter can drop into the language some Tuesday morning. After all, it doesn't take a great deal of ingenuity to compare someone you want to disparage to the anus, and it's fair to assume that people have been doing that from time to time for as long as asshole (or in its older form arsehole) has been around.

Still, it isn't likely that asshole was a conventional epithet much before the modern period. Even in more straight-laced ages, vulgarities and profanities show up in sources such as diaries, personal letters, pornography, slang dictionaries, and the records of prosecutions for public disorderliness or military insubordination (“Go and f— yourself" made its first print appearance in the proceedings of the Old Bailey in 1901). People have been using arsehole to refer to the anus at least since Chaucer's time, and there are citations from the 1860s on for the metaphorical use of the word for the most detestable spot in a region, as in “the arse-hole of the universe." So if asshole had been a routine term of abuse much before World War II, there would most likely be some record of it. Ernest Hemingway didn't use the word in the manuscript of A Farewell to Arms that he submitted to Scribner's in 1929, which included shit, fuck, cocksucker, cunt, and balls, none of which made it into the published version. That's not conclusive, of course, but if asshole had been around then, it's a fair bet Hemingway would have taken to it (it did show up in Islands in the Stream, written in the early 1950s and set during World War II).
In other words, Nunberg says, though it's quite likely that people have now and again called each other by epithets like 'arsehole' / 'asshole' since way back, such terms of abuse were not part of mainstream usage until around World War II onwards.
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Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Sep 22, 2012 12:35 pm

We have a mystery on our hands.

I just followed my own link but it took me to a different page layout to the one I originally saw. I am pretty sure that I did not misattribute the quote as I originally saw it. Reading it now what Erik says is obvious, but it was not so when I laid the link.

In the event, I can only apologise.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
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Re: The evolution of the asshole

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Sep 23, 2012 11:55 am

So Bob misattributed the text that he bolded in his posting, and apparently you didn't follow the Languagehat link that Bob provided in order to check for yourself what the reviewer had (or in this case, had not) written.
.. Erik in your rush to support Nunberg you make a mistake and a poor judgement on my methods .. naturally I read Bob's link .. BUT .. I have just looked again and I agree with Bob that on the page that I originally read there was not a "single" attribution to Nunberg but a series of statements from what appeared to be various sources ..

.. unlike the gentleman Bob I stick by my post which WAS based upon what I read at Bob's link at approximately 02:26 on 22 Sep 2012 .. if that link has now changed (it has) then I agree that it does not read as originally posted on WW .. however I would more likely say that this expression was popularised by GIs in WWII ..

WoZ
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

End of topic.
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