The word “ass” is so enormously versatile that it must drive English language learners crazy. And, so much of its meaning depends on the context and the tone of voice. “What an ass!” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. The word “ass” can turn a positive quality into something negative. Think, wiseass, smartass, fancy-ass. Or, as a friend of my brother once told our dad, “Everybody likes a little ass, but nobody likes a smartass.” It can work as an intensifier. Being a “dumbass” is worse than just being “dumb.”
The way my dad has always used this word is pretty old school and straightforward, as you would expect. He never uses it in admiration. “That’s one big-ass truck!” or, “Lynn cooked me a kick-ass meal.” It’s more often insulting and always mildly vulgar, (I give it a 5 out of 10) but also comical. Probably because it refers to the derriere, which for some reason, has always been kind of funny and naughty.
When I was growing up, corporal punishment was considered a mainstream parenting tool. Not that my parents were very strong devotees of corporal punishment, but we all received at least one good spanking that has stuck with us all these years. What was much more common were the threats of corporal punishment or the use of physical violence vernacular to express the parent’s displeasure. For example, if a teenager had the temerity or a right foot so clumsy on the gas pedal as to spray gravel from the driveway onto the lawn while driving away from the homestead to, say, go work at the local greasy spoon for $2.00/hour plus tips, and Dad witnessed the unfortunate lapse in judgment, there could be an “ass-kicking party” when said teenager got home later that night. If said teenager was so brain-dead as to do it again, Dad might threaten to “kick her ass to a point, and then kick the point off.” Mind you, none of us actually ever got kicked in the ass, but Dad’s deep voice and stern demeanor were enough to get our attention–in addition to the cowboy boots he wore. We just knew that if we did something wrong, and Dad found out about it, “our ass was grass, and he was the lawn mower.” And, if he’d had an assfull of our shenanigans, shilly-shallying, bickering or whining, we could find our asses out in the garden hoeing and weeding or picking gravel out of the lawn–after a good ass-chewing.
Stupidity, whether on the part of his children or others, has always gotten my dad’s goat. He does not, as they say, suffer fools gladly. Many of his most colorful insults involved the word that is the subject of this post. These were lavished on the likes of schoolteachers, social workers, civil servants of all kinds, certain neighbors, certain of his daughters’ boyfriends, basically anyone that did something Dad found stupid. He “couldn’t find his ass with a ten-hand working party.” “He doesn’t know if his ass was punched or bored.” And, if a person was just an all-around dumbbell and full of himself to boot, he was deemed a “17-jeweled horse’s ass, with holes drilled for more.” Why is a horse’s ass and not a cow’s?
Here are some other examples of the versatility of this word:
Someone that is foolishly attempting the impossible might as well “grab both cheeks of his ass and try to lift himself up off the ground.”
“That’s tighter than a boar’s ass in fly season,” pronounced while grunting to loosen a piece of hardware such as a bolt or pipe.
“The black ass” is what you have when you’re really depressed and can’t shake it.
Disbelief at what someone tells you is succinctly expressed by growling, “Your ass!” Or, even more disdainfully, “Equality, my ass! If there’s such a thing as equality, then I’ll kiss your ass.”