Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

If I had to guess the origin of "ass" as a modifier, it's got to be badass.  Most likely Sweet Sweetback's Baadaaaaaassssssssssss Song.  It started badass, which makes sense.  One's ass had been a stand in for the entirety of oneself for some time, and not-bad-meaning-bad-but-bad-meaning-good goes without saying.  Therefore, if one is the ultimate in cool, or toughness, or knowledge, or attitude, then he or she might be labelled badass.

People dug this, and the trend continued with hardass; mostly in military circles.  Then wiseass and smartass came along, followed closely by dumbass.  These terms all make sense, somewhat, especially given that they take ass into the pejorative.

Then things got weird.  Ass started peppering sentences where it had no place, not modifying a word to make a new one (being dumb is bad enough, but being a dumbass is dumb beyond redemption) but on its own, strengthening sentiment.

"That was one lame ass movie."    

"That's a sweet ass ride."

"Tell your stupid ass friends that stuffing condoms filled with yogurt between the cushions of my couch is not funny."

I'd been living in Miami a couple of years before a Chilean woman named Janet took me under her wing and started teaching me a few phrases in Spanish.  I was fascinated how Latin folks use the word cojone.

"Que quieres?" means "What do you want?"  But say you get a call at three in the morning, or your cell phone shows you the name of someone who you really could do without at the moment.  A more appropriate response might be, "Que cojone quieres?"

You might think that this translates into "What ball do you want?"  You're right, that's what it translates to.  What is means, though, is "What the fuck do you want?"  I threw cojone in, and now you know I'm pissed.  I thought that 1) that was cool as shit, and 2) there was no equivalent in the English language.

The other day I was walking down the street wearing a t-shirt with this image:

Order it at Gorey Details

Some dude at the bus stop called out, "Hey, that's an awesome ass shirt, man."

Yes, it is.  I thanked him, and kept walking.  A few moments later, I was like, "Wait, what?"  The "not-bad-meaning-bad-but-bad-meaning-good" in badass got mixed up with ass, and now ass is a good thing?  Or maybe the fact that it sounded like some new bit of fashion I was unfamiliar with threw me off.

Ass shirt?

After the way this guy used the word ass threw me, I started hearing it everywhere (I'm also hearing counterintuitive all over the place now, which makes me think it will be the next literally, but that's another post).  Nice ass shoes, sweet ass website, funny ass movie, cool ass girl . . . nearly every conversation I heard used ass to strengthen a compliment.

When I remembered cojone for a minute I thought, "Heywe do it, too!"  But it's not the same.  Latin folks know what they're doing. "¡Qué cojones!" can be used to express extreme excitement, or as the Latin equivalent of the Yiddish "oy vey," but no one's using cojone as a compliment.

Gringos need to take a lesson from our Latin brethren and stop using ass willy nilly.  Ass is not appropriate for everything.

Or is it?
Um, no.  It's not.

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