Posts tagged ‘george carlin’

ManFAQ Friday: Who’s the Asshole Now?

21 June, 2013 | | 1 Comment

Happy Solstice!  We’re taking advantage of the extra daylight today, on this longest day of the year, and making sure that Friday is once again answer time at the ManFAQ.  It’s been a while, for reasons good and bad, but we’ve been getting actual questions – sometimes from actual women – and the start of a new season is reason enough to start answering them.   Mind you, we can’t answer questions we don’t get – send yours today! 

Today we turn to a question from my own father, FOBUMD, who, despite not being a women, posed a pretty good question.  Thus inspired, I don my manly mantle as Sage of the Sexes, helping demystify the more malodorous gender for those of the gentler, as we add to the list of questions women have asked about men over the years.  Actual questions, posed by real women (and sometimes my dad), and answered by a REAL man.  Like Dad used to say, “What could go wrong?”

Question:  The instructions on your MANFAQ tab clearly indicate that this section of your blog is dedicated to answering questions from women.  I’m not one!  In fact BUMD, it’s FOBUMD here and I have an English grammar question related to gender.

Being nearly 70 years old and having grown up on the streets of Chicago, then spending 26 years in the military including 12 months in Vietnam, I believe I’ve heard every curse word in the book.  I’ve heard them used in almost every conceivable way, correctly and incorrectly I might add.  In fact, I’ve probably used every curse word in the book and could give lessons on their proper use.  That’s why it surprises me that I have never before pondered the question that struck me several days ago.  I’m wondering if the word “asshole” is male specific.  Now I’m not talking about sphincter muscles here.  Both sexes surely have those.  I’m asking about using the A-hole word pejoratively to describe a person that… that… that… well, you know, “is an asshole.”

I guess I started to ponder that because it dawned on me that I’ve never used that term for a woman, only for men.   Now, I might have shot that term out there a few times to other drivers, not knowing the driver’s gender.  That’s different, of course.  So, you being both the English major and the ManFAQ person, I was hoping you could shed some light on this topic, unless this is where the sun don’t shine.

Answer:  In keeping with the serious and erudite nature of this blog, and particularly the ManFAQ, we will constrain our reply to refrain from gratuitous, puerile, prurient profanity and turn to that mighty (and somewhat phallic) pillar of erudition, History.  We shall start with History’s Arse. 

As one of those great four-letter monosyllabic words for which English has become so famous, arse has been with us since way back in the day.  As with many other words for the buttocks, tail, rump, or base of the spine, it came from the Proto-Germanic, and has cognates in Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse, Middle Dutch, Greek, Hittite, Armenian, and Old Irish – and of course in modern German, Arsch.  (“Wenn’s Arscherl brummt, ist’s Herzerl g’sund!”)  Near the start of the 1400s, someone stuck a hole on the end of it:  arsehole!  At the time this was pronounced arce-hoole, presumably at the top of ones lungs while shouting at someone who’s donkey had just cut in front of yours on the way to the market.  It wasn’t until the early 1700s that we lost the “r” before the “s” – as we did with many other words (burst/bust, curse/cuss, barse/bass, and, in Texas, horse/hoss) – and our old arse became our ass.

Now, in addition to losing its Rs (thank you, thank you very much), English has long since lost most of the genders on its nouns, so for clarity we’ll look to a language that hasn’t suffered this loss.  Specifically we shall turn our gaze on the German asshole, which, like all good German nouns, has a gender.  Or does it?  It turns out that das Arscherl is, in fact, neutral – presumably since, as noted in your question, everybody has one. 

The donkey, on the other hand, der Esel, is masculine, as it was in Latin – asinus, from which all our asses are descended.  (Also, note that unlike assholes, not everyone has a donkey.)  Since English has been politely interposing “donkey” for ass since Shakespeare transmogrified Nick Bottom in 1594’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is not surprising that we would subconsciously bring over the sense of masculinity from the donkey. 
The other reason that we tend not to use asshole when specifically referring to a woman may have to do with the plethera of richer choices of epithets that are usually specific to the feminine gender, which I will here gleefully enumerate for the sake of my ratings on internet search engines inner George Carlin: bitch, slut, whore, Ann Coulter…  Well, you get the idea.  Suffice it to say that the list tends to be  longer for women than it is for men.  Interestingly, in researching this, I ran across a note that the term “douchebag” tends to be more often directed at men, despite its obvious association with women. 

Looking briefly at pop culture, Hustler magazine has a regular column featuring people they don’t like, called the “Asshole of the month.”  For the record, they’ve included women in that list over the years, so certainly Hustler believes that there’s nothing semantically incorrect with calling a woman an asshole. 

Mind you, they might simply not care, either, and I hesitate to put words in their mouth lest I make the list.  Not that it wouldn’t be a great honor to be Hustler’s Asshole of the Month.

A brief review of the vast literature on the topic shows that you are far from the only asshole to ponder this, and that most people concur that the sense of asshole is masculine – saying something like “Jane’s an asshole” comes out sounding wrong to most ears.  At the same time, the concurrence is that intellectually, it should be gender neutral – it’s just seldom used so.   As to why, I think we’re left with our residual sense of old Asinus the Donkey taking the masculine form, and transposing that gender onto its cognate, ass, within the asshole in question. 

But I could just be an asshole here.



Now you know.  Please, feel free to comment!  Also, forward any questions you’d like answered to BUMD – at –!  As always, your anonymity is guaranteed!





Teaching Our Children (Not) To Swear

10 April, 2010 | | 3 Comments

Let me say first that our kids know there are words they’re not supposed to use: The “S” word. The “F” word. The “D” word. Ann Coulter. They know they’re going to get in trouble if we hear these words from their lips. It’s not like we’re telling them it’s OK to go around yelling curse words all the time. It’s not like they hear that shit from me, either – well, OK, but SOBUMD is from Jersey and she will damn well let you know it.

So the other day, Number One Son had a hard time undressing for bed – his shirt was really tight around the neck, and he needed some help pulling it over his head. He then asked me politely if he could please use a swear word. It was just the two of us, so I said to go ahead if he felt he really needed to.

“Daddy, some shirts are really a bitch.”

Now, in my house there is no God but Grammar, and Webster is his prophet. The dictionary is probably closer to a holy book in our house than the actual bible. (For those readers expressing surprise, yes, we own a bible or two – but the dictionaries get read more often.) The words “I don’t care for any more” will get you excused from the table; “I don’t care for no more” will get you sent to your room.

So it was in this spirit that I explained to Number One Son that Messrs. Strunk and White would probably have him amend his words. First, not to swear at all, but second… The term “bitch” has a female connotation, and you’re discussing a man’s shirt. I’d rather he say, “that shirt is a real bastard” – since it’s a man’s shirt. Of a ladies’ blouse, one might say that it was a bitch, but in general he should try to maintain a consistent gender while cursing. And finally, please, don’t curse at all – after all, I don’t want to hear that shit from him.

Needless to say this devolved into paroxysms of laughter on his part, since he doesn’t usually hear me use that many curse words in a row unless I’m working on plumbing, reading the news, or writing code. I think he went to sleep channeling George Carlin. When I brought the whole conversation to SOBUMD, she asked what one would do with unisex clothing, such as a hoodie. I maintain the proper cursing etiquette would be to go with the gender of the wearer, leaning toward the masculine when in doubt.

I was reminded of the need in college to instruct my roommate – brilliant, but new to swearing – in similar fashion. “The gerund comes before the noun. You’re not going to sit in effing that chair, you’re going to sit in that effing chair.” After all, if you’re going to swear in the first place, please do so with the proper effing inflection, good goddamm grammar, and wit.

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25 June, 2008 | | No Comment

George Carlin, who told us just exactly which seven words you couldn’t say on television and introduced the world to the eminently useful term “Mongolian Clusterfuck”, is up in heaven now, with Asimov and Vonnegut.  I’ll bet he’s pissed about it.

My all time favorite Carlin moment is watching him walk out onto center stage at Carnegie Hall.  He’s just been announced (“Ladies and Gentlemen, George Carlin!”) to a *packed* hall, the crowd goes nuts, and he walks out like no one’s there.  He walks straight up to the mic, waits about 3 seconds for quiet.  This is when every other comedian in the world will say hello or even yell it, Hello New York, anything.  Even Steve Martin had *some* intro.


But this was Carlin.


By way of introduction, he walks up to the mic and says, “Did you ever notice that all the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn’t want to fuck anyway?”

George, RIP.