This morning when I sat down in the bird-watching chair I noticed a large gray squirrel taking advantage of the absence of dogs to gorge on some fat-rich seeds. I thought to myself, “that’s a big-ass squirrel,” and got up to put the dogs out. I returned to my chair to enjoy some more bird-partial watching as I drank my first cup of coffee.
Then I got to thinking about “ass.” In particular, as an adjectival enhancer. What, I wondered, does it mean to add ass to your descriptions? Is it mere colorful sprinkling, a local flavor? Or is there something more substantial, with more muscle to consider?
For instance, is a big-ass squirrel just bigger than a regular (or regular-ass) squirrel? Or is there something in its assedness that suggests its greater capacity to annoy, well, me?
I think of other instances in which I pepper my discourse with ass. . . .
Rand Paul is a dumb-ass.
I don’t think Mitch McConnell is one–he’s more of a punk-ass.
What does this mean? Well, in the first case, I question his intellectual (and moral) compass and think he causes damage, hence is “assed.” In the second case, he really perpetuates negativity, and he does so with that lipless smirk that reveals his true self. He’s a punk-ass, needs to be brought down a peg or two, perhaps land on his gluteus maximus a time or two. (not that I wish him ill–I just think he’d be happier if he gave up his evil-assed ways)
No other body part works the way ass does. You can’t say “that’s a big-breasted squirrel” or “big-headed squirrel” and get anywhere near the rhetorical trajectory. If I said, “that’s a big-butt squirrel,” you would picture something very different in this normally endowed rodent with a fluffy tail.
Then we have the situation when our adjectival enhancer is itself enhanced, as in half-assed and hard-assed. In the first case, the importance of ass is self-evident, since if you only have half you indeed are missing a lot. In the second case, we introduce contradiction. On the one hand, having a hard ass is supposed to be good, as in “could crack an egg on it,” as in buff. But on the other being a hard-ass is not so great, suggesting inflexibility, an ass fixed and not open to suggestion. We’re not supposed to face our enemies with a flaccid ass, but neither are we supposed to deal with our friends and colleagues with an impenetrable one. And yet we commit both these acts all the time. That ass must bear the weight of its own contradiction only reaffirms its importance as a value-laden word that we ignore only at grave risk.
I recently got bit by a brown recluse spider bite, and my favorite comment was, “Jane, surviving a brown recluse spider bite is bad-ass.” That is exactly what I was, in this context, and I appreciated my friend Christian for noting that.
“Ass” thus heightens meaning just as sriracha pulls the full potential from tofu and broccoli. It says, in effect, “here, let me give you a hand with that. Together we can pull this load better than either of us can do alone.” Thus, ass is a companion word, not just arbitrary flavoring. Thank you, ass.
This beautiful assed world would be a lot sorrier place if it weren’t so gosh darned beautiful–it’s hard to put into words just how big, bountiful, generous Earth is, how much I love its ass. Here then, to round out my morning’s reflection, is a picture of two early-ass mushrooms that appeared this morning nestled under my eggplant leaf….