A couple of new usages have come across my radar, both from the wrong side of the English-language tracks. Many have said that English is, relative to other languages, poorly-supplied with obscenities and imprecations. So let’s welcome a couple that have arrived in the last decade, and they’re not just standalone words, they have combinatorial potential, which is even better. Herewith a survey of new usages based around the Old English root ass, and a look at what is as far as I can tell a relatively new base form, frick.

Ass · This word has suddenly in the last decade become quite productive. The two most notable forms—you’ve probably heard them too—are asshat and assclown. A look at the grand old Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition suggests that these usages were unknown as late as the mid-Eighties when it went to press; similarly, the nearly-as-grandiose Shorter Oxford English Dictionary from 1993 has no evidence.

On the other hand, both dictionaries miss the vivid imprecation asswipe, which I remember clearly from my teenage years, so it’s possible these usages go back further into an Oxford blind spot.

The formation of assclown is pretty self-evident, but asshat is more interesting. An amusing page at Confused Nation takes up the obvious hypothesis that this is a perhaps-less-offensive phonetic variation of asshole. But then UrbanDictionary.com suggests the word denotes a person with their head up their ass, i.e. wearing their ass as a hat, which is at least ingenious.

It doesn’t stop there. Jamie Zawinski, in a typically vigorous essay kicking sand in the face of the CSS community, says “these examples look like ass on my screen,” the first time I’ve encountered this usage, but it’s straightforward enough. (The CSS community kicked considerable sand back, by the way).

So there is hope that we can look forward to ass exhibiting ongoing fertility as a source of imprecative forms.

Fricking · In the last couple of years, particularly in conversations among businessmen, it’s fricking this, fricking that, fricking the other. Once again, my Oxford resources come up empty, suggesting this usage’s having been minted in the last decade.

Perhaps it’s an obvious variation of frigging, but one doesn’t feel the need in the English-language ecosystem for such a variation, and words don’t typically get any traction unless they meet some need, if only for novelty. Admittedly, in a spoken diatribe, fricking sounds a bit more percussive; is that enough? Interestingly, frigging is almost always slurred into friggin’, while in fricking the -ing is sounded out fully.

To this point in time, this word stands alone, but if it gets traction, the natural evolution of word usage will give us frick as a back-formation, which might usefully serve as root for a whole new nasty little family.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
July 26, 2003
· Language (57 more)

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