Asshole buddies:speculative etymology

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Feb 9 18:40:37 UTC 2004

On Feb 7, 2004, at 3:32 PM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote to the ADS list:

> HDAS shows "asshole buddy" in two senses:
> "1. ... best friend, close friend (with no imputation of
> homosexuality)."
> from ca. 1942-5
> "2. a partner in ... anal intercourse."
> from 1953.

the *only* sense i'm familiar with is #1, and i'm someone who's
actually had a number of partners in anal intercourse and knows lots of
others who have, so it's not like the concept of sense #2 is foreign to

i could *understand* "asshole buddy" to have sense #2 if i heard it in
the appropriate context, but then it would just be a novel instance of
english noun-noun compounding (not at all the sort of thing a
dictionary should be recording).  the point is that, for me, it's not a
fixed expression in sense #2.  now, "fuckbuddy" *is* such a fixed
expression, and in fact, in my experience, *its* meaning isn't fully
compositional, since fuckbuddies don't actually have to engage in anal
intercourse, merely have sex with one another (according to their
definitions of what counts as having sex).

so, like doug wilson, i'm really dubious about the HDAS's guess about
the history:

> Etymologically the HDAS speculation is:
> "1. [this sense prob. developed fr. (2), below, but early evidence is
> lacking]"

"asshole buddy" surely is a cruder parallel to "bosom buddy/friend".
both are figures in which emotional closeness is connoted by the
attribution of physical closeness.  anuses don't figure in being an
asshole buddy any more than pectorals and nipples figure in being a
bosom friend.

doug wilson has the same recollections about the senses as i do, and
asks about stress:

> I don't remember ever encountering sense 2 in speech: does it have the
> same
> stress?

over on the OUTIL mailing list, brent de chene has discussed stress,
claiming that sense 1 has modifier stress (afterstress, heavier stress
on the second element: asshole BUDDY) but that sense 2 has (or, as i
would put it, would have) compound stress (forestress, heavier stress
on the first element, as in "fuckbuddy": ASSHOLE buddy).  i'm pretty
sure i've never heard sense 1 with anything except forestress, and i
judge "asshole BUDDY" to be a novel modifier-modified combination with
the meaning (sense #3) 'buddy who's an asshole, a jerk'.  but i'm not
going to deny that some speakers might have afterstress for sense #1;
after all, "bosom buddy/friend" has afterstress, and many noun-noun
compounds do not have "compound stress" ("cherry LANE" vs. "CHERRY
street"), while others have variant pronunciations ("CHERRY pie" *and*
"cherry PIE" -- example courtesy of leonard bloomfield).

arnold (zwicky at

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