Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 18 12:17:56 UTC 2009

Thanks, Victor.  Most interesting.

As for English "thick-headed" and the (superficial) Russian equivalent,
cf. the comparable distinction between Eng. "thick-headed" and "hard-headed"
("hard-nosed" is also a little different, but close enough for mention.)

American "hard-ass" apparently goes back to the 19th C., but with only one
cite one always feels a little uncomfortable.

My gratuitous theory-of-the-moment, based only on largely preconscious
interpretations over the decades, is that the English word "tough"
(referring to human character) in the 19th C. tended most strongly to imply
resilience to hardship; later - maybe after the Civil War - it began to more
and more to imply aggressiveness and threat(cf. "tough guy").

This is simply to lay a semantic groundwork for a possible evolution of
English "hard-ass" and perhaps "iron-ass."  Everybody agrees that a
"hard-ass" is "tough."  The "-ass" element may have been (partially)
suggested by the idea that a "hard-ass" was one who could "stand plenty of
kicks"  (reversals - a very common 19th C. application of "kicks").  That
kind of "toughness" was eventually superseded by the idea that a "hard-ass"
or an "iron-ass" was aggressively "tough" - a taskmaster, disciplinarian,

Hey, it's early  I and I haven't had my coffee!  Lighten up!


Aug 18, 2009 at 12:31 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "iron-ass"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> _Hard-ass_ doesn't have quite the same meaning... or the same ring to
> it, but it is probably closest to the original intent. From what I've
> been told, the translation seems to be a bit odd--that is, it may be
> even more vulgarized than the original Russian. It's hard to tell
> without specifics of the claimed original Russian. Perhaps "iron-butt"
> is closer than "iron-arse". But "stone-butt" and "rock-butt" still don't
> work and "rock-bottom" means something entirely different.
> In any case, it is rather dangerous to look for equivalents of idiomatic
> nicknames and sobriquets. There is a Russian expression than means
> "thick-headed" (or, closer to "thick-foreheaded") but it does not mean
> the same thing it does in English. (AFAIK, the English gloss is for
> someone stubbornly stupid, or just stupid, thick; the Russian version is
> for someone who is stubbornly going forward--perhaps stupidly, but not
> necessarily--like a tank or a ram.) As for "arse", in this case, a
> closer translation may be "butt" or even the relatively mild "rear" or
> "behind" (actually the nearly exact words for the Russian "zad").
> Synonyms or not, there are subtle differences in Russian in the use of
> "zad" and "zhopa" (the latter closer in distribution to "arse"), as well
> as other similar attributes. One would never use "zad" to refer to a
> person, but "zhopa" is perfectly appropriate in this context. On the
> other hand, when describing someone as being hard-assed, "zad" is
> appropriate and "zhopa" is not. There are other variations, except when
> referring to the actual body part, in which case "zad" (rear) is
> considerably less vulgar but virtually interchangeable. Unless I am
> mistaken, there is a similar progression in English (except in the minds
> of some neo-puritans and neo-Victorians), although the distribution is
> considerably different.
>    VS-)
> Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > In HDAS, naturally.  But here is a suggestion that there is an
> > (earlier?) Russian equivalent:
> >
> > 2003 Simon Sebag Montefiore _Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar_ (N.Y.:
> > Random House, 2005) 39: Nicknamed "Stone-Arse" for his indefatigable
> > work-rate, Molotov liked to correct people ponderously and tell them that
> > Lenin himself had actuially given him the soubriquet "Iron-Arse."
> > I have encountered no American exx. of _*stone-ass_.
> >
> > Wilson, knowest thou anything of a Russian equivalent of "iron-ass"?  Or
> is
> > this just a rough translation?
> >
> > JL
> >
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"There You Go Again...Using Reason on the Planet of the Duck-Billed

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list