the earliest 'asshole'?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jul 20 01:08:07 UTC 2011

On Jul 19, 2011, at 6:28 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> HDAS sorts many of these out. And more. "Asshole buddy" even gets its own
> article.
as do the delightful “assholingest” (‘irregular superlative of ASSHOLE, adj., ‘most idiotic’—usu. considered vulgar') and “asshole malaria” (‘malaria with dysentery—usu. considered vulgar’)
> What to make of William Blake, however?
> WWII literature shows that, as term of abuse, "asshole" was widely known by
> the early '40s.  It must have been common in crude-language circles for at
> least a generation before that - and I would suspect longer.
> I did not note an appearance in the books of the now-tarnished documentarian
> Thomas P. Lowry, however. Surely a habitual faker would have included one.
> JL
In case anyone else didn’t have their HDAS on them when reading this, I provide the relevant cite here, the first under
asshole, 2a. ‘a foolish or despicable person —usu. considered vulgar’.  JL adds the note [1784 quot. is uniquely early, but an alternative meaning of this ex. is unclear]

ca 1784 in W. Blake Complete Poetry & Prose 451: If I have not presented you with every character in the piece call me Arse—

--then nothing in print until 1933 (good old Randolph, _Pissing in the Snow_)

Hmmm.  Not proven, as the Scots say.  (Too bad there’s no rhyme for “Arse—“ in the relevant context.)


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