Honest Abe the Slangster

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 2 20:40:05 UTC 2003

The Historical Dictionary of American Slang has a first use of 1942
for "ass-backwards" and of 1932 for "bass-ackwards."

However, the Abraham Lincoln Association has an undated document
printed in _The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln_ VIII. 420, which
begins as follows:

He said he was riding _bass-ackwards_ on a _jass-ack_, through a
_patton-cotch_, on a pair of _baddle-sags_, [etc.]

The _Collected Works_ identifies this as "a 'piece' which Lincoln worte
and gave to the bailiff of one of the Springfield courts."  The
_Collected Works_ is the standard edition of Lincoln's writings, and is
quite scholarly and careful about what it accepts as authentic
Lincolniana.  It lists thousands of documents that it rejects as
inauthentic.  This one is listed with the authentic documents, so it
should be regarded as by Lincoln and dated as "a1865" and the usage
of "ass-backwards" is a major antedating.

Fred Shapiro

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