more demotic adjectives (and nouns)
Arnold M. Zwicky
zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Apr 3 19:16:25 UTC 2004
more adventures in the land of demotic modifiers... (set off by a
conversation i had yesterday with one of the two stanford graduate
students who have done some preliminary investigations of adjectives
with preposed "ass-", as in "That picture is ass-ugly", and postposed
"-ass", as in "That's a really ugly-ass picture". research takes the
1. i'll start with the adjective "rat-assed". most of the occurrences
fit the definition 'extremely drunk' given by
www.freesearch.co.uk/dictionary for "rat-arsed" (UK) / "rat-assed"
(US), which also labels the item "OFFENSIVE", in big bold caps. many
sites note it as originally, and still primarily, british, going back
to at least the 80s. it's roughly paraphrased by "shitfaced", and one
site gives "rat faced" as a variant.
one site suggests that the word originally meant 'crazy' -- "rats in
the attic" -- and then specialized to drunkenness. i didn't find any
citations that clearly required a 'crazy' reading. but i did find a
number indicating that the 'drunk(en)' reading has been extended to a
general pejorative, with no particular involvement of alcohol:
... homo inferiors are those rat assed people like you, who got a sick
than thou mind, with their tongues that slithered forth words of
... Much of this rancor is generated by Ronnie, aka Pan, whose
rat-assed take on the
place is vital to the book's combination of immediacy and historical
... I keep thinking of the day that my X's grandparents die and I go to
and see Rat Assed Bastard. ... To hell with that Rat Assed Bastard. ...
i also found one example of "rat-assed" as a (generally pejorative)
.. anything at all. Could it be malaise? No. I suspect it's being so
rat-assed busy that I can't see straight. There's some fairly ...
2. on to the almost surely related item "rat-ass". this doesn't have
any unambiguously adjective uses that i could find; there were no
google or google groups cites for "really rat-ass", "how rat-ass", or
"so rat-ass" (in the relevant uses). there were clearly *noun* uses,
like "You rat ass", and plenty of what are apparently nouns serving as
adjectival or adverbial modifiers:
"You rat-ass bastard" [see "rat-assed bastard" above; both are common]
"You rat ass mutherfuckin snitch"
"You rat ass sons of bitches"
[adverbial] "The stuff is rat-ass nasty"
i should point out that "rat bastard", "rat son-of-a-bitch", and
"rat-nasty" are all amply attested, with "rat" covering pretty much the
same territory as "rat-ass". in a fairly quick search, i didn't find
any clearly adjective uses of "rat". so what we have, with both
"rat-ass" and "rat", are a type of N+N (or N+Adj) compound with the
modifier stress pattern (with the primary stress on the second
element). these combinations are ripe for reinterpretation as
involving an initial adjective, so i'd predict that we're not far from
the time where things like "how rat-ass is that!" and "how rat is
that!" begin appearing.
3. on to clearly adjective uses of "ass" (not in combinations like
"big-ass" and "ass-stupid"). these come in two sets, with radically
different evaluative meanings. there's one set that is pejorative,
conveying 'lame, poor, bad', as in:
Alex Cain (really ass sportsman Jason Christie) needs to shut up
Troll and morph you lil schizo paranoid. Tell us about your obsessions.
Why do you hate Jesus and what did he do to you? You down ...
alt.usenet.kooks - Aug 25, 2001 by xganon
... chemcially imbalanced. I think I had about 80 ounces of coffee.
from good coffee to really really ass coffee. Mmm Mmm good! After ...
... Though I was still pretty fucking knackered. Off we went for our
walkies. The weather
lately has been really ass. Since Friday really. Very windy and rainy.
... things. Of course, my site looks really really ass to folks browsing
with Netscape 4.x. If you fall into this category, I apologize. ...
though here's one where context doesn't tell me whether the judgment is
supposed to be negative or positive, though negative was my first
... This is Indiana, it can't be THAT Darwin. The weather for 6 hours,
The weather is really ass. Back to the alien mothership tow hook. Home!
on the other hand, there are very clearly positive occurrences of
... i would appreciate all comments!! Well i better go by the way people
go see the new matrix movie, its really ass. And off to a side ...
the negative "ass" seems to be related to "asshole", "ass-backwards",
"ass-ugly", and similar negative items. the positive "ass" seems to be
related to "ass-kicking", "ass-beating", "ass-rocking", and the like --
all positive in tone. (there's even a fairly common adjective
one possible path from "ass-kicking" to "ass" can be seen in
occurrences of "kick really ass":
Date: Jan 28, 2004,
7:10:53 AM. your gallery kicks really ass, please keep it up! cu ...
... Are they jealous, maybe? They said, you can’t play, but that’s
not true. Fact is, you rule a little bit an‘ kick really ass. ...
what's going on here is that the idiom "to kick ass", in which "ass" is
a noun object of rthe verb "kick", has been reinterpreted as involving
a modifier "ass" serving as an adjunct to the verb, which makes this
"ass" open to modification by adverbs like "really". cool.
in any case, "ass" is yet another member of the "w(h)ack" class --
"whacky adjectives", i'll call them:
ass, cock, crap, dick, ditz, fuck, jerk, prick, puss, shit, stink,
suck, wank, w(h)ack
(geoff pullum points out that i'm never going to be able to talk about
this research on the radio.)
4, late-breaking lexical news. not only adjective "balls-out", which
is positive (possibly related to "to go balls out" 'to give tremendous
effort, to go all out'):
... great. I mean, she has almost always played emotional, dramatic
but Clementine is really balls-out, I guess. :) ) Now ...
... The movie as a whole is totally freaking entertaining. It's
probably one of
best buddy movies I've seen in awhile. Conan Lee is really balls out
but also adjective "balls", clearly positive in these citations, but
generically positive (rather than referring to effort), and possibly
related to the generically positive modifier "balls-to-the-wall":
... They know me by name there. The downtown Boston branch knows me by
name. How balls is that? ...
... to live, and a new life. Until then, she's living "the beach life."
How BALLS is that? Answer: SO balls. Don't you wish you could ...
... ecology In free orgy gallery - divide Those bisexual married chat ,
sorry If Literally
His cheerleader group sex ) last summer How balls Is free pictures ...
but "balls" is apparently negative in this one (with a possible
relationship to the dismissive exclamation "Balls!"):
... Barney Gumble? Jonny G July 2, 2003 at 8:02am PST Score: 2/10 I
didn't bother to
stay around and load up the site. The design is really balls, I'm
in any case, "balls" is yet another Whacky Adjective.
arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu), able to bear only so much
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