antedating (?) "ass bandit"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 25 13:54:21 UTC 2014

The photo is, of course, a key document to many disciplines, epistemology
not least of them.

Ockham's Razor suggests that the explanation requiring the least number of
hypotheses should be preferred as the one most likely to be correct. Thus,
since the self-chosen designation "Ass Bandits" is accompanied by an
elaborate cartoon depicting a man with a Pancho Villa mustache (a "bandit")
riding on a donkey (an "ass"), it is most reasonable to conclude that this
is precisely what the aircrew had in mind: they saw themselves as Mexican
bandits riding the range on stolen, braying jackasses.

This interpretation is strengthened immensely by the fact that according to
the meticulously researched and edited HDAS, "ass bandit" as metaphor
cannot be shown to have existed until 1954.

Another interpretation is possible: namely that the meaning is
indeterminate. This view gains emphatic support from the works of Derrida,
who demonstrated that there is no solid ground on which to stand when
attempting to extract meaning from lexical items, particularly a phrase so
radically decontextualized as the cryptonym "Ass Bandits" inexplicably and
gratuitously inscribed upon a weapon of mass destruction. The cartoon
offers little assistance, as we cannot be sure that it is really meant to
illustrate the phrase or vice versa, or even whether the cartoon was
applied by the same putative individual as the phrase. Indeed, the meanings
of the image and the accompanying inscription may be quite unrelated or
even antithetical. We can know nothing of the intentions of either the
artist or the writer: it seems likely, in fact, that they were two
different "individuals."

Whatever they may have "thought" they "intended" at the moment(s) of
application, moreover, does not serve logically to certify (much less allow
us to validate at a presumed distance of roughly seventy years) how they
interpreted their own "creations" days, hours, or even scant minutes after
the "completion" of their work.

Thus, no definitive, final, or even probable interpretation of
image-and-inscription is possible, particularly since each
viewer-and-reader is forced by his or her externally constructed
"intelligence" to decode what the photograph so coldly presents. The
meaning, if any, recedes and recedes from the analytical view, disappearing
finally into nonexistence.

But there is yet one more position. The Editor of HDAS believes on the
basis of the admittedly mystical concepts of "Experience," "Masculinist
Psychology," "General Drift of American WW2 Nose Art," "Spidey Sense," and
some others, that the phrase on the plane means HDAS def. 1.

Moreover, twenty years after the appearance of HDAS, that same editor
suggests that a third, intimately related sense of "ass bandit"
exists/existed, namely "a rapist." The theory is attractive because in the
cop, con, and criminal community, rapists (especially when arrested) have
traditionally been held to be less worthy of respect than "real criminals"
of the colorful Pretty-Boy Floyd variety. "Rapist" may even be the ur-sense.

More dedicated scholars may wish to troll cyberspace to test this theory.

Of course, we are still left with the deep mystery of what the images and
words on the airplane "really" mean - a matter to ponder even if the photo
is a cruel and ingenious hoax on practitioners of diachronic linguistics.


On Sun, May 25, 2014 at 12:59 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: antedating (?) "ass bandit"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Sun, May 25, 2014 at 12:20 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at
> >wrote:
> > 1.  'an eager seducer of young women --usu. considered vulgar'
> > [first cite from Ellson, _Owen Harding_, 1954]
> >
> True. But the question is whether we know that it meant the same thing - or
> something close enough for government work - to zoomies of the USAAF,
> During The War.
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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