Eggcorn of the month

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James Fallows discusses his experience as a juror — "Build Your Vocabulary, 'Ass Baton' Edition", The Atlantic 5/2/2015:

Through the examination and cross-exams in this case, attorneys for both sides were careful to make sure that even very familiar terms were spelled out to remove the last bit of ambiguity. […]

There was one exception, the term I kept hearing as "ass baton." At one crucial point in this case, a white (as it happened, and young and ostentatiously fit) police officer was chasing a black (as it happened, and older and heavier) suspect down a dark alley, on foot. The policeman soon tackled the defendant from behind. What happened next?

"I struck him with the ass baton, and then I secured his hands with flexi-cuffs, and …" "And was the suspect injured by the ass baton?" "He did not appear to be, but since he would not say anything to us, as a routine precaution after use of the ass baton we called an ambulance…"

I learned afterwards that the other 11 members of the jury were all thinking roughly what I was: "Ass baton? Am I the only person who has never heard of this? I guess I can understand what it could mean, in context. You've got your hand cuffs, and your leg restraints. But really, an ass baton?" A jury isn't allowed to ask questions in court. 

So an ass baton it remained, throughout the jury deliberation. After the verdict was rendered, Mr. Fallows asked the judge:

She burst out laughing. "Ass baton! That's what you were hearing!?! They were talking about ASP batons!"

The "ASP baton," as everyone in law enforcement apparently knows (but none of our jury, from a very wide range of backgrounds, did) is from a company originally known as Armament Systems and Procedures.  It so dominates its category of lightweight batons that, much as tissue paper generically becomes "Kleenex" and any no-stick material becomes "Teflon," any expandable, telescoping device of this type is now called an "ASP baton."

So now you know.

[h/t to Daniel Deutsch]



  1. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 8:53 am

    It sounds as though the "p" is inevitably going to get swallowed up when "ASP baton" is spoken. I just tried to say it myself about ten times, and it's very hard to keep the "p" in there; takes a special effort, seems to require a pause after "ASP" and before "baton".

  2. Michael Watts said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    Huh. The only word I know for the clubs police carry to hit you with is "billy club". Typing that into wikipedia, I see that it redirects to "baton (law enforcement)". I guess the telescoping capability was viewed as hugely significant? I would have just called it a billy club.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 10:15 am

    I also see that the telescoping variety of law enforcement baton is (according to WP) variously known as a "collapsible baton, telescopic or telescoping baton, tactical baton, spring cosh, ASP, Extendable, or extendo". It may be a value judgment, but I now strongly believe that in a court of law they should be formally referred to as extendos.

  4. Scott W said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 11:04 am

    Is this an example of what gkp has called "nerdview"? The police and the lawyers all know what an "ASP baton" is, and they assume, incorrectly, that the jury knows as well?

  5. AB said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 11:36 am

    Isn't this a classic instance of "nerdview"?

    The jurors did not need to know it is specifically an ASP baton, and it is kinda hard to pronounce this so it isn't homophonous with ass-baton, so just say "baton" or better yet "truncheon", which is the usual BE term for a copper's thwacking stick.

  6. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

    I think that for someone in law enforcement, just saying "baton" won't do. All batons aren't the same, and you need to be specific, just as you need to be specific about what kind of gun you're talking about. The lawyers should have explained. "Billy club" is just quaint, and a "truncheon" is something they use over in England.

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

    It's especially foolish of the prosecution not to have clarified because if the point is that the ASP baton is at the lightweight (and thus, you would think, less likely to cause serious injury) end of the possible range of clubs/batons/nightsticks non=specialists would think of as being used by police officers to subdue suspects without actually subduing them, that would be a point worth making. "I hit him with the least-potentially-injurious available option, and in fact the city equips us with slightly less scary things than you might assume from what you saw on old tv shows" might make a favorable impression on a jury composed of people who have never had specialized training in when and how to deliberately hit people with metal and/or wooden objects. (Unless of course the lighter weight means the user can swing it faster and harder thus making it no preferable from the point of view of the person being struck.)

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

    some sort of damn-you-autocorrect problem in prior comment – "without actually subduing them" should read "without actually shooting them."

  9. cameron said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

    I'm sure Abner Louima wouldn't be the least bit amused.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

    I vote for "spring cosh", which should just cause total incomprehension instead of an eggcorn.

  11. Jacob said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

    Do they use ass batons on people with ass burgers?

  12. AB said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 6:29 pm

    Sorry, for some reason I though this was a British story.

  13. Mark Mandel said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

    @Scott W, @AB: Ah ha!! Now I have a word for a phenomenon I've been warning people about for years: "Nerdview"!

    Talk about (possible) serious consequences, though: One time when my wife was in a room in the ER of a hospital, there were a lot of incoming patients, so some of them were in gurneys in the hallway for triage. She told me of overhearing a conversation between a doctor and a patient, by his voice and speech a rather old African-American man with not much education. (Very approximate reconstruction follows.)

    DOCTOR: Do you have any family history of cardiovascular disease?

    PATIENT: No, sir.

    DOCTOR: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

    PATIENT: I used to, but they all died young from heart attacks.

  14. Simon P said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 6:08 am

    Is "nerdview" the same thing as "curse of knowledge"?

  15. Matt McIrvin said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 8:22 am

    It's the tendency to describe things from a specialist, internal-logic point of view when an outsider's view is needed.

    One of the insidious things about it is that people in thrall to it tend to blame others: an associated attitude is that if you don't share in the nerdview you're too ignorant to be messing with this stuff.

  16. CuConnacht said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 2:56 pm

    Billy clubs/nightsticks used to be called espantoons in Baltimore, but the term seems to have fallen out of favor.

  17. Bloix said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 3:22 pm

    1) Never use plain English if an acronym is available.
    2) If an acronym is not available, make one up.

  18. Terry Collmann said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 3:52 pm

    AB – this couldn't be a British story, or at least not a southern British one, and not in the same way, as there would be a definite difference between the pronunciation of "ASP" and "arse": confusion between "ASP" and "ass" meaning "donkey" would be possible, though, and I can imagine a British jury thinking an "ass baton" must originally have been for beating recalcitrant mules …

  19. William Berry said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    @Terry Collmann:

    Well, strictly speaking, mules are not asses. Guess you could call them "half-asses".

  20. ajay said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 5:42 am

    To British police (who are familiar with them) they're just "Asps". Not "ASP batons".

  21. DWalker said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

    Wow, that "cardiovascular disease" story is interesting.

    On a related note, I used to wonder why, back in the day, airline flight attendants would ask passengers, near the end of a flight, to "please extinguish all smoking materials". What a weird, and tortured way to say "please put out your cigarettes". Nothing other than cigarettes were allowed, so "smoking materials" was just silly. (Put out your crack pipes?) Who came up with that phrase?

    For travelers with limited English, I suppose noticing that the guys next to you were putting out their cigarettes would be enough of a clue, since I doubt that all non-native English speakers could follow "please extinguish all smoking materials".

  22. Amy Whitson said,

    May 7, 2015 @ 7:42 am

    Based on ajay's comments that the more common term is "ASP," (not ASP baton), I wonder if the people using the term were actually trying to be helpfully redundant in saying ASP baton, so that everyone would know what they meant.

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