Intensifying assed

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Laura Ellis, "Why Go There? A Linguist Dissects Jim Gray’s ‘Wild-Ass’ Zinger", WFPL 11/1/2016:

Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul and his opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray squared off Tuesday night in their only face-to-face debate of the election season. For an hour, they talked about the future of coal, Kentucky’s heroin problem, and more.

But it was one particular turn of phrase, used by Gray, that caught people’s ears. It includes a word for the human posterior.

What Jim Gray said:

He wants us to believe
that his wild-assed theories and philosophies
are the remedies for everything

WFPL was not the only media outlet to correct Mayor Gray's wild-assed to "wild-ass" — e.g. "Debate: Mayor Gray says Sen. Paul has ‘wild ass’ theories. Rand calls him a hypocrite.", McClatchy.

Ben Zimmer, who sent this to me, noted an ADS-L thread earlier this year on ADJ-ass vs. ASD-assed, starting with Wilson Gray (no relative, as far as I know, to the mayor of Lexington):

Apparently, it has become a thing that _-assed_ will be represented only as _-ass_  – even in scholarly and academic literature – based solely on the way that it is heard, whereas _boody_ will be represented as – and interpreted as – _booty_, despite the way that it's heard.  

Jonathan Lighter then pointed out the relationship to the whole -ed/ø thing, as in ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, pop(ped) corn, wax(ed) paper:

OED has "ice cream" in 1672, "iced cream" in 1688: surely close enough to make it uncertain  which was the original.  

I suspect it was "iced," but that's merely an opinion.  

OED has an "iced cream" from as recently 1996, but my guess is that is either a hypercorrection or a typographical error.


Some relevant earlier LLOG posts:

"The intensified crack of dawn?", 6/7/2005
"New intensifiers", 8/16/2004
"Root haughtiness", 8/20/2011
"Is it a prosodic-ass constraint?", 8/25/2011
"Rachel Jenteal's language in the Zimmerman trial", 7/10/2013
"Can '[adjective]-ass' occur predicatively?", 11/18/2013
"Ignoble-ass citation practices", 11/12/2014
"Rand Paul's 'dumbass' comment", 10/16/2015

And just because someone is otherwise sure to mention it in the comments, the famous xkcd strip:

Because Mayor Gray clearly enunciated "wild-assed theories", we can't mentally shift the hyphen to yield "wild ass-theories". Oh wait, …



  1. lateposter mcslow said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 5:35 am

    Can always count on LL to never put up half-assed posts.

    Half an ass-post would be rather uninteresting and unpalatable.

  2. AntC said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 5:43 am

    This is wild ass as in wild horse, right? Kentucky's famous for its Derby.

  3. MattF said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 6:01 am

    I've heard people refer to 'onageric estimates', i.e., wild-assed guesses. I suppose an 'onager estimate' would be a wild-ass guess.

  4. rcalmy said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 7:34 am

    I think I would say "wild-ass" on the one hand and "half-assed" on the other. I have no explanation for the difference.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 7:46 am

    Judging from restaurant placards and menus, "iced tea" is rapidly becoming "ice tea."

  6. empty said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 8:43 am

    "Iced coffee" mostly lost its "-d" some time ago, just as "hashed browned potatoes" lost both of its "-ed"s.

  7. Haamu said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:45 am

    "Hashed browned potatoes" has lost not only its "-ed"s, but its "potatoes" as well.

    This makes me wonder why they weren't called "browned hashed potatoes," since one tends to hash them first, and then brown the result.

  8. Jason L. said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:10 am

    @Haamu: There's a lot of research on the factors that determine the "proper" order of adjectives in English. This research hasn't exactly led to definitive conclusions, but I don't think there's any evidence that temporal order plays a role.

  9. cameron said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:12 am

    For those wanting a bit of a nostalgia kick, here's some wild-ass footage:

    Marlin Perkins's voice is nostalgia-inducing, as are (for me, anyway) the images of pre-Revolutionary Iran.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:35 am

    The lyrics to "It's All Over Now" (written by the late Bobby Womack, best known in the version recorded by the Rolling Stones) refer *officially* to "high, fast games," which is typically taken to be an after-the-fact excuse for the benefit of nervous radio programmers (no, sir, Mr. FCC, that record definitely does not say "half-assed games"). Not sure if that sort of thing makes the -ed more prominent in some X-ass[ed] formations than others.

  11. bratschegirl said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:22 am

    This sounds to me like an intensification of "wild-eyed," and perhaps the -ed was carried over from that for some sort of consistency?

  12. Haamu said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:23 am

    @Jason L. (with apologies to everyone else for going further off-topic):

    I wasn't expressing a "proper" order — only that one of the properties of that order is that inferences might be drawn. To me, "stacked painted bricks" have probably been painted first, and then stacked, while "painted stacked bricks" are probably the reverse.

    (Interestingly, inclusion of a comma in "painted, stacked bricks" seems to invert the inference.)

    This does seem like evidence in my little world. The fact that no researcher has bothered to ask me about it doesn't bear on my observation, but I'm available if anyone is interested.

  13. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    Am I the only one who read "coal, Kentucky’s heroin problem" the wrong way?

  14. Joe said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

    Both bad-ass and kick-ass don't seem to lend themselves to -ed transformation – is it because they've been nounified, perhaps?

  15. Joe said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:37 pm

    Also – is there such a thing as aspect in terms of adjectives? A few examples I can think of is the attachment of prefixes to indicate a temporal modification (ex-combat fighter, yet-undecided voters).

    Also, does aspect only indicate a time period? If adjectives have an aspect, would they indicate how much of an adjective modifies a noun? For example, "disabled person" may differ semantically from "person with a disability" in that the disablement may define the former while, for the latter, it's only a characteristic. Is there a sense of aspect in adjectives?

  16. Wonks Anonymous said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:55 pm

    AntC, a wild ass is by reputation less docile and more intelligent than a horse (come to think of it, the same is true of domesticated dogs vs wolves). It may be better suited to the hills of Kentucky though.

  17. Theophylact said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:57 pm

    "Half-assed" invariably makes me think of the Old Woman in Candide:

    “The Aga, who was a very gallant man, took his whole seraglio with him, and lodged us in a small fort on the Palus Méotides, guarded by two black eunuchs and twenty soldiers. The Turks killed prodigious numbers of the Russians, but the latter had their revenge. Azof was destroyed by fire, the inhabitants put to the sword, neither sex nor age was spared; until there remained only our little fort, and the enemy wanted to starve us out. The twenty Janissaries had sworn they would never surrender. The extremities of famine to which they were reduced, obliged them to eat our two eunuchs, for fear of violating their oath. And at the end of a few days they resolved also to devour the women.

    “We had a very pious and humane Iman, who preached an excellent sermon, exhorting them not to kill us all at once.

    “‘Only cut off a buttock of each of those ladies,’ said he, ‘and you’ll fare extremely well; if you must go to it again, there will be the same entertainment a few days hence; heaven will accept of so charitable an action, and send you relief.’

    “He had great eloquence; he persuaded them; we underwent this terrible operation. The Iman applied the same balsam to us, as he does to children after circumcision; and we all nearly died."

  18. Spank The Monkey said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

    Verizon managed to get a commercial on TV a couple of years ago about the problems of half-fast broadband.

  19. Cervantes said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

    I have heard "crazy assed" before, though not wild assed. I do not think this a reference to the animal. Rather, it comes from the use of "ass," referring to the buttocks, as a metonym for a person, usually one being insulted. E.g., "Take your sorry ass out of here." "Crazy assed" refers to a crazy person. A wild assed theory is the kind of theory a person prone to wild theories would have.

  20. Jamie said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

    The only one of these that seems to work in British English is "half-arsed".
    (The various *-ass[ed] forms are increasingly familiar though.)

  21. Wilson Gray said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:07 pm

    "Both bad-ass and kick-ass don't seem to lend themselves to -ed transformation."

    "In my dialect" – a turn of phrase once so common that its use became a joke – on the one hand, _bad-assed_ is proper, though there's nothing wrong with pronouncing it as _bad-ass'_, any more than there is anything wrong with pronouncing _best_ as _bes'_. On the other hand, _kick-ass_ is *necessarily* _kick-ass_, having a different syntactic structure from _bad-assed_.

    a) Mark Liberman is a bad-assed linguist /a bad-ass' linguist.
    b) Mark Liberman is a *kick-assed linguist / a kick-ass linguist.

    In the case of a), _ass(ed)_ merely intensifies _bad_ in the Black-English sense of "good." Cf.

    c) Mark Liberman is a bad linguist

    as opposed to

    d) *Mark Liberman is a kick linguist.

    We can say only

    e) Mark Liberman is a kick-ass linguist.

    That is,

    f) As a linguist, Mark Liberman _kicks *ass*_! / Mark Liberman _kicks linguistics'(s) *ass*_!

    equivalent to

    g) As a linguist, Mark Liberman is impressively good.

    et sim.

  22. Jason L. said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

    My idiolect appears to agree with Wilson Gray's, which suggests that the owner of the ads (if any) helps determine the form.

    Though I must admit I'm not sure what to do with Spare Ass Annie:

  23. Michael Watts said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 4:13 am

    I don't understand the complaint about "booty". I assume (Wilson Gray doesn't specify) that it's pronounced with a flap, for which there is no letter in English. That pronunciation is exactly what you'd expect for the letter sequence "booty"; how can the spelling then be considered to be following a convention "despite" the pronunciation?

  24. Graeme said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 8:27 am

    'Asinine theories…' Bit highbrow. But no wild-assable grammatical debate to be had.

  25. BZ said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

    I don't know if I've ever heard it, but wild-assed seems unremarkable to me in context.

  26. Jim said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

    "Ass" here should be taken as an equine reference. Has nothing to do with the human posterior except in our own one-way imaginations.

    "Wild ass" is an untamed beast
    "Kick ass" is an ass that kicks
    "Half-assed" is a hybrid, not all the way to an ass but exhibiting some of the properties of one

  27. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

    Jim, there seem to be a lot of people who think "kick ass" and "kick butt" can be used interchangeably, so I'm not sure what your evidence is for the claim that one has nothing to do with the other.

  28. Rodger C said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 6:46 am

    I also interpret "kick-ass" as verb-object, not modifier-head. And I'm quite sure donkeys aren't involved.

  29. Robert said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 5:14 pm

    I'm surprised the African Wild Ass has yet to be mentioned.

  30. Kaleberg said,

    November 5, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

    I think "ass" is just an intensifier now. Look at big ass truck or Glee with the song 'My Girlfriend Has a Big Ass Heart'. Big ass -> very big; wild ass -> very wild and so on.

  31. Daniel said,

    November 6, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

    For the record, the 'iced cream' from 1996 is probably a reference to a line from Mr Burns on the Simpsons.

  32. January First-of-May said,

    November 6, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

    The only one of these that seems to work in British English…

    Supposedly – though I hadn't actually researched the origins, so this is essentially hearsay (though some googling confirms the possibility) – while the name of the BAM series of large world maps from is usually held to be short for "Big-Ass Map", the original was actually "Big-Arsed Map".
    It was probably Australian rather than British, however.

  33. Jamie said,

    November 6, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

    I just checked "half-arsed" on Google Ngrams and the earliest occurrence is 1932. If I check only British English sources, the earliest is 1945, which might support the idea it is Australian.

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