Is it a prosodic-ass constraint?

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Because comments were turned off on "Root haughtiness", reader JCL added this comment to a different post:

I just wanted to propose that the unwritten restrictions on the use of -ass has NOTHING to do with the meaning of the adjective, and everything to do with meter. One-syllable words (/), trochees (/ -), and dactyls (/ – -) work, but everything else doesn't. For example: smart-ass, purple-ass, raggedy-ass.

Try it with words that aren't monosyllabic, trochees, or dactyls. Doesn't seem right, does it? Again, has nothing to do with the meaning of the words. What do you think of this hypothesis?

A piece of advice: don't do this. As our Comments Policy explains,

Note that comments will be enabled on some posts, and not on others. If comments are not enabled on a particular post, please don't use the comments on a different post to discuss it. If you have something to say about a post where comments are not enabled, you can email the author (we are all professional scholars with easy-to-discover email addresses, though publishing them here would attract the attention of robots and bring us floods of spam).

So I deleted JCL's comment, and similar attempts in the future will get the same treatment.

In fact, I no longer think that publishing email addresses has much to do with spam density. But if you can't use web search to find an email address for Geoff Pullum or for me, or if you don't care to invest the 20 seconds that it would take you to do so, then your comment probably wasn't worth it.

As for the content of JCL's proposal, I'm not convinced. It's easy to find "words that aren't monosyllabic, trochees, or dactyls" that have convincing web counter-examples: references to "some short selective-ass memories", or complaints about "corrupt-ass refs" and "sorry dishonest-ass politicians". These seem entirely idiomatic to me.


  1. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Interesting. We were discussing in my class yesterday why you couldn't say "corporationmate." One student said it was a semantic contraint, and another a prosodic one.

  2. Agustin said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:09 am

    What are your criteria for allowing or not allowing comments on blog posts? I've tried to find a pattern but haven't been able to.

    [(myl) It's pretty simple: Geoff Pullum never allows comments, for reasons that he has often explained, and the rest of us mostly do, except in rare cases where we estimate that heat is guaranteed to exceed light by a large factor.]

    Naturally you are free to do as you like on your blog, but as a reader it is sometimes frustrating, and discourages me from commenting on other posts.

    To be honest it smacks a little of lack of respect for, or trust in, your readers.

    [(myl) Have you spent much time reading the comments on popular sites that leave comments open and unmoderated? There's usually not much respect or trust displayed or deserved, in my experience.]

  3. Emily said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    Interestingly, I just recently read a short paper on this very topic:
    It notes that ass behaves like an infix, but at the syntactic level– it can't occur phrase-final but needs syntactic heads in either side. So you can say "a cold-ass night" but not "the night was cold-ass."

    As for the prosodic constraint, I also don't see anything wrong with "corrupt-ass" and the others Liberman lists.

  4. Agustin said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    myl – thank you for the explanation. That helps a lot.

    Regarding what happens at other web sites: that is what is a bit disappointing here. I haven't seen any problems on this blog with people posting disrespectful comments; it seems too bad that what happens at other web sites affects what happens here.

    But at any rate, I appreciate the blog and your response.

  5. Ethan said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    I don't think that's entirely correct. "… is/was bad-ass" gets millions GHits. " … was sorry-ass" gets fewer hits, but still a reasonable number. So at least some "-ass" words can be phrase-final.

  6. Henning Makholm said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:35 am

    So I deleted JCL's comment, and similar attempts in the future will get the same treatment.

    I.e., they'll be promoted to a post of their own? That sounds very generous.

  7. Spell Me Jeff said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    I'm inclined also to suspect euphony plays a role, but I think JCL's analysis is hyper-reductive. The internal rules for euphony are so wildly complex I sometimes throw up my hands and call it magic. I am aware of some linguistic analyses that do attempt to explicate them (I mean, I'm aware that they exist) but I can't imagine the results approach even a semblance of comprehensiveness. I also suspect that regional, dialectical, cultural, and other forces make euphony a moving target. Tomorrow's euphonious expression may sound horrible to many or most of us today.

    E.g., the first 30+ g-hits for "dictatorial-ass" lead to noun phrases. It's clunky, right? But tomorrow some pol may instruct Gadhafi to end his "dictatorial-ass" ways and get out of town. After that, it could easily go viral.

  8. Emily said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    @Ethan: the paper does note "badass" as a seeming exception, and states that it's probably the source of the -ass intensifier. "Sorry-ass" would be a valid exception, though.

  9. Justin said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    I understand the reasons for not allowing comments, and that you may not want to deal with them as an author. However I as a reader might not necessarily want to discuss things with only the author, but other readers as well, or just see what they think. You can leave it to me to wade through any inaneness, irrelevant contributions, etc. As a regular discussion board user, I am used to it. My suggestion: Instad of closing comments altogether, just leave a notice like: [the comment thread on this subject will be ignored by the author]

    [(myl) You have to allow for different tastes and responses on the part of authors. At the Atlantic, for example, James Fallows doesn't allow comments but Ta-Nehisi Coates does.

    I discussed Fallows' perspective here; quoting him again:

    Unless a comment stream is actively moderated, it inevitably is ruined by bullies, hotheads, and trolls. If you feel otherwise, fine. This is what I think.
    Corollary: The comment-communities that flourish, notably the Golden Horde of TN Coates, require real-time, frequent intervention by a moderator not afraid to put his stamp on the discussion.

    In effect, you're complaining that Geoff Pullum gives you free music but doesn't maintain a mosh pit.]

  10. ShadowFox said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    @Emily–The list is not exhaustive. What would you make of "He's such a dumb-ass!"? (A rhetorical question–here "dumb-ass" is a noun, of course.) Now, turning that into an adjective in phrase-final position may require some doing ;-) But what about, "He has a lame-ass excuse for everything" vs. "His excuses are always lame-ass"? Admittedly, inserting a phrase-final adjective after "lame-ass" wouldn't hurt any. But it's also not necessary.

  11. Eli Morris-Heft said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    It seems to me that the reason that "badass" is an exception is that, while it may be the source of the affix, it is a whole word, not an adjective with a suffix. That is, I don't think that it is morphologically decomposable. "Badass" is similar to "alcoholic", which gave us the "-(a)holic" suffix, and thus eventually "chocoholic" and "workaholic".

    On a totally tangential note, my browser spellchecker flags "badass" but not "chocoholic" or "workaholic". Weird.

    On the comments policy, I have no issues with how LL runs its comments. I miss some of the more enlightened discussions and comment threads that used to follow Geoff Pullum's posts, but I understand his feelings. Given how responsive the authors have been the few times I have felt it appropriate to e-mail them, I don't think that it is really an issue to follow MYL's suggestion above. Plus, authors can always enable comments later or post a follow-up post addressing a particularly pertinent or insightful e-mail they have received and enable comments on that post, effectively directing the conversation.

  12. John said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    "Corrupt-ass" doesn't sound right to me…almost trying too hard, or calling attention to its own dumbass-ness.

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    I don't think -ass as a morphological component has crossed the Atlantic, although a few words have (smart-ass, dumb-ass, kick-ass). The first of those also shows up in an Anglicised form in BNC as smartarse. And shortarse is idiomatic en-gb, although I don't recall hearing short-ass as a noun in en-us.

    As a result, pretty much all of the other compounds in the previous thread and this one sound forced to me.

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    @Emily: I think the author may have overlooked other aspects to the origin beside "bad-ass". I thought the original one was going to be "smart-ass", but not so. Dates from the OED:

    smart-ass 1962
    hard-ass 1962
    bad-ass 1955
    short-arse (noun) 1706

    I found "short-arse", which Peter Taylor has mentioned, as an adjective in Google Books in 1949 in New Day, by V. S. Reid (set in Jamaica). I couldn't find anything earlier than 1955 for "bad-ass", "badass", or "bad-arse".

    I found some examples of "short-ass" as a noun at GB, but they do look pretty recent. I'm not sure I've heard it.

  15. Acilius said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    Let's see… If you follow the policy, you will sometimes be allowed to be one of many posting on a given thread. If you violate it, the offending comment will be spotlighted as the subject of a main post with its own comment thread. It seems as if there must be something wrong with such an approach. What could it be, what could it be?

    @Justin: Why not post on your own blog, and invite comments there?

  16. Mr Punch said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    "Kick-ass" is not parallel to the others – you can kick an ass but not a sorry.

  17. Spell Me Jeff said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    I'm glad the comments are subject to censure and removal. This is a good place to hang out and test my brain. Allowing yahoos to run wild would really spoil the ethos, especially when topics touch on race and prescriptivism. I do not want to read dozens of ignorant tirades against AAVE. I do not want to wade through everyone's personal peeve. Yuck.

    The best comments foster serious dialogue, and Mark graciously responds when he has the time and the interest. This makes the comments an extension of the original post. Would that survive if every other comment was a plug for or against the POTUS? I doubt it.

    Besides which, LL enjoys a unique niche in the blogosphere. It is frequently cited by mainstream publications.

    I'd really hate to see any of that spoiled.

  18. Keith said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    For me, a British English speaker, "dumb-ass" could well have started out as "dumb ass" (i.e. adj + noun), in the sense of somebody both stupid and stubborn (here, ass meaning "donkey").

    On the other hand, "smart-ass" has a British equivalent: "smart-arse", which reminds me of another discussion on LL about "-pants" constructions.

    Of course, we also have "short-arse", too. But these two terms and similar ones are usually used as epithets, and not like the adjectives in the original examples in "Root haughtiness". I.e., I can refer to somebody as being a "short-arse" or a "smart-arse", although this last can be used as an adjective in cases such as "what kind of smart-arse answer is that?"

    And I'm certain I've never heard any British speaker refer to a "cold-arse" (or "cold-ass") night before.


  19. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    How does one assess the "standardness" of examples found in the wild of an innovative/informal/slang usage? In other words, in order to understand the limitations if any of the productivity of the -ass suffix, whose usage counts? Should the investigation be confined to a "Standard Slang American English," where one is focused on the innovative/informal/slang usages of those who, from context, appear to naturally speak SAE but are deploying a register which makes the usage in question appropriate? I mention this because much of the thread (although perhaps the relevant commenter less than other contributors?) from which the "selective-ass" example is taken is written in a heavily AAVE-ish idiom, and the "dishonest-ass" comes from a source which may (I'm not completely certain whether the comment and "headline" came from the same set of fingers) have used an eggcorn ("come to past") that would strike me as at least a modest red flag about the standardness of the user's idiolect. It seems plausible that distinctive ethnic/regional/class dialects of AmE could have different rules for the usage of the -ass suffix, and/or could be experimenting at the margin with usages that may or may not ultimately become SSlAmE. Fwiw, these examples both seem a bit unnatural to me, although I may be too out of touch with The Kids for my intuitions to be worth much.

    I can't currently access the site with the "corrupt-ass" example to assess its context, but I think I would prefer, say, "crooked-ass" to convey that particular meaning. Whether this is for prosodic reasons or because "crooked" came into English from a good Germanic root (apparently Old Norse rather than Anglo-Saxon) while "corrupt" is Latinate I leave as an open question for theorists of this issue.

  20. Rubrick said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    "In effect, you're complaining that Geoff Pullum gives you free music but doesn't maintain a mosh pit."

    That, Mark, was a truly delightful-ass metaphor.

  21. Emily said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    I also think that "prosodic-ass" sounds a bit off– partly because of the "root haughtiness" constraint (it's Greco-Latin), but also for a semantic reason. "Prosodic" isn't a gradable adjective, at least not as I understand it. Whereas "corrupt-ass" may have a haughty root, but it's more acceptable for being gradable.

  22. Faldone said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    Acilius: "Let's see… If you follow the policy, you will sometimes be allowed to be one of many posting on a given thread. If you violate it, the offending comment will be spotlighted as the subject of a main post with its own comment thread. It seems as if there must be something wrong with such an approach. What could it be, what could it be?"

    What it could be, what it could be is:

    A) If you violate it sometimes your offending comment will be spotlighted as the subject of a main post with its own comment thread. This is achieved at the price of potentially confusing people who are expecting relevant comments in a given thread.


    2) If you follow the suggestion of sending your comment by email to the original poster you are just as likely to receive the benefit of having a thread of your own without causing the potential confusion of posting in the wrong thread.

  23. Jim said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    "For me, a British English speaker, "dumb-ass" could well have started out as "dumb ass" (i.e. adj + noun), "

    That makes sense to me. But it's not the same thing. Compare:

    "He's a dumb-ass"
    "That's a dumb-ass thing to say yo." Pretty clearly some kind of affix, and without much concrete semantic contenct, just derogatory.

    Also "Boy, bring yo monkey ass ovah yeah!" – not an occurrence of the suffix either.

    For me (West Coast) it sounds centered in the South and Southern Diaspora. (I first got familiar with it in the Army; see my third example above.) In particular 'dumb ass' is probably an analogy on 'coon ass' a nickname for Cajuns and probably derived from 'conasse', so maybe it's an example of a compound X = ass in that one case, or maybe not – but since "-asse" is a suffix in french, it's just as likely that it spread from Cajun French into Cajun English and then spread into Southern English.

  24. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    A smart-ass comment is not one that's extremely smart, and a dumb-ass comment is not one that's extremely dumb, except indirectly insofar as "characteristic of someone who is a dumb-ass" may imply dumber than garden-variety dumb. Same with bad-ass used adjectivally (i.e., it means "extremely bad" only for the very specific extended meaning of "bad" implied by "characteristic of someone who is a bad-ass"). Smart-ass, dumb-ass, wise-ass, bad-ass (and also coon-ass, albeit not in my part of the country) were all current when I was a teenager 30-odd years back, whereas the productive ADJ-ass pattern under discussion seems to have arisen (or at least emerged from obscurity) much more recently. As noted above, adjectival "kick-ass" (which may have only come into my lexicon after I was already out of high school) is sui generis and not part of the productive pattern.

  25. Sili said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    In effect, you're complaining that Geoff Pullum gives you free music but doesn't maintain a mosh pit.

    Hell, I'd pay to close a moshpit.

    Speaking of which (sorry for going off topic), but has anyone yet implemented the idea making readers pay to comment while they can still read for free? Some people seem to suffer some sorta OCD when they see a comment box, so I suspect this might pay better than ads.

    Alternatively one could implement not only a fee to comment, but also and option to pay to close comments.

  26. DJ said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    I appreciate the quality of the moderation of this site; it's a big reason I like to hang out here.

    But when the "comments are closed" explanation is drop-dead funny (as I often find them), not getting to hear from the mosh pit is easier to take.

    Thanks for a great site!

  27. Flink said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

    The great takehome here for me is that Geoff Pullum & Mark Liberman know what a mosh pit is. This is one heartening-ass discovery.

  28. Will said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    I'm with DJ here. I'm happy about the kick-ass moderation that LL's comment threads enjoy, but also aware that it takes time and energy the from LL contributors to make this happen. When the time or energy is not available, closing the comments is a reasonable-ass thing to do.

    I also really enjoy the "comments are closed because…" witticisms.

  29. lhc said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    I'm just piling on here, but I, too, appreciate that Mark and others take the considerable time and effort to manage comments, and respect Geoff's right to say "no freakin way" and am glad that I get to read his posts anyway. And as Will said, his reason for closing comments are half the fun. Keep up the good work Geoff.
    As a longtime reader of sites like slashdot, with innovative mechanisms for floating good comments and sinking trash and trolls, I appreciate that successfully filtering the blog comment wheat from the chaff is a problem that is beyond the ability of mortal man to manage with complete success, but I think Language Log has the highest signal to noise ratio of any blog I read.
    Keep up the good work.

  30. Eric TF Bat said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

    I've been waiting a while for a thread in which I could comment, legitimately and on-topic, that one of the things I love about Language Log is reading Geoff's excuses/reasons/justifications for switching off the comments on each of his posts. They're often the most entertaining part of his posts — which is not to say that the rest is uninteresting, merely that a good running gag is worth its height in anchovies.

    So thanks for letting me say that, Mark. I'd've told Geoff personally, but… well, comments were closed, and comments are what blogs are for when you get right down to it, so emailing a reply is silly, and requiring email in a blog is like shutting down a web page outside business hours. Which is to say, I guess, that I disagree strongly with Geoff's policy, even though I love the way he does it…

  31. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    @ShadowFox: I did find some relevant hits on "are lame-ass", such as "People who type all in caps are lame ass." (Speaking on unmoderated forums.

    I don't think the constraint is based on prosody. I think it does have something to do with stem haughtiness, or how highly it falutes, as John Lawler might put it. For instance, I found some relevant hits on "confused-ass", such as this picture of "Confused ass Cousins". There may be some correlation between falute height and iambicity, though.

    As for gradability, I'm having a mental block on gradable attributive adjectives at the moment, except "unique", which doesn't see promising, and indeed gives lots of hits for a few pictures I don't want to look at.

  32. Martin J Ball said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    I've always thought that the ability to comment on posts on LL is the thing that makes up for the fact that LL seems to be a self-perpetuating oligarchy. There is no obvious way that linguists not on the list of names can initiate posts (there may well be a way but it's certainly not advertised on the site!). Of course, one can send thoughts to one of the names, who may feel like passing it on in one of their posts – but that's something different.
    So, if an LL name permanently closes off comments on all their posts (however wittily) it – for me – removes the justification for their being one of the oligarchs! :)
    Of course, it's correct that comments should be removable to avoid spam and trolls!

  33. AntC said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    @Martin J Ball: I'm for the Oligarchs (or at least the Oligarch's that hang out here); Democracy is over-rated, and on-line rapidly descends to Mobocracy.
    I've pleaded with Pullum (all three of him) to allow comments, but to no avail. (And his pretexts for disallowing them vary from a hilarious running joke to a howl of desperation.)
    @Sili: great idea! especially with the technology's capacity for micropayments. As Mark says, it's not difficult to find an email address for the Oligarchs; but is it just enough of a barrier to filter out the trolls? Geoff's just remarked on an abusive email. But how much reaches his inbox that wouldn't be appropriate on LL comments?

  34. Keith Ivey said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    Martin, aren't all blogs self-perpetuating oligarchies (or monarchies)?

  35. Keith Ivey said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

    If Geoff Pullum had left comments open on the post after this one, then the mystery of how that text had been created might have been solved in discussion in the comments. That's much less likely with them closed, and I think that's a loss. I still appreciate being able to read his posts.

  36. Keith said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 10:30 pm


    I had not thought of a possible Cajun link to from "coon ass" to "conasse"… I'm not convinced by the Wikipedia page.

    "Connasse" is strictly a feminine epithet, the masculine being "connard". Moreover, the first vowel is definitely an "o" and not a "u".

    My knowledge of Cajun phonology and linguistic history is patchy, although I think that it owes much more to the dialects of Normandy and Berry than to those of Provence or Quercy… In southern French pronunciation, "connasse" has a slightly long /u/ sound, followed by a softened "n" that I could write as "gn" (or "nh" for some dialects of the South West).


  37. ShadowFox said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

    @Jerry Friedman–"I did find some relevant hits on 'are lame-ass'"

    No doubt! I did say that the modifier was not necessary. But thanks for actually doing the search that I failed to cover.

    I am also wondering about another pair: "That show was absolutely kick-ass!" vs. "That show was absolute kick-ass!" I'll let you ponder that one without comment.

    Now, here's a different question: what came up for "dumb-ass", also works for "badass", "candy-ass", "kiss-ass" and maybe a small list of other -asses. That is, they can stand alone as nouns–particularly, in the sentence, "He's such a X-ass!" For others, including "lame-ass" and "kick-ass", it's virtually impossible. It's not the root category–I deliberately listed those that originate both from nouns and adjectives (or, possibly, verbs) on both sides. But all of the ones I listed are monosyllabic roots with -ass affix. Anything heavier, and I wonder if this "nouning" becomes impossible. I am also wondering if it's really nouning or a parallel construction that involves something other than an affix.

  38. Mark F. said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

    I have heard "complicated-ass" used, but it was by a math professor, and those people have a way of overgeneralizing.

  39. DW said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    It seems that this intensifying suffix "-ass" (applied to an adjective) is the same as "-assed" (as shown in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang). So "He is a lame-ass[ed] dude" = "He is a lame dude", "His ass is lame" = "He is lame", etc., with "ass = "self" or so ("I can outrun his ass, and I can beat his ass at chess too" = "I can outrun him, and I can beat him at chess too"). Generalization to modify inanimate nouns which don't have obvious asses (= arses) as in "cold-ass[ed] day" seems to have occurred rather early.(e.g., "broad-ass a's" apparently referring to phonetics, 1929, in HDAS).

  40. ShadowFox said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 1:07 am

    @DW–I don't think that -ass, -assed and ass are the same. In some ways they may not even be related. Take "lazy-ass", for example. You can have, "I want to fire his lazy ass" vs. "I am tired of his lazy-ass work habits". In the former "ass" does stand for "self" (in corpora). In the latter, ass has no meaning other than being an intensifier. I am not sure if lazy-assed works as a substitute for either one. On the other hand, "badass", "kick-ass", "candy-ass", "dumb-ass" may all appear in both senses–although not in the same contexts–but not in *badassed, *dumb-assed, *kick-assed* or *candy-assed versions as substitutes. So there might be multiple constraints working here. It really doesn't sound like a simple single-register explanation is going to work for any of the constraints and variations.

  41. ShadowFox said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 1:17 am

    Grr… forgot to make actual differentiation and screwed up the description–what I meant to say was that with the second (dumbass, etc.) list, even the intensifier has the residual semantics of "ass", esp. "kick-ass", even though there is now physical ass to kick, and "candy-ass", even though there is no "candy" involved. And one small correction–"candy-assed" might actually work. "Badassed" is iffy, at best. The other two in that class do not work at all. The conclusion remains the same.

  42. John F said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 8:00 am

    Sometimes I start writing a comment. Then I bless the world with the gift of CTRL+W, or CMD+W (depending on platform). Oh wait!

  43. Acilius said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    @Faldone: I agree that spotlighting inappropriate comments will not promote bad behavior among those people who care more about making it easy for everyone to communicate than they do about getting attention for themselves. But those aren't the ones you need moderators to control.

  44. Robert Coren said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    @Eric TF Bat: "a good running gag is worth its height in anchovies." [Emphasis added.]

    Please tell me that you did this on purpose.

  45. ENKI-][ said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 10:54 am

    Of course, as this blog (and other places like it) construct counterexamples, what is now a bad counterexample (prosodic-ass or contraindicative-ass) will become more familiar. If xkcd gets wind of this idea, I suspect that not only will search results become skewed in favor of such constraints being nonexistent, but the loss of whatever constraint it is we are trying to identify may leak into common use. We would then have to limit the study of ass-suffix-binding to things published prior to the original blog post.

  46. Xmun said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    "In effect, you're complaining that Geoff Pullum gives you free music but doesn't maintain a mosh pit."

    I have no idea what a mosh pit is, but I don't care either. I wonder if Geoff Pullum understands that the reason some of us like reading him is not for the sake of the enlightenment he offers about linguistics questions but rather just so that we can take pleasure in his vigorous tirades.

    [(myl) LMGTFY, because HNAMAP. You could view the tirades as sugar-coating for the enlightenment. ]

  47. Jim said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

    "I had not thought of a possible Cajun link to from "coon ass" to "conasse"… I'm not convinced by the Wikipedia page.

    "Connasse" is strictly a feminine epithet, the masculine being "connard". Moreover, the first vowel is definitely an "o" and not a "u"."

    Keith, Wikipedia has a page on it? Damn.

    Vowel – "coon" was merely the closest existing English word. There is nothing especially coonish about Cajuns. in fact in the South that use of the word was already taken….

    Similarly the voewel in 'wuʧak' is an u and not an ʊ, but even so the word came into English as 'woodchuck', and for the same reason.

    Feminine form – "coon ass " is not really a neutral term; it sounds a little pejorative, and there is a sad history of using female-identified expressions as insults on men.

  48. Paul Blankenau said,

    August 27, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    If a particular adjective seems not to work with -ass, try having it modify the universal noun. "Austenitic-ass" is troublesome. "That's some austenitic-ass shit" is much better.

  49. Robert Furber said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    >> there is a sad history of using female-identified expressions as insults on men.

    This is how the word "bad" is thought to have got its present meaning. This is also true of the word "punk". This is why it is fun to read the OED. Also, the term "badder" is the original comparative form of "bad", and "worse" was originally a completely different word.

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