Vulgar language: "arsehole" geese

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Article in ABC News (Australia) today (11/20/18):

"'Arsehole' geese become internet sensations as farmer writes honest for-sale post"

All Leslie Du Preez wanted was to add a little tranquillity to her small southern Queensland farm.

"We got these beautiful geese and thought they'd be a wonderful addition to our beautiful zen-like property," she said.

It did not go to plan.

"They terrorised our poor sheep, they made little kids cry. The roosters got pecked and the peacock's tail feathers got pulled out by them. There was no peaceful free-ranging and having a good time. It was mayhem."

So Leslie posted an ad on Facebook:

"I decided honesty was the best policy and it went a little bit viral."


We have a small flock of 5 geese. 3 males and 2 females that we need to rehome.

WARNING They are arseholes!!!

A few hours later, she checked on her post.

"I got a bit shocked after a couple of hundred people had shared it, and there were comments that had us in hysterics of people's horrible geese stories," she said.

"We are not strong enough for this. So if you think a couple of cute fluffy geese would suit your needs please PLEASE PLEEEEEEEASE come get them. Bring help and a large box. Don't be fooled by their cute little beady eyes. They stare deep into your soul and know all your fears.

"I asked for $50 and a bottle of scotch, so we could have a drink and relax when they finally leave," Ms Dupreez laughed.

Most dictionaries I consulted classify "arsehole" as vulgar and offensive, but I always thought of it as a jocular, watered-down version of another word.

I've seen "arsehole" used in combination with "gobshites", which I also thought of as jocular.  Even BBC tolerates it when used in moderation:

"BBC approves 'shite' and 'gobshite' (in moderation)"

Compare the German equivalent, Arschloch ("arsehole"):

"Das Wort 'Shitstorm' hat nun einen Platz im Duden" (7/4/13)

[h.t. Jichang Lulu]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

    Well, I'm very familiar with "arsehole" as a pejorative noun (as in "what an arsehole", for example) but cannot for the life of me think for what less savoury word it might be thought a Bowdlerism …

  2. cameron said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 7:47 pm

    @Philip Taylor: I think many Americans consider "asshole" to be vulgar (somewhat so, at any rate) and "arsehole" to be inoffensively quaint.

  3. Anne Cutler said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

    @Philip Taylor:
    It seems that asshole-users (US) must find arsehole less offensive, just as arsehole-users (AUS, UK) find asshole less offensive. Each to his own?

  4. Ross Presser said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 8:15 pm

    @Anne Cutler:
    Whatever it's called, everyone uses one. Hopefully their own. Unless the state of organ transplants has reached unimagined successes.

  5. Ross Presser said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 8:17 pm

    In fact both spellings are essentially the same word; listen to an American say one and a Britisher say the other, and they'll sound alike, except for the accent. Britishers do not pronounce the "r" strongly, not like the one in "rat".

  6. Bathrobe said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 8:36 pm

    "Arsehole" is indeed the normal Australian (and British, etc.) word for "asshole". I always use "arsehole"; I have never used "asshole" in my life.

  7. Charles in Toronto said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 10:21 pm

    Agreed that "arse" / "arsehole" comes off as quaint and less offensive to a Canadian compared to the "ass" variants.

    In fact you might from time to time hear comedians (e.g. characters on This Hour Has 22 Minutes playing up their Atlantic Canadian accents) use "arse" on prime-time airwaves because it's not the "real" swear word so it's allowed. It's like "dang" or "heck".

  8. dainichi said,

    November 20, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

    Sorry to go off topic: This is the first time I encounter the expression "go to plan". I'm not a native English speaker, but I still feel like I would have known it if it were common. Is it a regionalism?

  9. outeast said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 12:49 am

    Funny, I never thought of it before but I "feel" asshole as an insult meaning something like boor, while it's "arsehole" that has the more, uh, earthy feel.

  10. Frans said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 12:52 am

    @dainichi Do you mean as opposed to "go according to plan"?

  11. SlideSF said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 1:21 am

    Arseholes are like opinions. Everyone's got one.

  12. Yerushalmi said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 3:11 am

    This seems to be an example of a general phenomenon I have observed anecdotally: that when you're not speaking your native language, curse words seem less offensive. I've said things in Hebrew that my native-Israeli wife had to explain to me were a lot more vulgar than I realized, and vice versa. The asshole/arsehole dichotomy seems to be in a similar vein.

    Am I imagining this, or is it a known thing?

  13. RP said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 3:43 am

    I don't think Yerushalmi is imagining that. For example, last year Anglophone immigrants in Sweden complained to broadcasting authorities about how freely the word "fuck" is used on the country's airwaves.

    A friend is married to an Austrian and reported that Austrians consider the imported English word "shit" a mild euphemism for the offensive "Scheisse" – whereas in England, "Scheisse" is considered a mild euphemism for "shit".

    On the point about "shite", the BBC didn't exactly say that it was acceptable: in the linked article, the BBC is quoted as saying that in some parts of the UK, "shite" is offensive. The question of offensiveness or not of particular swearwords is a complicated one (there are many people nowadays who don't find any of them offensive, anyway) and varies by region, social class, age group, etc.

    In some parts of the UK, "shite" and "shit" may be considered either equally offensive or equally inoffensive depending on the speaker and the circumstances. "Shite" as a verb is actually the older form, but "shite" as used today tends to be a noun (or sometimes an adjective). It is not clear whether "shite" as a noun is a modification of the word "shit", influenced by the old verb form, or whether "there could also have been an (unattested) inherited form in Old English with a long vowel (deriving from the e-grade of the same Germanic base)" (OED, citing long-vowel noun forms in Middle Low German, Middle High German, and Old Icelandic).

    On "arse"/"ass", the form with "r" is obviously the older one (even if pronounced nonrhotically by the vast majority of speakers in England, in line with generally nonrhotic accents) and is considered perfectly normal (as in "arsehole"), with the "ass"/"asshole" forms considered an American variant (and by many people considered milder, possibly due to their foreign nature, and also because if you look at the word "ass" as an insult, it could be considered simply to derive from the animal name: has "British informal: A foolish or stupid person" on that basis and with that etymology – whereas using "arse" as an insult unambiguously derives from the vulgar term for the body part).

  14. Tom Dawkes said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 3:52 am

    See the article by L. Sprague de Camp "Arse and ass", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 1(2) 1971: 81-96 [doi: which deals with the loss of 'r' in such words, including 'cuss', 'nuts', and 'hoss' and other words, including 'catridge' for 'cartridge'.

  15. Bob Ladd said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 4:14 am

    I was about to say what RP and Tom Dawkes said.

    Because of the spelling, it's easy for literate speakers to think that ass and arse are two different words, and to treat one as a euphemism for the other. The big Webster's Third International Dictionary from 1961 notes that in the US the pronunciation with /r/ is "sometimes used euphemistically by speakers who have preconsonantal /r/ and who are aware that there is a spelling 'arse'" (which is essentially what many of the commenters have been saying). At the same time, note that Philip Taylor (who I presume is a non-rhotic British speaker), who commented early in the thread before the form asshole had been mentioned, couldn't imagine what arsehole was a euphemism for. For him, and I expect for many British and Australian speakers, the difference between the two is just a difference of accent, completely analogous to the differences between N.Am. and Brit/Oz pronunciations of words like grass and path (Wells's BATH set).

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 5:39 am

    RP (" if you look at the word "ass" as an insult, it could be considered simply to derive from the animal name"). Indeed so. If I call someone an ass, I am likening him to a donkey; if I call him an arsehole, I am pretty p1ss@d off with him …

    Bob Ladd — I am mildly rhotic (more so than most) and your analysis of my perception of "ass" as a North American variant of "arse" (when used to refer to the backside (see below), either literally or metaphorically, is spot on.

    Incidentally, I notice that a significant fraction of my continental European friends will speak of having "a pain in my backside" when they are referring to their back rather than to the gluteus maximus region … In British English at least (no idea about North American), one's backside is the fleshy mass on which one sits rather than anything higher up.

  17. Levantine said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 5:54 am

    To reiterate what others above have said, “arse” and “arsehole” are simply the normal forms of “ass” and “asshole” in British and certain varieties of Commonwealth English. Those of us who use these forms do not view them as euphemistic or jocular, nor do we regard the American versions as normative (quite the opposite, in fact). That said, I have noticed “ass” being written or spoken by some younger Brits specifically in contexts where attention is being drawn to an attractive bottom. It may be the influence of pornography that has made the American version seem the sexier choice to certain people, even if “arse” remains normal for them in other situations.

  18. Levantine said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 6:14 am

    Anne Cutler, as someone who uses “arsehole”, I don’t regard “asshole” as any less offensive. To me at least, it’s just the transatlantic equivalent, identical in meaning and force.

    Bob Ladd, I think it goes beyond a difference of accent. If that’s all it were, the American version would be pronounced rhotically, to rhyme with “farce”. It’s worth remembering that British English has the word “ass” in the sense of donkey, and I don’t know of any British accent that doesn’t distinguish it from “arse”.

  19. NatShockley said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 7:09 am

    "Arsehole" is definitely "vulgar and offensive" in Australian English, as it is in British English and other Englishes outside North America. It is not a "jocular, watered-down" term. The reason the owner of the geese was prepared to use it in the ad is simply because Australians, like Glaswegians, are considerably more fond of swearing than most other English speakers.

    Even when we cross the sea to New Zealand, we Australians have to watch our tongues lest we offend the mild-mannered locals with our colourul language.

  20. AntC said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 7:22 am

    Even when we cross the sea to New Zealand, we Australians have to watch our tongues lest we offend the mild-mannered locals with our colourul language.

    (NZ'er here) Crikey! If that's the watered-down version, how is it when you get really colourful?

    I think that descritpion of geese (any geese) is entirely justified. There's nothing cute or cuddly about their behaviour.

  21. Geoff said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 8:51 am

    In Australia 'arsehole' ( as in 'father') referring to a person is vulgar and offensive ('Don't trust him – he's an arsehole.') 'Asshole' is understood to be the American equivalent.
    'Ass' (referring to the animal) is a mild, old-fashioned pejorative. Your grandmother might say when the toast burns 'What an ass I am!' (= what a fool I am).
    'Arse' with anatomical reference is mildly vulgar and not necessarily offensive. You might say to the boys 'Get off your arses and get back to work!' or 'Stop arsing around!' (= playing the fool) either jokingly or angrily. 'Tight as a fish's arse' = stingy.
    'Arsehole' with anatomical reference I guess would be rare and mildly vulgar. It's probably not something you talk about that much down at the pub. I struggle to think of a plausible example. 'That curry gave me a ring of fire right around the arsehole.' In the doctor's surgery you would probably say 'anus'.

  22. Philip Anderson said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 8:55 am

    For me (UK), “go to plan” and “go according to plan” are unexceptional and interchangeable.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 9:06 am

    For me (USA), I've never heard "go to plan" used that way, only "go according to plan".

  24. Victor Mair said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 9:06 am

    I've heard the word "bunghole" used with the same meaning as ass/arsehoe. It's interesting in the present context that one of the earliest usages of "bunghole" in this sense connects it in a most curious fashion to geese:


    Usage of the term as a slang word for the anus dates back to at least the 17th century, as shown in Thomas Urquhart's translation of Gargantua by François Rabelais, first published in 1653. "… I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose …"

    In the MTV cartoon series Beavis and Butt-head, the term "bunghole" was popularized as both a personal insult and slang for anus. In his Cornholio persona, Beavis says, "I need TP [toilet paper] for my bunghole." The two central characters also use the term when referring to one another. In one episode, the concept of a black hole is explained as a "bunghole in outer space".

    American President Lyndon B. Johnson is recorded as having said the word "bunghole" while ordering slacks over the phone.



  25. Philip Taylor said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 9:12 am

    Incidentally, in the UK I these days frequently hear "I can't be arsed" where until recently "I can't be bothered" would have been the norm. I don't like it, but it certainly seems to be on the increase.

  26. philip said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 10:48 am

    God Love you, @Bathrobe. Are you not terribly backed up?

    "I have never used "asshole" in my life."

  27. Robert Coren said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    @SlideSF: "Arseholes are like opinions. Everyone's got one."

    I've always had a problem with that analogy: Most people have more than one opinion, and are all too glad to share them with all and sundry; arse/assholes, not so much.

  28. Ursa Major said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 10:58 am

    Sometimes if you can't be arsed doing something properly then you start arsing around and your lack of attention leads to you arsing it up. All pretty normal usage, and in all three places in that sentence you can use 'fuck' instead of 'arse' for a coarser version.

    I would say 'arse' has a moderate level of vulgarity and has anatomical and metaphorical meanings. 'Arsehole' is only a term of contempt, to me denoting someone selfishly inconveniencing others with either deliberate or willfully careless malevolence. 'Ass' strikes me as an American euphemism in all places, although I use it in the phrase 'kick-ass' (in writing and with changed pronunciation).

    (New Zealander in the UK.)

  29. Ellen Kozisek said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 11:59 am

    There are English speakers who pronounce the R in arse. Those of us who know Irish people are used to hearing the R in arse.

    Arsehole, although in print it feels milder than asshole, I think if I heard it spoken (from a rhotic speaker) it would sound more vulgar than asshole because it would, to my perception, more explicitely reference the body part.

  30. SlideSF said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 12:41 pm

    @Robert Coren
    Actually, I inverted the normal expression for comic effect. It should be : Opinions are like ass/arseholes – everybody's got one. The idea is that on any given topic everyone has an opinion, not that people are only capable of holding one opinion.

  31. cameron said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    Going tangentially off-topic here, the quotation from Urquhart's translation of Rabelais given above is a good example of the sort of literary list for which that work is a rich source. A few years ago, inspired by the amazing list of animal noises provided in the story about the nocturnal philosopher, I did a few spot comparisons of Urquhart's translation with the original French, and found that in general Urquhart's versions of the lists are much more expansive than the original. He just couldn't help himself, apparently, and got carried away, making the lists longer and more ridiculous.

  32. Martha said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 1:32 pm

    Regarding Yerushalmi's comment, I read an article a couple years ago (not sure where, sorry) on a study that found that swear words in one's first language activated the language and emotion centers in the brain, but that swear words in a second language only activated the language centers. (Perhaps there are other such studies.)

  33. Bob Ladd said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

    @Levantine – It's true that it's not completely reducible to a difference of accent, but it is true that for many non-rhotic British speakers arse rhymes with grass, while for most (all?) rhotic American speakers ass rhymes with grass. The confusion arises partly because (as you point out) for the non-rhotic British speaker ass doesn't rhyme with arse – but for the same non-rhotic British speaker, gas doesn't rhyme with grass, a fact which baffles most American speakers.

    The issue is also confused by the sporadic loss of /r/ before a consonant in AmEng (which Tom Dawkes mentioned), which is why Americans don't say arse, and why there are pairs like curse / cuss and burst / bust .

  34. Levantine said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

    Bob Ladd, in non-rhotic Northern English accents, “grass” and “gas” rhyme with each other but not with “arse”. The R may not be pronounced, but its presence is always felt. An American saying “ass” is thus clearly saying a word not spelt the same way as our “arse” (though I acknowledge based on Philip Taylor’s response that some Brits do perceive the difference as being merely pronunciational).

  35. Chandra said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

    As a Canadian with one British parent, it never would have occurred to me that people wouldn't see "asshole" and "arsehole" as different pronunciations of the same word.

    Also re. swear words in other languages – Canadian French speakers use "fuck" liberally with only the mildest of offense if any at all. I've heard students say it to their teachers, people use in church, etc.

  36. Levantine said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 2:57 pm

    Chandra, the difference to me is equivalent to that between “aluminium” and “aluminum”—it goes beyond pronunciation, but they’re still fundamentally recognisable as the same word.

  37. Xmun said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 3:41 pm

    @Tom Dawkes, author of the comment dated November 21, 2018 @ 3:52 am
    Please explain what 'r' was lost from the word 'nuts'.
    Also the link you provide to a 1971 article by L. Sprague de Camp doesn't work.

  38. /df said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

    Whereas in Father Ted the scriptwriters used "feck" in the knowledge that it had no connection apart from its consonant sequence with the more powerful expletive, yet carried most of the same effect for speakers outside "the island of Ireland".

  39. Philip Taylor said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 4:21 pm

    Xmun — trim the final %5D off the URL and all resolves.

  40. The Other Mark P said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

    NatShockley you must visit another New Zealand to the one I live in.

    Kiwis are very direct with their speech. That includes "vulgarisms" when we wish to convey something vulgar — there's little euphemism compared to most of the English speaking world. We know they are vulgar, but pretty much everyone uses them, from senior politicians down.

    Australia had a fit about the ad campaign "Where the bloody hell are you?". Kiwis found it funny that anyone would be outraged over such trivial language and then pull the ad. Conversely, we had a few fusspots complain about our "Bugger" ad, and the ruling handed down was that Kiwis simply are not offended by the word any more.

  41. Matt said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    @The Other Mark P:
    Most Australians also found it funny that anyone could possibly be offended by the “where the bloody hell are you?” ad. Certainly, most in Australia weren’t offended by that, just a noisy few making a fuss in the media. Even then, the main concern was that the target of the ad (i.e. potential foreign tourists in foreign countries) would find it offensive, not that Australians would.

    Assuming “the bugger ad” was for a certain car maker, we had the same ad, and for the most part it was amusing and we took no offence.

    To the main point, I am very surprised that other Australians here are claiming that “arsehole” is vulgar. I understand it’s vulgar history, but I would absolutely use it in a jocular manner and expect it to be taken as such, provided the right tone was used.

    Certainly, I don’t personally perceive any aggression or vulgarity whatsoever within the tone of the geese ad.

    This may of course be a generational thing. I am in my early 30s, and have never viewed non-aggressive swearing (i.e. not directly with anger or clear vitriol towards a person) as offensive, and would be surprised to find myself in the company of anyone who did.

    I certainly swore openly in conversation with teachers throughout high school (as opposed to at teachers) without any kind of admonishment coming way.

  42. Michael Watts said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 7:40 pm

    The issue is also confused by the sporadic loss of /r/ before a consonant in AmEng (which Tom Dawkes mentioned), which is why Americans don't say arse, and why there are pairs like curse / cuss and burst / bust.

    The analogy between those pairs and ass / arse doesn't work for modern Americans, though. To me, curse and cuss are just two different words. Cursing refers to using profanity, but also to invoking malevolent magic. The second sense (but not the first) is transitive; a witch might curse you. Cussing refers exclusively to swearing. Having only the first sense of curse, cuss cannot be transitive; the witch would have to cuss you out.

    Burst and bust, like curse and cuss, are two different words. They're both part of my idiolect and they aren't identical in meaning. I'd prefer to use burst for explosions and bust for a state of not working ("the machine's busted"). But ass and arse aren't like this at all — ass is a native word, and arse is a foreign word.

  43. Rick Robinson said,

    November 21, 2018 @ 11:23 pm

    On arse v ass, I'm reminded that when I saw My Fair Lady as a kid, and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle cries out "Move your bloomin' arse!", I took it as a Cockney pronunciation of *horse*. (The scene is at a horse race, after all.)

    So to this American, at least, the words were not at all obviously equivalent, granted that the context misled me.

  44. cameron said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 2:24 am

    "bust" and "burst" obviously share a common origin, bu I agree that at this point they're different words.

    The separation of those words might well pre-date the divergence of British and American Englishes. cf. the Brummie form "bostin'" – which is pretty much equivalent to SE "smashing".

  45. Eli said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 3:50 am

    Martin Amis, in (I think) The Information, explained how he saw the slight difference in usage between the British and American versions as something like: "We are all arseholes sometimes, but an asshole is an asshole all of the time."

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 5:34 am

    Matt ("I certainly swore openly in conversation with teachers throughout high school (as opposed to at teachers) without any kind of admonishment coming [my] way"). Sigh. I fear that tells us a great deal about declining standards in education. What isa teacher, if not someone's whose duty it is to teach his (or her) pupils what is and what is not acceptable behaviour ? To allow a pupil to openly swear in casual conversation is a total abrogation of duty, IMHO. I have no problem at all with someone shouting "Oh f*** it" when something goes seriously awry, but scattering the f-word (and similar) throughout a casual conversation is something I find totally abhorrent.

  47. Alex Boulton said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 8:15 am

    Obviously a popular post! An old Monty Python sketch:

    John: Oh, I say, have you seen page eight? Nixon’s had an asshole transplant.
    Terry: Ohhh, have you seen the stop press then?
    John: No.
    Terry: The asshole has rejected him.

  48. Stuart Brown said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 8:28 am

    I always thought that in southern BrE ass rhymed with grass, which would make ass rhyme with arse (so "silly ass" and "silly arse" would be indistinguishable.

  49. Stuart Brown said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 8:42 am

    Following up what Philip Taylor says, I cannot imagine saying "fuck", "arsehole" or "shit(e)" in front of anyone outside my close circle of family or friends. In fact I'm not sure I ever said any of those words in maybe the first fifty years of my life. I'm in my mid 70s now and the words come to my lips all to frequently!!

    Following up Yerushalmi's question: a couple of years ago I popped down to the local kebab shop with an English visitor (I live in France) where a young French woman, hearing us speaking English, asked where we were from. When I said, well I live here, actually, she exclaimed "What the fuck!!" Which really jarred on me.

  50. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 8:43 am

    Stuart — Perhaps so in High RP, far less so in modern-day Southern <Br.E>. Wells gives /æs/ in the LPD, then goes in to say "As a term of abuse, in British English also /ɑːs/ (which may however be taken as a pronunciation rather of arse)".

  51. Victor Mair said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    @Stuart Brown

    I've never once said the "f" word, and I'm in the same age range as you.

    I have said "shite" once or twice, because my Mom said it a few times, but neither she nor I said / say the word without the "e".

    Ditto for "arsehole" versus the other, unalloyed form.

    From Stark County, Ohio (that's where the Football Hall of Fame is, in Canton, if you didn't know).

  52. Robert Coren said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 11:38 am

    @SlideSF: Yeah, I know, but I still think the analogy fails, for the reason I gave above.

  53. Robert Coren said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 11:44 am

    @Bob Ladd: "for the same non-rhotic British speaker, gas doesn't rhyme with grass, a fact which baffles most American speakers."

    I remember that it took me (USAn) a while to figure out why English writers represented a child's and/or a cockney's pronunciation of bath as "barf", until I realized that in British speech bath and gaff have different vowels, and that "barf" did not represent the American pronunciation of the colloquial word for "vomit".

  54. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

    @Rick Robinson: Re: horse -> arse

    In many London and other regional UK accents, "horse" doesn't sound much like "arse", but the word "house" does. Hence a common joke about being asked by a Londoner whether you'd care to "visit their arse."

    Some evidence for the changing offensiveness of "arse" can be seen in it's occurrence in traditional British toponyms, prior to cartographers et al "cleaning up" many place names when recording them (either deliberately or due to misinterpreting local accents.) Peak Cavern (England's largest open cave entrance) was known for centuries as "The Devil's Arse" (a syphon just within the entrance makes it sound rather flatulent – the name change was made to spare Queen Victoria's delicate sensibilities when she visited.) Not far from where I live in Yorkshire is a spot, now shown on the map as "Deep House", which traditionally, and even on its current deeds, was/is known as "Deep Arse" (when looking at the adjacent hillocks from the village below, the reason why is abundantly clear!)

  55. Stuart Brown said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 12:27 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    Maybe the older pronunciation was retained by some for comic effect. I remember there was a comedian called Arthur something, had a straight man called Nicholas (actually was Nicholas Parsons, quite a well known broadcaster since) which he (the comedian) always pronounced "Nickle-arse".

  56. Eli said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 12:51 pm

    Sorry, I got that Martin Amis quote backwards: it was "arsehole" that he considered to be a permanent condition.

  57. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

    @Stuart Brown
    Conversely, those who would usually use "arse" will happily adopt the "ass" pronunciation where it suits their attempts at comedy or insult – as can be confirmed by the many British autistic people who have been taunted with "ass-burger" , "ass-burglar", or "ass-bugger(er)" as crude puns on "Asperger's Syndrome."

  58. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

    Trog — is it really the case that "many British autistic people" have been taunted in the way you suggest ? I have known a reasonable number of people who suffer from that unfortunate condition in the course of my life, but I have never witnessed one being taunted, nor have they (or their carers) ever mentioned (to me) that taunting is a problem. I can imagine two or more non-autistic people using the "ass-burger" (etc) forms for comic effect when no autistic person is present, but I really think that only the dregs of society would use such forms to an auttic person's face.

  59. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    @Philip Taylor.
    Yes, you're right, "many" and "taunted" were most likely overstatements. The cruelty of children in the school playground is where I have heard of those taunts used the most, which for those of us of in my generation wasn't a problem as Asperger's Syndrome wasn't recognised back in our schooldays (it's not unheard of for "autism/autistic" to be used as playground insults.)

    However, I have had the taunt used to my face on occasions, and have spoken to people who have been faced with them by workplace bullies etc. And you are quite right, amongst ourselves, autistic folks do use them in friendly ribbing now and then, or when mocking those who insist on the pronunciation "Asperjers"!

  60. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

    I should add to my previous comment, of course, that such taunts are only likely if one's diagnosis is known to people, and this is one of the many reasons why we might prefer not to disclose our condition. Hearing them spoken in reference to other (possibly hypothetical) people has certainly been more common for me.

  61. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

    In view of the primary topic of this thread, please mentally replace my earlier "the dregs of society" by "complete arseholes".

  62. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

    Further to the proper topic of the thread (apologies for my earlier exaggeration leading things astray), I recalled something I saw at a local "scare-crow festival" – an effigy of a cobbler mending a shoe, who's name was given as "R. Sole". The "sole" would be obvious in any English accent that I can think of; but I wonder how many of our non-BrE friends would have recognised the more subtle play on "arsehole".

  63. Trogluddite said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

    ^^ or the shared pronunciation with "our soul", of course!

  64. Levantine said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 11:34 pm

    Earlier tonight, I noticed myself using “badass” (to describe a movie character) and realised that “badarse” wasn’t available to me. I suppose the coinage is too much of an Americanism to be adapted on analogy with other ass/arse words.

  65. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 3:46 am

    Trogluddite wrote:
    I should add to my previous comment, of course, that such taunts are only likely if one's diagnosis is known to people

    I don't know. I've been mocked as an "ass-pie", and I don't even have the diagnosis.

  66. Ayo said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 5:01 am

    still thinking of why arsehole callers get annoyed with assholes, are they not almost thesame thing. some peiple can dramatize in this world ehn. Complete arsehole seems offensuve though

  67. David Marjanović said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 10:42 am

    I have known a reasonable number of people who suffer from that unfortunate condition in the course of my life, but I have never witnessed one being taunted, nor have they (or their carers) ever mentioned (to me) that taunting is a problem.

    They haven't mentioned it because it's taken for granted that nerds will be taunted and bullied throughout their childhood and adolescence anywhere in Western culture.

  68. Robert Coren said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 10:42 am

    On a recent episode of the British TV series The Durrells in Corfu, which I happened to watch yesterday evening, Leslie Durrell, temporarily employed as a policeman on Corfu, asks a colleague what the Greek word for "arson" is, and, after writing down the response, realizes that his colleague misunderstood him and gave him the word for "arse".

  69. Robert Coren said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 10:46 am

    I'm now remembering my puzzlement, when reading William Golding's The Lord of the Flies some 50 years ago, that one of the boys characterized the spear-thrust that kills the pig as being "right up her ass". This was not a modification made by an American publisher for an American audience — I bought my copy in London — so I assume it's what Golding wrote. But these boys are most definitely English, so I'm not sure why he chose that spelling.

  70. Roscoe said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 11:35 am

    Trogluddite – I once saw a production of “Twelfth Night” that went for an extra laugh by having Sir Andrew repeat the last two words after Sir Toby says “God have mercy upon one of our souls.”

  71. Terry Hunt said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

    @ Robert Coren – I'm not sure how reliable Golding can be considered as an observer of the real world (including minutiae of its vulgar language) as opposed to the 'world of the intellect': in the same work he described spectacles for myopia as being converging/magnifying, when any spectacles wearer could have told him the opposite is true; he also had a crescent moon rise seemingly only a few hours after sunset, errors which I noticed when first reading the book aged around 10, leading me to dismiss him as an authoritative writer.

    While double-checking these points in the book (a 1964 Penguin paperback copy) for this comment, I have also just noticed that it prints "sheared off" where "sheered off" is required.

  72. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 12:26 pm

    "Sheared" v. "sheered" seems clear to me, but I am having great trouble trying to decide when a vehicle might be said to have "sheered off" as opposed to having "veered off". There must be a difference, but it is not clear to me as I write …

  73. Thomas Rees said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

    It would be a vessel that sheered off, not a vehicle.

  74. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

    Well, while the OED gives priority to the use of "sheer" in the context of vessels, it also admits of its use in analogous but non-marine contexts [1] : "An age when the interests of popular liberty … had sheered off from the church", "my horse … sheered from the bush", "The sheered out from the hedge,".
    [1[] Sense (c) "transf. and fig. Chiefly with off: To change one's course; to depart, go away; to go off in a new direction or on the other ‘tack’."

  75. Matt said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

    At the risk of sidetracking well away from our specific “arsehole” theme…

    @Phillip Taylor (Sigh. I fear that tells us a great deal about declining standards in education.)

    Sigh. Are we really going down that road?

    Perhaps it tells us that the teachers were quite rightly focused on lesson content rather than policing bygone standards of acceptability.

    Perhaps it tells us that teachers are shaping their pupils into adults who can understand tone and intent and context rather than hold a rigid concept of acceptability, so that they will in turn be more accommodating of the language variations of future generations.

    And if there truly is a “declining standard of education” (of which I have seen scarce evidence but plenty of back-in-my-day anecdotes, and which would have nothing whatsoever to do with the prevalence of swearing in the playground), perhaps it is simply because fewer students are encouraged to leave the education system altogether by fifteen, with the obvious statistical bias that implies.

    I find the language standards of past eras far more confronting and problematic than those of today. In comparison to the various racial, religious and disability slurs that were commonly accepted in the past, casual swearing seems utterly inoffensive.

    I am of course not suggesting that anyone here routinely used such words.

    For the record, I wouldn’t swear at a funeral, or the first time I met my mother in law, or when delivering a lecture at Uni, and I can read a room and understand if something I say is making someone uncomfortable and adjust accordingly (i.e. I understand context and tone and it’s effect).

    But the reality is that I encounter relatively few people for whom the latter applies — and I work in a professional office environment, not a building site.

  76. Robert Coren said,

    November 24, 2018 @ 11:18 am

    @Terry Hunt: As may be, but I don't see the connection between those errors and the spelling ass/arse. I assume I am correct in inferring that the former, in British speech, is /æs/ (as in the US) and the latter is /ɑs/; I'm pretty sure Golding would have heard the word pronounced, and it would seem that he was deliberately choosing the /æ/ vowel.

  77. Terry Hunt said,

    November 25, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

    @ Robert Coren – /ɑs/ is (and even more so in the era in which he wrote the novel) indeed the usual English vowel, particularly in rhotic-accented regions where the "r" of "arse" is sounded, and English schoolchildren have always been well aware of (and pun on) the differing pronounciations of the animal and the human rear-end. I can't see why Golding would deliberately have chosen the non-standard pronunciation, so the spelling seems to me (as it did to you) inappropriate: I am merely suggesting that it is an error in keeping with his poor observation of the world in general evident from the other errors mentioned (or so it seemed to me aged 10).

    Re the "sheared off", incidentally, he used it to describe a spear (hurled by Jack) which "tore the flesh and skin over Ralph's ribs, then sheared [sic] off and fell in the water." No vehicles or vessels involved.

  78. BZ said,

    November 26, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

    At least for me (AmE), if you *are* an asshole then it's all the time. If you're *being* an asshole then it's right now and please stop. It works the same way for inoffensive words like "jerk". Is the same not true in BrE with Arsehole?

    On a bit of a tangent, for the longest time I thought "ass" as in the animal, only referred to a female donkey, perhaps influenced by how "bitch" refers to a female dog. I think I was disabused of this notion by "Shrek" and its copious jokes about the (decidedly male Eddie Murphy) ass named "Donkey".

  79. gwia said,

    November 26, 2018 @ 10:55 pm


    *who's name was given as "R. Sole". The "sole" would be obvious in any English accent that I can think of; but I wonder how many of our non-BrE friends would have recognised the more subtle play on "arsehole".*

    You can stop wondering. They must be aan absolute minority. Non-Brits are not all that dim.

  80. Trogluddite said,

    November 27, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

    Touche! My own moments of dimness often astound me, and this is one such. I did not mean to imply any lack of intelligence in those who speak a different dialect to my own, and my apologies for not thinking harder before posting. My curiosity about what (if any) additional cognitive effort might be involved in comprehending a pun not in one's native dialect was genuine enough, but could hardly have been stated any worse than I managed there – and quite what I was thinking when I mentioned accent in relation to the obviousness of "sole"; well, I can only hang my head in shame!

  81. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    November 28, 2018 @ 9:56 pm

    In the Caroline Hax columns, chats, and comment forums at the Washington Post, a frequent euphemism for asshole is "glassbowl."

  82. Robert Coren said,

    November 29, 2018 @ 10:12 am

    @BZ "inoffensive words like 'jerk'."

    "Jerk" is originally a shortened form of "jerk-off", which wouldn't have been inoffensive when coined (or, probably, now). It would be interesting to know how it became innocuous. Similarly for "dork", originally slang for "penis" (although I believe not at the same level as, say, "prick" or "cock").

  83. Levantine said,

    November 29, 2018 @ 4:01 pm

    Robert Coren, I found an alternative etymology for "jerk":

  84. Robert Coren said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 10:32 am

    @ Levantine: Well, maybe, but the noun "jerk" doesn't really mean "insignificant", but rather implies some combination of obnoxiousness and stupidity. I'm not familiar with an adjectival use.

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