Asshat as Signifier

Two things converged in my brain today: I’m reworking Act One of Nita and remembered that somebody here objected to the word “asshat” which is used repeatedly throughout the book, and I found this AV video on the etymology of the word.

BUT it put some people off.  So I should just cut it.  But I need a signifier for Nita, something that’s as sharp and as out of bounds as she is without being off-putting, and I like “asshat” for that because it:
• Isn’t that commonly used but common enough that people will know what it means
• Isn’t something a polite or proper or dignified woman would use
• Isn’t cute or elaborate to the point where it’s trying too hard
• Has a nice sharp sound
• Is more playful than “asshole” or any of the other “ass” variations
• Isn’t gender specific.

Why do I need a signifier?  Because it’s good shorthand for character in the beginning and for relationship arc throughout the book.  Nita’s the only one who uses it in the first scenes in the book; even the characters who are close to her like Mort and Keres don’t say it.  It’s Nita’s Word.   Ten thousand words later, Button has moved from hostile to partner, and that’s signified when she looks at Jason in the squad room and thinks, You’re incompetent.  Asshat.  Twenty thousand words after that, Nick who had never head the word before and who begins by not having emotions, looks over the gallery railing in Hell in rage at Mammon and thinks, Asshat.   They’ve both connected to Nita and have unconsciously adopted her word.

Will most readers notice this?  Probably not, nothing calls attention to it aside from the slightly uncommon usage.  But I do believe there’s an unconscious connection there, and it’s pretty well-known that people who connect with each other begin to mimic each other’s speech patterns and word choices.  I’m trying to build intense relationships here over a very short period of time–five days–and I need all the help I can get.

But if readers snag on it, that’s bad.  I figure since I use “fuck” a lot in my books, I’ve already lost anybody sensitive to crude language, but it may be that “asshat” is peculiarly crude.  I have Words That I Do Not Want To Hear that are just personal quirks so I understand, but I can’t write to satisfy everybody’s personal quirks, that would leave me with only “the” and “and” to write a novel.  But if “asshat” is particularly objectionable for some reason . . .

So, Argh People, how do you feel about “asshat”?  Be blunt, this is no time for pussy-footing around.  

 

EDITED TO ADD:

Uses in the first act:

“We get this all the time,” Nita said. “Once the park opens in May, every asshat tourist in green make-up will swear he’s a demon.”
“It’s March.” Button tried to hand her a cup of coffee.  
“So we got an early asshat.”

Behind Vinnie, in the shadows, a tall man in a suit leaned against the wall by the archway to the back room, his arms folded. The Early Asshat, she thought, and started with the devil she knew.

She gave him her best fish eye. “You looking after me would be a worry, you being an early asshat and all.”
“Asshat?” Nick said.

“Detective Witherspoon,” Mort said. “Big guy. Nita’s ex. Asshat.”

You’re the guy who closed the Murdock case, [Button] thought, as they stopped at the desk, and leveled the worst criticism she had at him. You’re incompetent.
Asshat.

Max looked alarmed, but Mammon looked up, confident and smug.
Die, asshat, Nick thought.

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135 thoughts on “Asshat as Signifier

  1. Love “asshat.” I’m a huge fan of signifiers for the reasons you listed–a great shorthand to character and relationship. This one is short, crisp, has multiple uses–can be playful or irritated depending on the situation–and isn’t overly rude. My vote: keep it.

    23+

    1. Me too. The first time I ever read “asshat” my gut reaction was, yup, good word, imma gonna keep it.

      2+

  2. I find it crude and to be blunt—low class. Others mileage may vary of course.

    Strangely, I’m just fine with fuck but understand you want something less generic.

    0

    1. I’m good with low class. Nita is not high class, none of my heroines are (write what you know).
      But I know what you mean. I hate the word “asshole.” That’s too biologically specific for me. “Asshat” to me is a contraction of “wearing his ass for hat,” which is code for “head up his ass.”
      The real problem with obscenities is that they’re trite. Fuck as classic emphasis still works for me, as does “damn;” “clusterfuck” to describe a completely snarled situation is perfect; “motherfucker” is just lazy.
      I taught junior high and high school; if you get fluttery around language there, they own you.

      9+

      1. I prefer asshat to asshole because an asshat may not know they’re one, (while everyone wlae knows) but an asshole knows they’re One and either doesn’t care or drum up enough grit to change.

        7+

      2. I have zero issues with the word, but reading that, I wasn’t – personally – a fan of the way it was used.

        Now this would have nothing to do with me wanting or not wanting to read a book. I have issues with certain words (and phrases) when they pop up. Again, just me. I have ISSUES.

        You know the character. You know the language and words she’ll use. If asshat works for her, then use it. A reader will get used to it. Just like when someone names their hero Wyatt.

        My badly made point is if it feels right, then it’s right. And a reader will adjust to it. Also, some readers will be fine/not care. Others will love it, love how it gives her an edge, makes her more unique, or uses a word they use, or whatever it is that gets them going over it. And yep, others again will hate it.

        Then again, I did manage to work in the phrase, ‘well, we’re not here to fuck spiders’ into a manuscript. Deliberately. Because I liked it. So what do I know?

        Back to your book and Nina… If you really are having doubts about asshat, but want something that speaks to you about her, then why not go the Buffy/Whedon or REd Dwarf or Douglas Adams route?

        In Buffy, while not about swearing, they use certain language idioms to make it sound like teens but not stuff teens used, which makes it still workable and fresh today.

        In Red Dwarf they use smeg instead of sweary words.

        And Douglas Adams famously created the name Slartibartfast for two reasons. 1) he was never going to use the actual name, he just wanted to screw about with the poor typist (yes, it’s that old!) at BBC radio, and 2) a name that sounded like swearing but wasn’t.

        So maybe you can come up with something that sounds like swearing but isn’t for her particular word tic, and it’s all her (and it could be something she got wrong as a child and stuck or is personal in that way…to her and her brother and it’s something that means something more when the hero finds out the story behind it. Or maybe it’s just something she does.

        At the end of the day, it’s your story, and the people who get it will love it, and the rest? Asshats.

        0

        1. I don’t think that really matters, a word being specifically North American. Most of us from all over the world (and even those of us from all over the world who live in the USA) are used to Americanisms, and can also adapt and work out what the word is or means.

          But it does drive me crazy when a writer has a Brit or an Aussie use words and turns of phrases they wouldn’t use.

          Then again, one writer pulled me up on using phraseology like ‘I’ve not got’ instead of ‘I haven’t got’ for an American character. So it’s the small things.

          Asshat is fine if that’s for Nita.

          0

          1. Even within America, we have regional usage issues. I’ve been dinged for using “That lawn needs mowed” because it should be “That lawn needs to be mowed.” Unless you live in Ohio where most of my books have been set. Then that lawn needs mowed.

            4+

          2. Drives me crazy too when a character in America, the story takes place in America, but will say a phrase such as “you lot” and I know I’m not in Kansas any more.

            1+

          3. We should pull the Standard American English card! The whole midwest is supposed to be the standard (Ohio and Nebraska — where we also say the lawn needs mowed). It’s all those other American folks who are wrong!

            (Although, there are a lot of Southern dialectical expressions in Nebraska, and maybe Ohio too. And little things like “git” as in “You git what you git, and you don’t pitch a fit” which are considered “wrong” for StAmEnglish. I think some of those linguistics people would slice us off at the knees for daring to presume that just because we’re standard, we’re The Standard.)

            0

          4. (-: Well, Salpy, Nebraska had Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. But looking into it more deeply, PBS says no area really speaks “standard English” and confusingly, they say standard (American) English is based on RP! (Maybe they are referring to the early days of screen and radio, when that weird North Atlantic accent was so popular.)

            But they also say “(t)he variety of speech spoken in the nation’s midlands areas is often pointed to as the most neutral or ‘mainstream’. It’s frequently identified as the speech of broadcasters.” And then it goes on to say it’s not completely unaccented, and could lose its position as *vox media*. (What a lovely phrase! *Vox media*.)

            http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/standardamerican/

            So, I guess make of it what you will. I thought that the California accent was also standard. PBS’s map is kind of mysterious, though, in that it divides Nebraska (and South Dakota and maybe Kansas) into three linguistic areas . . . . I would have thought the blue and green parts were the Standard AmEnglish part, with the red part being almost Standard AmEng. People from North Dakota and some of the “youpers” sound a bit Canadian. (Standard Canadian? Not like the ones from Newfoundland!)

            0

        2. And, talking about asshats, arseholes, and galahs (well, not the last one), I’m an idiot. A tired one, if that helps.

          I meant NITA not NINA .

          1+

        3. second note: (I got Nita’s name wrong. I’m scum, I know!) I just reread the excerpts, and I’m fine with it.

          So I’m going to go back to my original and-not-well-thought-out point. If YOU are fine with it and like it, then go with it. There will always be those that hate, those that want more, and those that are fine with it as is.

          And I think you say further down that it’s only a handful of times in the first 30k?

          You’re golden.

          0

        4. The problem with made-up swear words is that they’re cute. They also scream, “THIS ISN’T REAL.” Nita’s a real person, she’s going to use real words. Buffy was constrained by TV; Adams was making up a universe with a lot of new words. I need to ground Nita in reality, which means no cute substitutes.

          1+

        5. In Firefly Joss Whedon just had all the swear words in mandarin, a lot of them were pretty badly pronounced so mandarin speakers would have to work them out to get offended

          0

      1. I don’t think that “low class” has anything to do with “class” as in social status anymore. You can be on the poorest social spectrum and be classy and be a highly elected billionaire and be low class.

        0

        1. It’s still social status, it just doesn’t have anything to do with money. It’s more about knowing codes of behavior than anything else. “Asshat” is low class.

          4+

  3. It’s not something I use, but it doesn’t bother me. Being around corrections officers and defendants has significantly raised my tolerance for profanity, though. That might actually be something to consider. I’d bet money cops everywhere curse, regardless of locality or gender, so it makes sense to me that Nita would have a favorite swear word.

    8+

  4. One of my friends and I call each other asshat — we picked it up, weirdly enough, from a PR company’s website. It was a cartoon scene with quote bubbles coming out of the windows of an office building. One of them said : I work with a bunch of asshats! But there was an asterisk that lead you to some acronym that of course meant something complimentary. Even so, not the right look for our upright organization, so we passed. I won’t drop the F-bomb in front of my mother, but I will say asshat!

    1+

    1. I hadn’t counted until you posted that. It’s in the first act six times in 33,000 words (I put the six times it’s used at the end of the post). Not used at all so far in the second. A couple of times in third, but the third act is in pieces. Used again a couple of times in last act, also still in pieces.

      6+

  5. Considering the fact that my dad almost got himself courtmartialed over someone calling him an SOB (not even said completely, just the letters) I don’t think you’re going to be able to find anything that is suitably pejorative that won’t set someone’s teeth on edge. Asshat is definitely in the zeitgeist,more than schmuck (which still has a little gender attached to it) or dipshit, or jackass. Fucktard is just as crude, if not more so, and has the unfortunate -tard association one gets with mental disability. You just can’t really say, “Die, blockhead.” Charlie Brown fans would weep. I vote for keeping it.

    12+

  6. I use it. Most of my friends use it. Honestly it doesn’t even register as profanity to me, unless someone under age 12 is saying it. For demographic reference we’re mostly liberal women in our 20s who are college graduates, and whose families are about 1 to 3 generations away from blue collar.

    5+

  7. Use it. I didn’t like the word – eh, the crudeness – until you defused it for me with the early repetition of “early asshat.” By the time we reached the word’s sole useage, hey, works for me. Better than “butthead.” I like the rhythm you’ve set up. Permission granted.

    2+

  8. I’m good with it. I think the first time I ever heard it was on a family-type tv show so it doesn’t even register as crude with me.

    My favourite word used in that vein is Fuckwit (usually muttered at some idiot who thinks he can pass me and the 17 vehicles in front of me) so I’m not in the demographic that objects to swearing.

    15+

        1. While I have never heard of fuckwit before, it doesn’t make me stop and think “is this a typo?” The way asshat did

          0

  9. I’m very fond of profanity, and of people who use a certain amount of it. I think it comes from having an authoritarian parent who refused to ever have it uttered in our house, no matter how mild or inoffensive a particular word might be.

    Still, I’m not wild about people who call other people names as a way of expressing contempt for them. Because of that, I’d be happier if Nita used some term that conveyed her dislike of specific kinds of behaviors or attitudes.

    So for example, if she announced that “it seems the turdstorm is beginning,” or pointed out that she doesn’t have a lot of patience for ass-hattery or some such thing, it would bother me less, while making it clear that she doesn’t like that shit that someone’s putting out.

    In other words, I don’t mind her being judgmental, but I’d be happier if she disliked stupidity in a general sense, rather than labeling anybody she didn’t like as stupid. Is that too weird, though?

    4+

    1. I know what you mean – I say fuck all the time, but I wouldn’t call someone a fucker. I will call someone an asshole though.

      6+

      1. Name calling is never good, because it is gauged to hurt or belittle someone else, and rarely used to their face. I don’t have a problem with swearing or using it to call someone on their behavior. The only real time that I have a problem is when someone is gossiping or chewing someone out behind their backs.

        As a description, with humor or in a Nita-style blunt call-it-like-she-sees-it scenario I have no problems. She isn’t trying to put anybody down. It reminds me of J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas. She is abrasive, curses a lot, but without any real venom behind it.

        1+

  10. Fine by me. People swear, it’s a swear, even romance heroines often swear these days, seems consistent with Nita’s characterization and does not make her unsympathetic.

    7+

  11. It is fine.

    When someone swears in class I ignore it. If someone reports it, I say that everybody has words they say when they are irritated, angry, in pain, or frustrated. Sometimes the initiation, anger, pain, or frustration, is so bad that it makes us foolish and we can’t think of better words so we swear. It means we can’t think properly.

    I can see an island cop using the word asshat. It is within character.

    6+

  12. It’s a fun word. I would use it more if the military hadn’t programmed our family to say “shitbag.” Which I WOULD say is more vulgar. Might be the harder sounds of the letters.

    5+

    1. My grandpa’s favorite insult is “shitbum.” I feel like it’s gender specific, but I also find it amusing. Strangely, no one else in our family uses it. It’s his word.

      3+

  13. I like it! Asshat is perfect for all the reasons you mentioned. And honestly, I love using a satisfying swear word. Like Jinx, I grew up in a house where there was no swearing. And nowadays? Please! It seems like TV, radio, all public spaces are full of people swearing. Nevermind what people are saying or gesturing to the car in front of/next to them. Asshat seems pretty mild.

    4+

  14. I just googled “Scottish insults” in images, and it’s just as well I wasn’t drinking anything when I did, otherwise the wall would be wearing it. They do have a beautiful turn of phrase in Scotland.

    6+

  15. It suits her, you don’t overuse it, it has a purpose, and, yes, asshat seems pretty mild. I’d say keep it.

    2+

    1. What a fabulous word. Scrubber is always a good, old fashioned go-to insult. It’s especially good at about 5 am.

      What are some more current UK favourites?

      Asking for a friend…

      1+

        1. That’s what I thought, too, that it was a low-class slut/whore kind of description. Bleah. I like non-gender-specific because so many of the words that are female are slut-shaming.

          1+

          1. I’d never use ‘scrubber’, nor recommend it to a writer to use, especially in this context.

            I think stick with asshat.

            0

          2. I should add my comment of it being a good old fashioned go-to insult, especially at 5am is because of something that happened between friends at that hour where it wasn’t used in any other way than out of fun (and not meant as any kind of insult). Australians are weird.

            0

      1. OK, now I’m curious. What’s the etymology of scrubber, and can I see a link or three where it is in its natural habitat? I’m afraid if I google, I’m going to get a lot of cleaning supplies.

        0

        1. The cleaning supplies are better than what you’ll get if you find the right word.
          Try the Urban Dictionary. That’s usually the safest place to go for obscenities.

          1+

          1. OK. Now see, that’s really pretty disgusting. An insult based on a decent job. At least she’s trying. Scrubber seems like a really weird profanity. Like calling someone a call center representative. Or a truck driver. “Oh him? He’s a real truck driver. Just leave him alone. His sciatica makes him super-cranky.” Of course, in a more class-based society, he’d be a lorry driver. “Rex? Total lorry. Very abnormal-load, he is.”

            But then again, profanity in general is pretty weird. Why should I be in traffic, take a wrong turn, and shout “intercourse!” at myself? (But of course, I don’t. I choose the short, sharp four-letter version.) Human mysteries.

            0

          2. I don’t think it’s based on a job. It’s basically “low class slut” which doesn’t translate from “cleaning lady.”

            0

  16. I am fine with asshat. I vaguely recall you’ve done similar tagging with other characters anyway so what the heck.

    If you want something that sounds like swearing but technically isn’t, there’s always “jackhole.” Or using science fiction swearing (frak, anyone?).

    2+

    1. Oooh, but I HATE hearing “jackhole” on TV. It’s just such a cop-out word. I would like to hear how others define asshat vs jackass. Are they almost the same? Slightly different?

      1+

      1. Hadn’t really thought about it, but my initial reaction is that a jackass is someone who does stupid/annoying things (probably influenced by the tv show even though I never watched it), while an asshat is someone with a stupid/mean/annoying attitude that comes out in their actions. YMMV, of course.

        I don’t have a problem with Nita saying asshat; “jackass” could be a generally less offensive substitute with a similar feel, though it’s a bit less original. (I’m reminded of trying to get my mom to read Agnes and the Hitman– I love it to pieces, but she was turned off by the swearing after just a few pages. Later lent it to a friend and she texted me the other day saying she loved it. 😀 )

        2+

      2. Hmm. Asshat seems more head-oriented, while jackass is more butt-oriented (and just a hop-skip-jump from being someone who acts according to their most basic, genital instincts). Asshat is a lot rarer and newer and trendier. Jackass is old and established. Asshat just feels lighter and more intellectual to me. LOL, although the meaning is far from intellectual! An asshat can also be a smart person who does things they know are wrong, while a jackass is more animalistic and does things from instinct — their instincts are jerky.

        The ass definitely can have a donkey vibe in jackass, but . . . OK, suddenly, I’m seeing a donkey in a cute little straw hat, which is destroying asshat’s credibility. It’d make a FABULOUS meme, because an insult delivered in a honeyed tone (with flowers on top?) is funnier than a straight, angry insult.

        Asshat works fine as a straight, angry insult, too.

        1+

  17. I hadn’t heard the word until I got to north America. Jars me out of the story because I notice it as being American specifically.

    2+

    1. Huh. It’s specifically North American? Or at least not universal in English. I’d forgotten, as Jane says, about the British and “arse.”

      1+

      1. Yes, I hadn’t heard it before either – it’s not Australian useage. It doesn’t really register as swearing to me. My favourites are dickhead (very gender specific) and fuckwit.

        1+

        1. My favorite substitute for dickhead is what came out of my mouth one day, one of those “didn’t know what I said until I heard it” moments: Dildohead. Which, you note, implies even greater stupidity than something made of human flesh.

          2+

    2. Hi S – it jars you out because it’s American? Just curious. I’m not American, but am currently living here, but what bothers me is when cultural specific words are misused. Like having an Australian say ‘ass’ instead of ‘arse’.

      Or is it because it’s a fairly newish word being used in romance/women’s fiction and because you’re not used to it, it jars?

      0

  18. I think I first heard asshat in one of Lani’s blogs? I can’t remember for sure. I don’t remember seeing it elsewhere much.

    It’s pretty much neutral for me. I don’t like it particularly, and I’m a bit confused by the logistics of it (I see trouser-less people riding around on other people’s heads), but I know what it is, and I’m not turned off by it. I certainly don’t think less of the people who use it.

    There is so much colorful language around these days; I think we’re living through a renaissance of profanity. I kind of like douche-canoe — maybe the double “oo” sounds, and the fact that I can’t quite visualize it. On the minus side, douche is gendered (although douche-canoe seems to be applicable to anyone), and ick. Sounds like a recipe for a yeast infection — douching, I mean.

    I am NOT suggesting Nita use it. I’m just going off on a tangent of New Profanity.

    As far as Nita using it, it doesn’t make me love her to bits, but she’s got enough other stuff going for her that I can accept that she’s a woman who uses asshat, and love her for other stuff.

    2+

  19. It’s fine with me, and I like the way you’re using it. Don’t think I’d come across it before. It’s an Americanism, of course; and the ‘ass’ element already sounds like a bit of a euphemism, since the English crude word for your rear end is ‘arse’. ‘Ass’ also means ‘donkey’, of course, so if you describe someone as an ass in English, you mean they’re an idiot.

    2+

  20. Asshat’s kind of meh for me. I can take it or leave it. I did quite like early asshat, that’s a creative insult.

    A non-sweary alternative we’d use here in NZ is “jerk”, but I don’t know if Americans say that or not. It’s got a nice sharp ring to it too.

    2+

      1. I agree that jerk seems almost comically mild now.

        My sister-in-law used to (affectionately) call her dog jerkbutt, which might be gender neutral, but doesn’t seem strong enough for Nita.

        If you use something too strong, you’ll alienate readers. If you use something too mild, it doesn’t fit the character. #writerproblems

        I’m a swearing kind of gal, so asshat is fine with me, but I’d never boycott one of your books, so I’m not the reader you’re trying to troubleshoot here.

        0

    1. Jerk is used a lot, and it’s very mild (even kids can use it and not get into trouble), but I always thought it derived from male masturbation. It could come from the same place as spaz, too, which isn’t very nice, but not condemned.

      I use jerk a lot, though, without ever thinking of the derivation(s).

      Dickweed is a really weird insult. (Tangential, again.)

      0

  21. I think it works. I think profanity can be quite effective, so have no objection on that level, and I like the fact that it isn’t sexual in nature like much swearing is (usually with a side note of insulting women or LGBTIQ people). It seems like a word that Nita would use.

    5+

  22. It’s discussions like this that remind me how culturally conservative the US sometimes is (blame the Puritans, maybe?). Asshat it barely offensive in Australia, and the C-word is used in everyday conversation. Not everywhere, and not by everyone, but I grew up in the country. It’s a term of endearment as well as an insult out there, depending on context.

    So if anything, I find asshat extremely mild as profanity goes, and far less crude than most sexual or body-part based swear words, probably because it’s just less blunt.

    4+

    1. You think we’re nuts about language, try us on sex. On the one hand, our movies get an R rating faster with nudity than they do with violence; on the other hand people with power are dropping like flies over here because of sexual coercion. The Puritans have a lot to answer for. Thank you, England.

      7+

      1. I saw something on the internet that said it is ok to be falling out of your clothes on tv, but god forbid you show a nipple…

        1+

        1. We’re just weird over here.
          Which is not news to anybody who’s seen the nightmare we elected President. Jesus.

          4+

  23. “Asshat” is not in the OED. Huh.
    I like it. I like the hiss in the first syllable, and the image of someone wearing an ass (either a human ass or an equine ass) as a hat.

    3+

  24. I like asshat. I have been working to use insults that are all purpose and gender neutral. So many insults are using denigrating terms for women’s anatomy or women’s behavior (cunt, motherfucker, bitch). I like ass, I like asshat better, fuckwit is also good. Rhythm in swearing matters? Swears from other countries have a delightful resonance, but I can’t ever remember them in moments of need, unless I practice, quietly under my breath, so they roll easily off the tongue. Cockwomble is definitely worth practicing!

    6+

  25. Bollocks, well that’s a word I’ve often heard in British TV shows and have no idea what it meant. I thought it referred to men’s testicles but whatever. Even heard Helen Mirren say it. I do like asshat though.

    4+

  26. I’m perfectly fine with the word, but I have a foul mouth so I’m probably not a good judge. 🙂 I initially thought of “glassbowl” as a substitute, but in the snippets that you posted, it would definitely come across as cutesy, so nevermind.

    2+

  27. I had no idea AV club did lexicography videos. Neato!

    Not to quibble w/the person who wrote/did the specific video on asshat, because movies & TV are one of the prime vectors for transmission of pop culture, but I’ve been using asshat since the late 80s and still use it. It’s one of my favorite all-purpose, not-too-vulgar, gender-neutral insults (really try to avoid the ones based on gendered anatomy unless random guy is being a dick, in which case the negative connotations of his anatomy are clearly his destiny).

    I do specifically remember seeing that ep of The 70s Show back in the day and thinking, “Hey! They got that from us!” For a value us = of me and my friends, some of whom were also friends with a number of TV writers. We thought it was cool that “our word” had made it onto one of our favorite shows. We weren’t ‘quite’ so young/self-centered that we automatically assumed it was anachronistic given the period of the show (and didn’t care because it worked plus the 70s were icky in all our minds so the entire decade needed all the help it could retroactively get), but also debated if it was just a case of “everything is new again” so maybe we didn’t invent a new swear word after all, therefore weren’t as original as we aspired to be, and got depressed and probably did shots or something similarly emo.

    Ah to be so young and naive… nope, old and jaded is fine. As is the use of the word asshat whenever appropriate.

    1+

  28. I like it. It suits Nita to a tee, so it’s authentic. It’s not so common that she’s picking up on some trend, so when she uses it, people actually hear it. I think that so many words just go in one ear and out the other from overuse (watch Dogma and tell me how you feel about “fuck”).

    When you put all the times you used it together, it’s a lot, but in the course of the story, it works. Thinking back, the word made me smile a little. Nita isn’t crass, but she also isn’t as classy as her mom would like her to be. She’s annoyed at her core, and asshat fits that.

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  29. I like it too. I think it is much milder than fuck (although I don’t object to the occasional use of that one, either, and it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker in books). It actually is amusing to me, so there you go.

    2+

  30. I was one of the folks who questioned Nita’s use of “asshat” awhile ago.

    I thought it was a euphemism for “asshole,” and I thought Nita wouldn’t use euphemisms. She’s direct.

    I was surprised by the etymology presented by the AV clip. (Also, I know Kory Stamper from old days. She’s cool.) Having never seen any of the sources mentioned, I was ignorant of the background of the term.

    Don’t know how to advise. It still sounds to me like a girly term that’s trying to be as tough as the guys.

    1+

      1. In my experience, people know that it is an expletive, but don’t think of it as a particularly graphic one. They let Johnnie Depp say it in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It’s assumed to be on a level with jerk, shucks, stink, etc. But maybe that is just where I live.

        1+

        1. I thought it was British for sodomy.
          I’d never heard of “nonce” as an insult until Life on Mars. I had to look that one up to find out why Gene was always kicking the bejesus out of nonces.

          3+

          1. You’re right about bugger. And I think nonce is probably police/criminal slang; I’ve never come across it in real life (but I’m more genteel than ‘Life on Mars’).

            1+

          2. Everything is more genteel than Gene in Life on Mars.
            There’s a brilliant use of characterization. How they made a pudgy, slovenly, racist, homophobic cop so incredibly sympathetic that you root for him all the way through is something I’ve been studying for awhile. I know it’s partly because he has a rigid moral code underlying his bigotry, that he doesn’t care what color you are or who you sleep with if you’ve been victimized, he’ll go after the bad guys and kick them into semi-consciousness, and it’s partly because he’s really good at what he does (that bit in the first episode where Sam is getting nowhere with the addled old lady and he gets her a cup of tea and a cookie and chats with her until she drops the key bit of info is just genius) and partly because the actor is just damn good, but I still don’t know how the hell he became a sex symbol. Great characterization.

            3+

      2. I think people tend to think of bugger as “booger” and it’s super-mild. For example, “OK, let me just get that little bugger out of the heating vent.” Then we’ve got Pratchett influence, teaching us to use it as a verb. That doesn’t come naturally for me, but I do love the word. And the phrase, “Bugger that for a lark.” Poor lark! But I still like the sounds.

        “Wanker” seems to have recently become popular (or at least more well known) in American media/fiction, but it doesn’t have any oomph to it. However, on one of my international mailing lists, a Brit took great exception to its being used, so I think it must be more powerful in its own home. None of those masturbatory terms seem to be very powerful in the U.S. — we use jerk, dickwad, and I think half a dozen more without really being bothered.

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        1. are you buggering the lark? I’m pretty sure they have a cloaca so they’re probably fine with it! 🙂

          I think that particular Brit might not have liked sweary or sex-type oriented words.

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          1. (-: I was being very silly. I know that “for a lark” means “for fun” but I don’t think there’s an equivalent in AmEng (or wait; maybe in AmEng, it’s be “fuck me for shits and giggles”. Whoa. Now there’s an image to contemplate.).

            Anyway, no larks around here, and I’ve nothing to bugger with.

            2+

  31. Asshat is a personal favorite. I use it pretty frequently and I have never had anyone object. Mostly people think it’s funny/weird. I like the idea of subtly showing the deepening relationships. It’s those little things that, I think, most people aren’t consciously aware of, but that really do make you feel closer to someone.

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  32. Speaking of profane language. I don’t like how shit is unacceptable on radio and TV here in the U.S, but bitch is fine. One is poop, something everyone does and the other is insulting to women. And yes I know it also means female dogs. – But George Carlin said that much better than me.

    2+

  33. I’m fine with asshat. And I say that as someone who almost never, ever swears.
    Really! My mother swears like a sailor (my father happens to have been a sailor). So it just never felt cool or edgy to me. It was more like, “ugh, mom, you’re sooo embarassing.”
    But asshat is short and punchy. Distinctive but not super weird.

    1+

  34. Since you asked: Personal issues/personal quirks–I I find “asshat” and all the “ass” words just plain unpleasant. Same with excrement words–“shit,” “crap.” It’s not a profanity thing; I’m fine with “fuck,” “fuckety fuck,” “hell,” “bloody hell,” “damn it to bloody hell”–it’s just the words call up truly unpleasant images that I don’t want in my head that bother me. To me they’re so offensive in their unpleasantness that I recoil and it pulls me out of the story. I LOVE the thing about Button and Nick eventually picking up Nina’s word–that’s brilliant! I just wish it were a different word. (I do like the “hat for a donkey” image mentioned above, and “fuckwit” definitely has charm. (I also like the preference expressed in a post above of being fed up with the quality rather than the person exhibiting the quality, but that may not be realistic for Nina.

    0

    1. I’m actually the same with ‘shit’ and ‘crap’. I’ve noticed a lot of writers I edit for will have a heroine (or hero, for that matter) just say: “Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit…shit!” and the like. And my response is it is both insipid not realistic as the only swearword the person uses.

      ‘Fuck’ is stronger. As are other words. Plus, as someone who decided to stop swearing in her mid-late teens for about a year (I was a weird kid), I learned the power of both swearing like the proverbial sailor and using a word judiciously. Yet, ‘shit’ and ‘crap’ are not frequent dwellers in my sweary vocab.

      Thank you for your answer!

      1+

  35. I’m not exactly a sainted mother.Ten years ago, I called my teen son an asswipe in front of his friends and he and they found it quite uproariously funny. Good one, Mrs T! It was the first I heard it myself and I reserve it for the truly dumb blessed. I don’t hear it every often so I find effective. So, I’m pretty ok with asshat.

    1+

  36. Not really a fan. I have never heard it in a verbal conversation, it is a weird word I see on the internet. I read it as-shat, not ass-hat, so I knew it was an insult but never really got the implication. Thank you for a definition.
    Since I work for the military, I hear profanity all day long and my tolerance for it has decreased over the years rather than increased. I have to put up with it all day at work, so I am not interested in random use of it when I get home.

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  37. It conveys her meaning perfectly. Asshat has a cluelessness that fits in well with a tourist pretending to be something they’re not. It’s not a dick move, or an asshole one – they aren’t screwing anyone over, which douchecanoe would imply too. They’re just asinine. The cops that get called asshats are incompetent.
    And yeah, name calling, not good, but when the asshat fits, well…..

    1+

    1. Exactly, it’s the oblivious/clueless implication that I like about it. I’d not use it to swear at or reference somebody who was acting maliciously.

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    2. Wicked late to the party here, but yes, exactly. My friends and I all use asshat as a synonym for being a particular kind of self-centered moron. As in “what’s with *that* asshat?” about a guy blocking traffic with his mid-life crisis sports car or even “What a fucking asshat” about a guy macking on one of our clearly not interested friends at a show.

      It’s snarky and it’s, like, a first level insult. Asshats are generally mildly annoying self-centered idiots, assholes are more smug narcissists, jackasses are obnoxious fratboy types who wear too much cheap body spray.

      1+

  38. I also thought it was a made-up substitute for asshole. So when I come across it I don’t get the small thrill of transgression, as I do from what I regard as a ‘real’ swear, although it actually is one.

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  39. It threw me because I have never once heard it. I work with salesmen from across the country, have 2 brothers and have lived in 3 countries and 7 states and have never heard it. To me it seemed like a weird bastardizion, not a real word. I understand now it is, but it still throws me.

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  40. One thing I realize is that a good signifier has to be a metaphor or something imprecise; otherwise, it’s just a curse word. That’s why I liked Agnes’s growl — chuckle: I just looked for her growl and it turns out to be Rhett going “Ar, ar, ar” — and her lists — a habit which Shane picks up. I like the getting-the-mark trick in Welcome to Temptation and Faking It.

    That is why I noticed that only in the books written with Bob Mayer does a repeated term show up that doesn’t click for me: family. In Jenny Crusie solo books families are givens (no choice) / friends / created as part of the hero’s and heroine’s development. I do not recall the characters stating that they are a family. But the word seems to be used often in the co-written books. It seems too obvious to me.

    Just thinking why “asshat” may work.

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    1. Huh. I never noticed that. It may be because Bob writes loners, so all those people hanging around were foregrounded for his guys and I picked up on that. My characters are always bombarded by people, so nobody every thinks, “I need some alone time” or looks around and thinks, “Who are all these people and why are they here?” They’re ALWAYS there.

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  41. I never heard asshat till Nita said it. Works for me.

    Speaking of new vulgar words on Tv and radio….. Remember WKRP in Cinncinnati? And Johnny was fired for saying “booger” on the radio. Times change.

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  42. I remember the day I first heard the word “asshat.” It was a good day. It’s stronger than jerk, milder than asshole, and right in the sweet spot of snark for me. I vote leave it in. Pretty please.

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  43. Before there were asshats there were assholes. I just came upon two books I can’t recommend because I haven’t read them, written by Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule and The Asshole Survival Guide.

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