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