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Origins and Semantics of the Term 'Asshole'

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The word ​arse​ in English derives from the ​Proto-Germanic​ (reconstructed) word ​*arsaz​, from the
Proto-Indo-European​ word ​*ors-​, meaning "buttocks" or "backside".​[1]​ The combined form ​arsehole​ is
first attested from 1500 in its literal use to refer to the ​anus​. The metaphorical use of the word to
refer to the worst place in a region (e.g., "the arsehole of the world"), is first attested in print in 1865;
the use to refer to a contemptible person is first attested in 1933.​[2]​ In the ninth chapter of his 1945
autobiography, ​Black Boy,​ ​Richard Wright​ quotes a snippet of verse that uses the term: "All these
white folks dressed so fine / Their ass-holes smell just like mine ...". Its earliest known usage in
newspaper as an insult was 1965.​[3]​ As with other vulgarities, these uses of the word may have been
common in oral speech for some time before their first appearances in print. By the 1970s, ​Hustler
magazine featured people they did not like as "Asshole of the Month."​[4]​ In 1972, Jonathan Richman
of ​Modern Lovers​ recorded his song "​Pablo Picasso​", which includes the line "Pablo Picasso was
never called an asshole."​[5]
Until the early 1990s, the word was considered one of a number of words that could not be uttered
on commercial television in the United States. Comedian ​Andrew Dice Clay​ caused a major shock
when he uttered the word during a televised MTV awards show in 1989.​[6]​ However, there were
PG-13 and R rated films in the 1980s that featured use of the word, such as the R-rated ​The
Terminator​ (1984), the PG-13-rated ​National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation​ (1989), and the
PG-rated ​Back to the Future​ (1985). By 1994, however, vulgarity had become more acceptable, and
the word was featured in dialog on the long-running television series ​NYPD Blue​, though it has yet to
become anything close to commonplace on network TV. In some broadcast edits (such as the
syndication airings of ​South Park​), the word is partially bleeped out, as "assh—".
The word is mainly used as a ​vulgarity​, generally to describe people who are viewed as stupid,
incompetent, unpleasant, or detestable.​[7]​ Moral philosopher Aaron James, in his 2012 book,
Assholes: A Theory​, gives a more precise meaning of the word, particularly to its connotation in the
United States: A person, who is almost always male, who considers himself of much greater moral
or social importance than everyone else; who allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does
so systematically; who does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and who is immunized
by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.​[8]​[9]​ He feels he is not to be
questioned, and he is the one who is chiefly wronged.​[10]
This word or its literal translation is found in colloquial speech in a number of cultures besides
English​[11]​ because it describes both an ​intimate part​ as well as an ​organ​ for ​defecation​, both of
which are considered to be ​taboo​ parts of the body in many societies.​[12]
The English word ​ass​ (meaning ​donkey​, a ​cognate​ of its zoological name ​Equus asinus)​ may also
be used as a term of contempt, referring to a silly or stupid person. In the United States (and, to a
lesser extent, Canada), the words ​arse​ and ​ass​ have become synonymous.
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