Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Meaning Of "Ass" In "Creepy Ass", "Punk Ass", "Bad Ass", "Kick Ass" & Other Similar Terms

Edited by Azizi Powell

The phrase "creepy ass cracker" was widely circlated in the news in the United States on June 27 & June 28th 2013 as a result of the coutroom testimony of Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel, a 19 year old African American, was a friend of the slain African American teenager Trayvon Martin. Jeantel was speaking to Martin moments by telephone moments before he died. In her courtroom testimony about that telephone conversation, Jeantel indicated that Trayvon Martin described a man who was following him-now identified as George Zimmerman- as a "creepy ass cracker". In her testimony, Jeantel also indicated that Trayvon also referred to the man following him as a "n***a [a form of what is now known a "the n word" that is most common among African Americans who use the n word.]

Notwithstanding the sociological, cultural, & political importance of Rachel Jeantel's entire testimony, people's reaction to that testimony, and their reaction to how Rachel Jeantel presents herself (including the way she spoke, her physical appearance, and other aspects of her testimony), this post focuses on the meaning/s of the word "ass" in the phrase "creepy ass" and in other such word/s.

Click for commentary from an African American blogger about Black people's reactions and non-Black people's reactions to Rachel Jeantel.

Also, click this video of Rachel Jeantel's testimony in the George Zimmerman trial which includes the "creepy ass..." comment:

And click and for information about & commentary on the word "cracker" used as a racial referent.

The word "ass" in phrases such as "punk ass", "bad ass" and "creepy ass" are from African American English. I'm not certain when these types of phrases were first used. While it's my position that the word "ass" in these phrases refers to (or originally referred to) a person's or a thing's "rear end", "posterior", "butt", "behind" etcetera, that meaning of "ass" is much clearer in the sentence "I'm gonna whoop [beat] your ass!" In that sentence "ass" refers to the person's entire being, and not just to one part of his or her body.

Note the reference to African American English ("Ebonics") in this post from a 2005 international linguistic forum's discussion about the meaning of the term "crazy ass":
"I would also like to add that "crazy ass" is an idiomatic expression commonly found (in my area) with those who speak Ebonics (some say this is a dialect of English, but that's argued).

And Ebonics isn't formal at all.

"Ass" isn't formal at all.

Certainly the idiomatic expression isn't formal at all...

The point I'm trying to make is this: I'd avoid this kind of language in a formal paper or formal conversation
24th October 2005, 12:48 AM#6, Moogey"

The word "ass" in "creepy ass", "punk ass", "stupid ass" and similarly constructed word/s began as a referent for the body part known as "the posterior", "the rear end", "booty", "butt", "behind" and other terms. In those compound phrases, a person's ass, or a thing's "ass" represent the person's or thing's entire body (his/her or it's being). Thus, if a man or woman tells another person to "Get your ass over here", that man or woman is telling the other person to bring himself or herself there.

Given this colloquial use, a "punk ass" is a person who is or acts like a "punk"; a "creepy ass" is a person who acts like a "creep", a stupid ass is someone who acts stupid, and so on.
Note that in her testimony, Rachel Jeantel indicated that she meant "pervert" when she said "creepy ass" and apparentally in an interview with the defense attorney, she self-censored her descriptions [as teenagers often do around adults] only reporting that Trayvon had described the man following him as "creepy". From a linguistic point of view, it would be interesting to determine whether "creepy" and "creepy ass" have the same thing, or if the word "ass" in "creepy ass" intensifies the word "creepy". Read more about intensifiers in the section below on Parts Of Speech.

The meanings of terms "bad ass" and "kick ass" are more complicated. Like the other "ass" compound terms, "bad ass" and "kick ass" came from African American Vernacular English. The slang meaning of the word "bad" flips the standard meaning of the word "bad" is flipped and "bad" is given the meaning "very good". Likewise, a person who is "bad ass/ed" is one who is "very good" [in the African American street sense of that description.]

"Kick ass" comes from the expression "to kick [someone's] ass." However, in African American slang, "kick ass" also means something that is very good. The superlative meaning of "kick ass" probably came about because in parts of African American culture a person is highly valued if he or she can literally kick another person's behind [hold his own physically; really beat up an adversary].

It appears that in the earliest forms of the words "punk ass", "bad ass", "stupid ass" etc, the word "ass" is given as "assed". Furthermore, in the earliest forms of these words, a hyphen combined the prefacing adjective or verb with the word "assed" or the word "ass". However, as is often the case in the United States, originally hyphenated words almost always evolve to a non-hyphenated form. As an example, group referents such as "African American" and "Italian American" are routinely given without a hyphen. In addition, with regards to the word "ass" or "assed" in the examples given in this post, the "ed" ending has largely been dropped. As a result, the phrase "punk ass" is used and not "punk-assed or "punk-ass". A further evolution appears to have occurred with the words "bad ass" and "kick ass" as those words are ofteh spelled "badass" and "kickass".

It's important to note that the words "punk ass", "stupid ass", and "creepy ass" etc. are usually used in front of a noun, for example "punk ass b**ch", "stupid ass man", "kick ass jam" [record], and "creepy ass cracker".

The word "ass" in the expressions given above is either a part of a compound adjective, an adverb, or -using British English terminology- an intensifier of the preceding adjective. Because the hyphen is usually dropped, it's more difficult to see that the word "ass" is combined with an adjective or a verb. For instance, in the word/words "crazy ass", "ass" is combined with the word "crazy" to describe a person or a thing. In that sense, the word/s "crazy ass" can be considered an adjective.
Example He's a crazy ass."

However, usually the term "crazy ass" (and the other previously mentioned "ass" compound words) are used in front of a noun. For example, a common use of this term is "He's a crazy ass mf. [profanity not given].

An argument can be made that the word "ass" in "crazy ass" provides information about how crazy a person or a thing is. In that sense, "ass" may have the same meaning as "really" and "very", making that word an "adverb". Therefore, the phrase "crazy ass" could be said to be a compound adjective that describes the noun it precedes. Or the word "ass" (or "assed") can be considered an adverb with the meaning "really" and "very". Using British English grammar, the word "ass" could be considered an intensifier without any literal meaning. Another intensifier from African American Vernacular English is the word "stone" in the 1968 hit R&B/Pop song "Stone Soul Picnic" by the Fifth Dimensions. However, in that song title & lyrics the intensifier (adjective or adverb) "stone" precedes the adjective "soul". And both those words are given in front of the noun "picnic".

In the examples given in this post, the word "ass" is usually prefaced by an adjective i.e. "punk", "stupid", "crazy", "creepy", or "bad". Or "ass" is used after a verb, as in "kick ass". One entry for the term "kick-ass" gives its meaning as "something that's really incredibly awesome". In an example which was submitted with that definition, the word "kick-ass" is clearly used as an adjective:
Example: You're hair today is totally kick-ass
-by anonymous Oct 30, 2003
Warning - Urban dictionary entries often contain profanity, racist, and sexually explicit language.

I'm uncertain whether the "ass" phrases that were previously mentioned have any connection to the referent "coonass".
Here's some information about that term from
"Coonass, or Coon-ass is used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity. Many consider it an insult but others consider it a compliment or badge of honor. Although many Cajuns use the word in regard to themselves, other Cajuns view the term as an ethnic slur against the Cajun people, especially when used by non-Cajuns. Socioeconomic factors appear to influence how Cajuns are likely to view the term: working-class Cajuns tend to regard the word "coonass" as a badge of ethnic pride, whereas middle- and upper-class Cajuns are more likely to regard the term as insulting or degrading, even when used by fellow Cajuns in reference to themselves.[1] (In Sociolinguistics, this type of behavior is termed covert prestige.) Despite an effort by Cajun activists to stamp out the term, it can be found on T-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers throughout Acadiana, the 22-parish Cajun homeland in south Louisiana.[1] The term is also used by some of Cajun descent in nearby East Texas and Mississippi"...

That Wikipedia article gives several possible origins for the term coonass. For the purpose of this post, it's interesting that one of those etymologies refers to "coon" as a clip of the word "racoon" and/or as "coon", a racially pejorative for Black people. Furthermore it's interesting to see that just as is the case with the other "ass" compound words, the hypen in "coon-ass" has largely been dropped, and that word is usually spelled as one word "coonass".

Also, click for a blog post about "coonass" that was written by a Cajun man who wrote that his intent was to reclaim that word. A similar argument about reclaiming is given by somee Black people with regard to the n-word. For the record, I don't agree with that postition as it relates to the n word.
I apologize for my use of this word and for the use of the word "cracker" to those who consider either or both of these terms to be a pejorative.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Although this post focuses on the linguistic aspects of the term "creepy ass" and other such terms, I was motivated to write it because of the media attention that has been given to the phrase "creepy ass cracker"* as Rachel Jeantel reports that Trayvon Martin used to describe the man who was following him [subsequently identified as George Zimmerman.]

    I co-sign with all those who have thanked Rachel Jeantel & Trayvon Martin's parents for their strength & commiserated with them for all that they have endured through this ordeal, including facing the plethera of hurtful & racist comments that are found in the social media.

    With regard to Rachel Jeantel's testimony, I wonder if she misunderstood the defense attorney's question as to whether she thought that "creepy ass cracker" was a racial term. Could she have thought that the defense attorney meant "racist?" If so, and if she considered "cracker" to be the same thing as "White" and she considers that calling someone White isn't racist, it's probably that Jeantel thought/thinks that calling someone a "cracker" isn't racist.

    *My apologies for the use of "cracker" in this post as I consider that word to usually be a racial slur [though its use in Florida Crackers & Georgia Crackers isn't a slur.] That said, just as I don't use any form of the n word, I don't use the term "crackers" in any communication other than linguistic or historical discussion.

  2. I admire your interest in raising awareness of your cultural background in America, Azizi. I'm no stranger to slang and slurs in popular culture - especially that of lyrics created, composed, written and powerfully-promoted by Black rap and hip-hop artists. Because these pejorative, "racist" terms (mostly them referring to Black people), as a "cracker-ass muthah," it quite challenging to not want to use/dip-into or otherwise echo those "offensive" terms and references used by my favorite Black recording artists, movie stars and stand-up comedians/comediennes. I am wondering if you have found away to address this "elephant-in-the-living-room" with the many, many Black artists who have virtually built a career on this veritable lexicon of objectionable language and metaphor which virtually drips from the lips of these artists and their multi-million-dollar recording and production companies. It seems as if this has been going on for as long as RAP and Hip-Hop have emerged on the cultural scene in America.

    I was driving through downtown Santa Monica last night and came to a red-light with my windows down. As I waited for the signal to change, I heard a couple of men's voices utter the "N-Word" one-after-the-other, quite loudly. I looked to my right and there were two twenty-something White, blonde-haired bicycle-riders donning full professional-cycling gear with i-Pod earphones in place, each singing along with the lyrics of Hip-Hop artists that included the words, "N---ah" and "I be yo' N---ah." It was clear that they were most likely completely oblivious to the fact that they were using pejorative racially-offensive language. These two young men were just out, pumping on their bikes and enjoying themselves on a hot summer night in Southern California. Mind you, Santa Monica has a very healthy and open Black population with even Blacker Venice, CA, as a next-door-neighbor. I am certain that racisms was the last thing from their minds. They were simply singing along with their favorite recording artists without even thinking of the impact of their sub-vocalization of racist slurs. Before I could get their attention, the light had changed, traffic was very busy and there was no way for me to catch up to them to tell them they needed to "cool it." Clearly they had little if any idea that they were opening themselves up to a great deal of danger and/or censure.

    And here is the rub; If these kids had been heard by someone who was angry enough to physically harm them - I would hold the RAP or Hip-Hop recording artists just as liable and culpable.

    Have you ever addressed this issue with the recording or movie industry? Do the likes of Missy Elliot or Spike Lee know the impact they have on popular culture - and how their message is utterly confusing to the general population?

    I'm wondering if you might address this at some point in your blog.

    Thank you, Azizi


    1. Greetings, Will.

      Thanks for your interesting comment.

      My online blogging is my way of sharing information & opinions with others about these subjects. I'm not sure if any "Black recording artists, movie stars and stand-up comedians/comediennes" or any Black or non-Black persons who write for them are among those who read any of my online postings.

      Regardless, I continue to write posts such as this because I learn from the reading & research, and I learn from my communication with site visitors such as you.

      Thanks again!