Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Comments About & Examples Of "Ass" As An Intensifier

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides excerpts and quotes from online articles and discussion threads about the use of the word "ass" as an intensifier. Information about the Part of Speech referred to as "intensifiers" is presented in this post for informational purposes.

I deleted a previous pancocojams post on this subject that I published in 2013*. I did so, partly, because I've learned more about this subject since then, and I no longer agree with everything I wrote at that time. In addition, I wasn't satisfied with the writing quality of that post and my lack of source citations.

*The title of that deleted post was "The Meaning Of "Ass" In "Creepy Ass", "Punk Ass", "Bad Ass", "Kick Ass" & Other Similar Terms. Some content from that post is included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and informational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Intensifier is a linguistic term (but not a proper lexical category) for a modifier that makes no contribution to the propositional meaning of a clause but serves to enhance and give additional emotional context to the word it modifies.... Characteristically, English draws intensifiers from a class of words called degree modifiers, words that quantify the idea they modify. More specifically, they derive from a group of words called adverbs of degree, also known as degree adverbs. However, when used grammatically as intensifiers, these words cease to be degree adverbs, because they no longer quantify the idea they modify; instead, they emphasize it emotionally. By contrast, the words moderately, slightly, and barely are degree adverbs, but not intensifiers. The other hallmark of prototypical intensifiers is that they are adverbs which lack the primary characteristic of adverbs: the ability to modify verbs. Intensifiers modify exclusively adjectives and adverbs. However, this rule is insufficient to classify intensifiers, since there exist other words commonly classified as adverbs that never modify verbs but are not intensifiers, e.g. questionably...

[This example was given in the List of Examples]:
-ass, as in "a sweet-ass ride" "

These articles and comments are given in no particular order. I've numbered them for referencing purposes only.
Article/Comments #1
When did people decide "Hey, let's use 'ass' as a adjective?" (self.linguistics)
tstrickler14, 2013
"It might be a regional thing, but a lot of people I know say things like, "Check out that sweet ass car," or "This soft ass couch is awesome." When did that become a thing, and why did people decide to do it in the first place?"

[no name given, 2013
"I think it originated from "dumb ass" and then was extended to other adjectives. I remember hearing it among Black kids in the early 90s, then by mid-to-late 1990s I noticed everyone else started to be using it. Why would they do it? It sounds more emphatic. I suppose the "ass" is an intensifier. I mean, you could say "this city has cold winters." But it doesn't sound as cold if you say "damn, this city has cold ass winters!"
Out of curiosity, I searched Usenet postings from the 80s and 90s.

1993 posting - from a Canadian programmer (hah) - "I'm working trying to compile a rather scary ass program that was written..."

1992 posting - "In extra time they did Morraco under when Matheus in extra time scored a long ass free kick."
Then references to "dumb ass" being used as an adjective:

1984 posting - Quoting Eddie Murphy - "Dis here's mah' castle, see, an' I don' wan' no dumbass honkeys fum Caladan messin' wif it, you hear?"

1982 posting - A racist letter from Santa, "...and those dumb ass Polacks have scheduled Christmas for the fifth of February." "

Article/Comments #2
Use of "ass" as an intensifier
(idea) by Acid Dragon Fri Sep 08 2000
"The word ass has seen many uses throughout time. Originially, ass was a type of beast of burden. (For a more complete definition, see Webster's) Since then, it has come to mean a person's backside. By extension it has also meant sex. As in, "I'd like to get a piece of ass."

However, it has also crept up in American Slang (hell, and possibly elsewhere) as an intensifier. In a number of cases, it has replaced the older, and perhaps more socially acceptable 'very'. Students no longer refer to having a "very hard test", instead they take hard-ass tests...

When did this happen? Why? I'll advance the theory that it started as an extension of the word ass to describe someone's derriere. Thus you'd refer to someone with a big ass. Later this would be twisted to that big-ass person. Linguistic connections would be broken down and finally the word ass becomes the intensifier it is today."

Article/Comments #3
..."Constraints on the predicative use of "[adjective]-ass" were noted as early as 1998, when Diana Elgersma presented a paper entitled "Serious-ass morphology:
The anal emphatic in English" at MILC 2. Elgersma's observation was limited to backward-ass, however...

A more nuanced statement of the constraint is given by Daniel Sidiqqi in "The English intensifier ass" (Snippets, May 2011):

Ass seems to have a requirement that it appear [to the*] right of the adjective that it is modifying AND left of the head the adjective modifies (i.e. it cannot be phrase final)...

The only time that ass can appear phrase-finally is when attached to bad (e.g. That receiver is badass), but, in such cases it is always stressed (otherwise it is not). I expect badass is the source of the affix rather than an exception"...
*I added those words in brackets as they make sense in that sentence and may have accidentally been deleted.]

Selected comments from that article:
Mr Punch said,
November 19, 2013 @ 11:00 am

"I agree with both CuConnacht and Chris C; "ass-backward" (and variants) and "candy-ass" are different from the general "-ass" suffix. Both of these reference the actual posterior anatomy in a way that "bad-ass," etc., do not. Candy-ass, by the way, is very familiar to me, and I am like Stephen King a New Englander. Is this a regionalism."

Seonachan said,
November 19, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

"Another thing that separates "badass" from the other -ass endings is that the suffix changes the meaning of the root; whereas "boring-ass" just means "very boring", "badass" means something different from "very bad", unless it's working on the less common meaning (e.g. "I'm a BAD man"), in which case -ass may just be serving to call attention to the secondary meaning."

Jeremy Butterfield said,
November 23, 2013 @ 3:29 am

"I agree with people here who have suggested that 'ass-backward' is older than and different in kind from adjectives with the -ass suffix. The OED gives the adjective from 1955 'What kind of an ass-backward Catholic are you?', but has a quote implying it from 1932; a version of the adverb ass-backwards is dated 1893.

Bessel Dekker said,
January 8, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

How about "Your decision is stupid-ass"?


[(bgz) That meme is based on a line from "The Avengers," where Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury says, "I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it." Boiling that down to "Your decision is stupid-ass" strikes me as intentionally "wrong"-sounding, not unlike the intentionally odd grammar of the doge meme.]"

Article/Comments #4
The Weird-Ass Use of 'Ass' to Beef Up Our Adjectives" by Ben Richmond, November 8, 2014
...".Daniel Siddiqi's work isn't on “ass as noun.” Siddiqi was looking at the word itself as a new, crazy-ass intensifier in the English language in a research snippet. [A hyperlink is given here to Siddiq’s paper on “ass” as an intensifier:

[The article continues with a quote from an email Siddiqi sent to that blogger]
... "I have no idea when it became part of my vocabulary, but phrases like “taking your sweet-ass time” became such a fixture that I can still picture my old roommate Mark telling me to hurry up in front of his boss's children, saying “quit taking your sweet”—conspicuous, single-syllable pause—“time.” Real role model, that guy"...

Someone give this man a big-ass grant already.

I didn't really think about “ass-as-suffix” being a very interesting verbal tic; it was just a way to add some vulgarity, familiarity, and severity to whatever I was saying, I guess. But as a triple-threat English/linguistics/cognitive science professor, Siddiqi has a professionally developed ear for these things and noticed how strange it was that it makes sense to say “It's one cold-ass day,” but doesn't make sense to say “Today is positively cold-ass.”

Sure, this isn't exactly the Higgs boson we're talking about here—a fact that [researcher Siddiqi is aware of and thus only devoted a “snippet” to the observation rather than a deep-ass dive into the subject—but the way we use “ass” as an intensifier could be demonstrating something about language and our minds.”...

Article/Comments #5
From The intensifier ‘ass’, in snippets
Posted by Martin Gardiner on Monday, November 3rd, 2014 at 9:22 am under Arts and science.
"Snippets journal publishes notes that contribute to the study of syntax and semantics in generative grammar. The notes are brief, self-contained and explicit. For an example of the content, can we recommend a 2011 paper by Professor Daniel Siddiqi (Carlton University, US*) who examines the ‘ass’ intensifier.

English has recently developed a new intensifier, ass, which means something very close to very, is marked as vulgar and colloquial, and appears in cases such as in (1):
a.That is a big-ass chair
b. It is a cold-ass night
c. It is freezing-ass cold"...
*Correction: Carleton University, Canada

Article/Comments #6
From · Filed by Mark Liberman under Morphology, November 12, 2014 @ 5:22 am
"See: 'The English intensifier ass' in: snippets, issue 23, May 2011.

But Daniel Siddiqi failed to cite a number of earlier (and more complete) publications, and Improbable Research misses a bunch more.

In chronological order, prior to Siddiqi's paper:

Arthur Spears, "African-American language use: Ideology and so-called obscenity", in Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, and Baugh (Eds.) African-American English, 1998.

Diana Elgersma, ""Serious-ass morphology: The anal emphatic in English", MILC 2 1998.

Mary Bucholtz, "You da man: Narrating the racial other in the production of white masculinity", Journal of Sociolinguistics 1999.

Mark Liberman, "New intensifiers", LLOG 8/16/2004.

Mark Liberman, "The intensified crack of dawn?", LLOG 6/7/2005.

Randall Munroe, "Hyphen", 1/1/2006.”....

My point? This is serious-ass scholarship, and there's no excuse for a sloppy-ass literature review.
Here's a comment from that article:
Jesse Sheidlower, November 12, 2014 @ 7:46 am
"Also, in 1994 the Historical Dictionary of American Slang published an extensive entry on this, with a large number of examples going back to the 1920s, divided into several categories by parts of speech of the resulting forms."

Article/Comments #7
From a deleted 2013 pancocojams post entitled "The Meaning Of "Ass" In "Creepy Ass", "Punk Ass", "Bad Ass", "Kick Ass" & Other Similar Terms" by Azizi Powell
[I've corrected some typos and made slight changes in some of this writing.]

The phrase "creepy ass cracker" was widely circulated in the United States media on June 27 & June 28th 2013 as a result of the courtroom testimony of Rachel Jeantel during the George Zimmerman trial.

Rachel 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"...

Note that in her testimony, Rachel Jeantel indicated that she meant "pervert" when she said "creepy ass". Apparently in an interview with the defense attorney, Jeantel had self-censored her descriptions -as teenagers often do around adults- only reporting that Trayvon had described the man following him as "creepy".

[Revised June 15, 2016]
From a linguistic point of view, the word "ass" in phrases such as "creepy ass" is usually said to mean "very" or something close to "very". But I don't believe that "ass" in Rachel Jeantel's testimony or in other sentences must always mean "very" or something similar to "very".*

The addition of the word "ass" in that sentence or in any description (such as "hot ass", "cold ass", "sweet ass", "tough ass" etc.) may just mean that the person is trying to be risque, and/or is adding an element of vulgarity, and/or an element of what the speaker perceives as hip talk or normal urban street talk to that description.

[Italics added to highlight these sentences.]

The word "cracker" in Rachel Jeantel's testimony is an African American Vernacular English word that means "White people"."...

It should also be noted that Jeantel testified that in his phone conversation with her on that fateful night Trayvon Martin referred to the man who was following him (who we now know was George Zimmerman) as a "ni&&a"**. Since George Zimmerman doesn't have the physical appearance that most people associate with Black people, that referent may have been another example of Trayvon Martin using colloquial, urban street language in that telephone conversation and "ni&&a" would have just meant "man".
*Note this comment which is given above (Article/Comments #4; :
"I didn't really think about “ass-as-suffix” being a very interesting verbal tic; it was just a way to add some vulgarity, familiarity, and severity to whatever I was saying, I guess."

**This is my substitute spelling of the four letter form of what is often commonly referred to as "the n word".

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

Article/Comments #8
Discussion in 'English Only' started by Thomas1, Oct 23, 2005.
"What does it mean please?
Here's the context:
This is a crazy ass movie and Barbara Hershey is really good in it.
luda is a crazy ass rapper n his lyrics r hot...
does it mean awesome???
If so, are there any other meanings of the expression (I'm esp. interested in these which convey negative connotations)?
He is a crazy ass kicking, foul mouthed, short tempered, kid. I can't figure out this meaning (but it's a negative one I suppose)."

GenJen54, Oct 23, 2005
Originally posted by Thomas1
He is a crazy ass kicking, foul mouthed, short tempered, kid. I can't figure out this meaning (but it's a negative one I suppose).

"This one actually is incorrect altogether.

It should be: He is a crazy, ass-kicking, foul-mouthed, short-tempered kid.
Note how the use of hyphens in this instance (and a few commas) changes the meaning immensely.

In this case, crazy-assed is not the intended modifier, rather the modifiers are this:

crazy - mentally not all together
ass-kicking - beats people up (kicks others' asses)
foul-mouthed - cusses a lot
short-tempered - angers easily

Either way, he's not exactly a pillar of society."

Moogey 24th October 2005, New Jersey, USA
"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."...
The comments from Moogey were included in that now deleted 2013 pancocojams article whose title is given above.

Article/Comment #9
From JAMES BROWN I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing

Here's a comment from that video's discussion thread:
Lynn Jones, May 2016
"This inspired me to go to college with my big ass fro. Open Up The Door And I'll Get It Myself.... yesssssss!!"
"Afro" is another term for a natural (frizzy, nappy hair worn natural without chemical straighteners or hot comb treatments.)

Regarding "big ass fro" - In this example "ass" almost certainly means "very". In the late 1960s and 1970s, the bigger (fuller, wider) the better the fro was considered to be (by other Black people who were "in to" natural hair styles.

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