is an informal English
term referring to the buttocks
, which is commonly used in English speaking countries
such as the United Kingdom
and New Zealand
, parts of Canada
and former parts of the British Empire
. In the United States
and other parts of Canada
the variant form ass
"Arse", from Old English ærs
"tail, rump," from Proto-Germanic root arsoz
(cf. Old Norse ars
, Middle Dutch ærs
), which meaning ass
(see also: arsehole
), and by extension the crease between the buttocks of any animal (see also:buttcrack
), but especially the human bottom. There are many cognates
such as German Arsch
, Dutch aars
(meaning anus), Scots airse
, Swedish arsle
bottom (from earlier ars-hål
anus) and Norwegian
and Icelandic rass
). Greek orros
"tail, rump, base of the spine," Hittite arrash
, Old Irish err
"tail" has been connected with it. Arse or ass, in this sense, has no etymological common root with the word "ass" when it refers to the donkey
The word arse was not always impolite or informal. The Norman Conquest brought about linguistic change in English, affecting the prestige of many native Anglo-Saxon words which referred to private body parts.
- Until the late 18th century, "ass" presumably had no profane meaning, and simply referred to the animal now mostly known as the donkey. Because of the increasingly non-rhotic nature of standard British English, "arse" was often rendered "ass". However, indirect evidence of the change from arse to ass can be traced back to 1785 (in euphemistic avoidance of ass "donkey" by polite speakers) and perhaps to Shakespeare, if Nick Bottom transformed into a donkey in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1594) is such a word-play. This usage was also adopted in America, which is why the word "arse" is not usually used in the United States. The age of Victorian propriety resulted in the renaming of the horse-like animal, changing the name to "donkey" (not recorded in English before 1785, slang, perhaps from dun "dull grey-brown," the form perhaps influenced by monkey, or possibly from a familiar form of Duncan, cf. dobbin) to avoid any improper inferences. Although before World War I they were similar, the English pronunciations of "ass" and "arse" /ˈɑːs/ are now quite different in many English-speaking countries. Although arse is commonly used in Atlantic Canada, west of the Ottawa river, ass is more idiomatic.
- In addition to its above literal uses to refer to the buttocks (see that article also for synonyms in that sense), "ass" is commonly employed to denote either a) an idiot or stupid person, referring to the alleged stupidity of the donkey, as in: "Don't be such an ass! You're acting like you're five years old!", or pleonastically in "dumb ass"; b) as a short-hand for asshole (itself first attested in 1935), referring to an egoistic person who is acting to make others miserable; or c) a woman regarded as a sexual object, recorded since 1942. In British usage the word is not considered profane so much as coarse—for example, most Britons wouldn't consider it as strong as "shit". However, the word is sufficiently strong that when Prince Harry used it in a 2005 TV interview the event was given significant press coverage, even if very little outright disapproval was expressed. In America it is considered to be a coarser expression and would be frowned upon in polite society, but "arse" is almost never used in the United States, as such—most Americans would assume that the word "ass" was being used.
- It is also a curse-like exclamation, e.g. one of the four catchphrases attributed to the character Father Jack in the Channel 4 TV show Father Ted, in which the said character repeatedly shouts 'ARSE!', and other monosyllabic words of varying coarseness, for no apparent reason. The similar use of "arse" by Bob Fleming's friend Jed Thomas on The Fast Show is a speech impediment.
- Arsebandit, a British English slang term for a male homosexual, is an example of the association of the organ with gay men, regardless of whether or not anal sex is involved.
- Bare-arse or Bare-ass means with the bottom bared, but is also used as a pars pro toto for nudity, especially in a context where it implies full or at least 'strategic' exposure, as for spanking or mooning; a similar expression (for males only) is bare balls. Bare-arsed can also mean impertinent, e.g. about a cheeky act "the bare-arsed cheek of it".
- Arseload or assload to refer to a large but unspecified quantity.
- Arsewipe or asswipe can refer to someone who is unimportant or petty.
Modern synonyms (often euphemisms or dysphemisms) include:
- Hole, in various compounds including the popular arsehole, often referring to the use of the organ for fecal secretion (as in dung-hole, shit-hole) or for coitus (such as fuck-hole), while boy-hole and man-hole emphasize homosexual practices or simply the anatomical difference from the female.
- Split ("Split-arse or split-ring"), Midlands and North of England - a rare but phonetically potent term of reference used to indicate a female of poor character and worth and reduce her to genitalia only. A common American version with the same meaning is "split-tail".
- "Aris", which is double rhyming slang: Aristotle (bottle), bottle and glass (arse).
Sources and references