Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Death of a Word

How long has it been since you read the 10th commandment? Put simply, it's YOU SHALL NOT COVET. In the traditional King James Version: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

This gets me to sad is it that a guy can't use the word ass in a sermon anymore?

Here in the year Twenty-Oh-Eight, that word is used 99-and-44-100ths percent of the time in reference to a particular part of the human anatomy...the part split vertically in the middle...and would be considered far too vulgar for use within the walls of a church building.

50 or 60 years ago, and certainly in 1611 when King James was having the Bible translated, it was the proper word to use when designating a particular animal which was stereotypically characterized as being stubborn and/or stupid. (See donkey.) And it was also quite proper to refer to a stupid and/or stubborn person as an ass or a jackass.

Pop culture references to prove my point:

1) In Disney's 1940 cartoon feature, Pinnochio, Jimminy Cricket warns the puppet-boy to not make a jackass of himself (which he promptly--and literally--does).

2) In the musical play, Peter Pan, Peter quotes Tinkerbell as saying, "You silly ass."

As far as I know, these uses of the word stirred no controversy, even though they were within the confines of entertainment particularly aimed at children. Try doing that today! (On second thought, don't try doing just might succeed, and that would be a crying shame in itself.)

How did the usage--and thereby, the meaning--of ass change from animal husbandry to the anatomy of your husband--or any other convenient human being? (Though still mostly used as an insult.) When did the name of a pack animal become the name of a person's patootie? How did that happen?


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