Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years

by Geoffrey Nunberg

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It first surfaced in the gripes of GIs during World War II and was captured early on by the typewriter of a young Norman Mailer. Within a generation it had become a basic notion of our everyday moral life, replacing older reproaches like lout and heel with a single inclusive category––a staple of country outlaw songs, Neil Simon plays, and Woody Allen movies. Feminists made it their stock rebuke for male insensitivity, the est movement used it for those who didn’t “get it,” and Dirty Harry applied it evenhandedly to both his officious superiors and the punks he manhandled.

The asshole has become a focus of collective fascination for us, just as the phony was for Holden Caulfield and the cad was for Anthony Trollope. From Donald Trump to Ann Coulter, from Mel Gibson to Anthony Weiner, from the reality TV prima donnas to the internet trolls and flamers, assholism has become the characteristic form of modern incivility, which implicitly expresses our deepest values about class, relationships, authenticity, and fairness. We have conflicting attitudes about the A-word––when a presidential candidate unwittingly uttered it on a live mic in 2000, it confirmed to some that he was a man of the people and to others that he was a boor. But considering how much the word does for us, and to us, it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves––at least until now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610392587
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 06/11/2013
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Renowned linguist Geoffrey Nunberg is the author of several nonfiction works, including The Years of Talking Dangerously, Going Nuclar, and Talking Right.

Kate Udall is an actor in New York City and an audiobook narrator. Her audiobooks include titles in Allison Brennan's Lucy Kincaid series.

Francis J. Spieler has been a journalist, essayist-critic, and literary agent, and is now an actor and narrator.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

1 The Word 1

2 The Uses of Vulgarity 21

3 The Rise of Talking Dirty 54

4 The Asshole Comes of Age 85

5 Men Are All Assholes 118

6 The Asshole in the Mirror 137

7 The Allure of Assholes 153

8 The Assholism of Public Life 174

Notes 215

Acknowledgments 233

A Note on the Figures 235

Index 239

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From the Publisher

"A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context." —-Kirkus

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