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

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

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by Geoffrey Nunberg, Kate Udall, Francis J. Spieler
     
 

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An attention-grabbing, thought-provoking exploration of the life of the word asshole by renowned linguist and author Geoffrey Nunberg. Contains mature themes.
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Overview

An attention-grabbing, thought-provoking exploration of the life of the word asshole by renowned linguist and author Geoffrey Nunberg. Contains mature themes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tellingly, Nunberg's study of the word "asshole" begins with the observation that half of the people profiled in Barbara Walter's 2011 "Ten Most Fascinating People" feature could be considered assholes. What follows is an engaging blend of linguistics, analysis, and social commentary that breaks down the important place the word "asshole" occupies in our language and culture. Nunberg begins by charting the rise of "asshole" from its origins as WWII barracks slang, to its popularization in post-war literature (as in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead), to its eventual adoption as part of Standard English in the 1970s. Nunberg then describes the various roles that "asshole" plays in society, detailing the formation of pop culture "anti-assholes" like Dirty Harry, musing on it as a psychological reclassification of a "heel," and charting its relationship to similar concepts of narcissism, inauthenticity, and incivility. The last of these relationships proves most fruitful to Nunberg as he spends a good amount of the book outlining "assholism" in the political realm, both as a quality popular in political commentators and as an insult when linked with incivility and lobbed across the aisle. In the end, Nunberg makes an entertaining and thought-provoking case for the importance and power of a "dirty" word. (July)
From the Publisher
"A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context." —Kirkus
Kirkus Reviews
Linguistic analysis and cultural criticism meet sociopolitical rant in this investigation of the word asshole and the modern phenomena of "assholism." What exactly does it mean to call someone an asshole? When did the epithet come to prominence as a social and now political invective? Who are some of the biggest assholes in the public eye today? These are just a few of the questions that linguist Nunberg (The Years of Talking Dangerously, 2009) explores in this often raucously funny account of what seems to be America's most popular insult. The author avoids many potential hazards, including an overly academic and pretentious tone or, conversely, an exceedingly snarky or droll satire. In other words, he avoids, by his own surmising, being an asshole himself, thereby rendering a skillful narrative. He looks carefully at both the political right and left with a plethora of examples from different mediums: blogs, radio talk shows, twitter feeds, TV news, reality television, films, literature and more. At the top of the asshole list--the arch-assholes--he places Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, among others. Like other obscenities, asshole is closely linked to class tensions, and Nunberg is deft at examining the word in this and other contexts. Though the word ass as a term of derision seems to have ancient origins, Nunberg traces asshole as a derogative filled with anger and contempt to the slang of World War II soldiers. He examines its potential for symbolic violence, as well as the unique characteristics that distinguish it from other kinds of disparagement. The nearly universally understood qualities of an asshole--self-delusion, arrogance, thoughtlessness, pretentiousness, egotism and an exaggerated sense of entitlement--become a kind of catalyst for the author to enact a broad critique of contemporary public discourse and behavior. A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452611563
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
01/04/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

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.

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