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

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

5.0 1
by Geoffrey Nunberg, Kate Udall (Narrated by), Francis J. Spieler (Narrated by)
 

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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

Overview

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.

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
Malcolm Jones, Daily Beast
“We are taught that there is no such thing as a Theory of Everything, and that we should beware of anyone nutty enough to claim that you can reduce reality to its gist with one handy explanation-philosophy-catchphrase. But now comes Geoffrey Nunberg with Ascent of the A-Word, a marvelous book that explains so much so well that it’s tempting, really really tempting, to claim that Nunberg has explained everything….Ceaselessly entertaining.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Interesting, and at times provoking, when [Nunberg] uses the word and others like it as a takeoff point for riffs on usage, political correctness and why we sometimes cheer an a - - - - - -…. [Ascent of the A-word] will make you think about whether ‘a - - - - - -’ really is the right word for your boorish neighbor, and what using it says about you.”

Mother Jones
“Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California-Berkeley briskly and entertainingly traces how a bit of World War II GI slang became an ubiquitous epithet and a moral category that's come to embody our polarized politics. Though he doesn't buy into simplistic notions of civility, Nunberg is concerned about the toxic side of assholism: When we declare someone an asshole, we're usually giving ourselves leave to act like one.”

Kirkus Reviews
“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 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…. A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context.”

Booklist
“Only an asshole would say this book is offensive. Sure, it uses the A-word a lot, but this is no cheap attempt to get laughs written by a B-list stand-up comic. The author … undertakes a serious examination of not just the word, but also the concept surrounding it (known as assholism, a type of behavior with, it seems, pretty clear markers)…. An intelligent and wide-ranging study of linguistics, ideas, and social trends.”

PublishersWeekly.com
“An engaging blend of linguistics, analysis, and social commentary that breaks down the important place the word "asshole" occupies in our language and culture…. In the end, Nunberg makes an entertaining and thought-provoking case for the importance and power of a ‘dirty’ word.”

San Francisco Chronicle
“In this delightfully and devilishly trenchant and provocative book, Nunberg traces the use of common and coarse language by well-bred, well-educated critics of Victorian prudery in the 1920s; the spread of the A-word by returning World War II servicemen (and novelist Norman Mailer in The Naked and the Dead); the penchant for obscenities by dissenters in the 1960s and '70s; and, most importantly, changes in ideas about civility, compromise and social class (marked by a shift from power and wealth to lifestyle and attitude as the criteria for membership in the ‘elite’), which paved the way for asshole to become a staple in middle-class conversation and for assholism to become entrenched in political discourse. Nunberg dissects his subject with style and surgical precision.”

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452641560
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
01/04/2013
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are Saying About This

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

Meet 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.

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Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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