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


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


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Publisher Comments:

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.


An attention-grabbing, thought-provoking exploration of the life of the word "asshole," by a renowned linguist and author

About the Author

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, is a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Since 1987, he has done a language feature on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” and his commentaries have appeared in the New York Times and many other publications. He is the emeritus chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and a winner of the Linguistic Society of America’s Language and the Public Interest Award. His previous books include Talking Right and Going Nucular. Nunberg lives in San Francisco.

Product Details

Nunberg, Geoffrey
Edition Description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Publication Date:
8.25 x 5.5 in

Related Subjects

Business » Communication
Featured Titles » Culture
History and Social Science » Intercultural Communications » General
History and Social Science » Linguistics » Historical and Comparative
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Reference » Etymology
Reference » Words on Words

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years Used Trade Paper
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Product details 272 pages PublicAffairs - English 9781610392587 Reviews:
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An attention-grabbing, thought-provoking exploration of the life of the word "asshole," by a renowned linguist and author

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