Why I prefer ass

August 27, 2014 •

I said “ass” on Google+ recently

In a recent Google+ post, I asked this question:

“Is it OK to charge my nexus 7 (2013) on my galaxy s4 charger? I think the packaging says only use the nexus charger, but I don’t know if they’re just covering their ass…”

And one of my friends replied with this

“Any micro USB charger should work, they might just charge at different rates.
Also, don’t we say arse here?”

Is he right? Do we say “arse” here in Australia?

Short answer is yes. “Ass” is the American spelling, and “arse” is the British/Australian spelling.

But I still prefer “ass”

For better or worse, this is a distinction I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. (My excuse is I just wrote a whole heap of copy for butt-plugs and leather clothing targeting the gay market!) And after all that thought, I’ve decided to use “ass” most of the time. I think it’s a combination of things:

It works with more American terms

Some of the words we use with “arse/ass” are kinda US words. Like “bad-ass”. I haven’t seen “bad-arse” written before. So I would use “bad-ass”.

It’s more figurative

If I happen to use “arse” and “bad-ass” in the same document, some people (like anyone reading this post! 😉 would wonder about the inconsistency. So I have to try to anticipate how they’d think it through.

Although I haven’t tested or researched this, I have a vague suspicion that “ass” is more likely to be read as a more generic term, more figurative. e.g. “Covering your ass” means protecting yourself in some way. I know the context determines the precise meaning, but there’s that sort of general overtone.

“Arse”, on the other hand, tends to be more of an anatomical term, I think. People tend to read it as butt or arsehole. (You’ll notice I used “arsehole” there, instead of “asshole”, because I think the former tends to be read as “anus” and the latter as “dickhead”. Similar logic…)

Some examples

Remember that butt-plug / gay leather copy I wrote? I used “arse”, “ass” and “bad-ass” in it.

“Arse” to mean arsehole:

“If you’ve ever dreamt of claiming Brent Everett’s arse, today’s your lucky day.”

“Ass” to mean butt:

You’ve got an ass worth looking at, so why not showcase it?”

“Bad-ass” to mean ‘Sons of Anarchy’ bad-boy style:

“Available in both zip and button fly, these Mister B genuine leather jeans are at once bad-ass and great-ass.”

Now imagine if I’d tried to use only “arse” or only “ass” in all these examples. I don’t think it would be quite right for an Australian audience…

Do you prefer ass or arse?

Please comment with your preference. And let us know why.

Feel free to comment...
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Mel wrote on August 27th, 2014

Oh Glenn this is so timely - I struggled with this for ages! I tried it both ways (no pun intended) but also settled on ass purely because it didn't conjure up the mental images that arse did...

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 27th, 2014

EXACTLY! :-)

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Steven wrote on August 27th, 2014

We say 'ass' in Australia, as proven by this corker of a billboard. http://billboardspotter.com/4/macdonalds-billboard-yass-new-south-wales-australia/

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Mel wrote on August 27th, 2014

Bahahahahaha!!!

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 27th, 2014

Oh, that's brilliant!

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Rhonda wrote on August 27th, 2014

What a great start for a Wednesday... I woke up all passive agressive today, not in a good mood. But you've made me laugh and boosted my spirit. Great post. With my Nan I say "derrière" because she's posh like that. :-p And you're right, I tend to use the two words in the same way as you mentioned - not in clients' copy yet. But... as an immigrant with a strong accent, I find it hard to say "arse", so even when I say "arse" it could sound like "ass" as my 'native' language have mostly short vowels/sounds. :-(

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Kate Toon wrote on August 27th, 2014

Bum

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 27th, 2014

Yes, I feel honoured to have been given the chance to swear in client copy. It happens all too rarely. You should see some of the rest of it! I quoted on the meek bits!!!

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 27th, 2014

Bot-bot

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Mel wrote on August 27th, 2014

Tushie

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Mel wrote on August 27th, 2014

Or should that be Tooshie?

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 27th, 2014

I don't actually know! Definitely have to look that one up. ;-)

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Ian wrote on August 28th, 2014

I disagree. Using ‘arse’ over ‘ass’ gives you a bit more flexibility. It allows the writer not to have to explain when you use 'ass' to means donkey. This is usually used as an insult (as in not a thoroughbred horse, clumsy and stupid) rather than to identify the animal though this mostly happens when quoting Mr. Bingley and doesn't realy add anything to an arguement on contemporary use. I agree that kick-ass, wise-ass and badass sound better than their -arse equivalents though they only do so as American phrases. But what about smart-arse? I've been called a smart-arse too many times for smart-ass not to sound flat, atonal and just a bit off. Clang, clang, clang. Being Irishman; it works with our piratey Rs, and an Aussie citizen; it's quite satisfying to hear it in the non-rhotic style. Smahd-ahs. Also don't, please, forget 'arsey' as in to be put out, upset or in a mood as reaction to something. It's a great word. In all seriousness though, as writer you must consider your audience, of course. When I read a piece and note English (British) spelling with Americanisms dotted through the text, without context, I have to admit that I find it undermines the credibility of the writer. Are their opinions based on 80s action films and reading The Huffington Post? The clang, clang rips my attention away from the piece, almost always. This is not to say that I can't read something by an American writer using idioms and spelling familiar to their part of the world. I love the variety and can just as easily understand someone speaking in a second language of English and jumbling the odd bit of grammar as I can some writing using a different standard of English. The problems arise with inconsistency or worse with the lowest common denominator of language. If only it was just the spelling used by the ALP undermining the credibility of the party. I’ll read with ease the an American piece that omits the ‘u’ in ‘colour’ but when I read something by an Australian, Irish or British writer I want to see some arse.

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Ian wrote on August 28th, 2014

Any chance you could add a preview button, that was way too long. Apologies.

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Justine Larbalestier wrote on August 28th, 2014

I can see why you made the decision you did in that context and when you're talking about written language. However, for me it's definitely "arse." I say that as an Australian American who's lived in the US on and off since 1999. For me it's accent. I have an Aussie accent not a Yankee one. I can't say "ass" without collapsing into giggles unless I'm referring to a donkey. And even then I'll say donkey. It just sounds wrong out of our mouths. Like we're trying to sound as if we're from the US of A. We're not. Smartarse sounds right to me. Smartass? No. Sounds silly unless said by an actual Yankee. I mean, seriously, are we going to start saying "assy" instead of "arsey"? It all went "ass up" instead of "arse up"? I really hope not. Sounds ridiculous.

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 28th, 2014

I see your point. But you're still wrong. ;-) Seriously, I agree it's all about the audience, and if I felt mine needed an arse, I'd give it to them. I think it's also worth noting that, as writers, I think it's easy for us to overestimate the importance civilians place on these things. You and I might be put off by an Australian writer's Americanisms, but my wife wouldn't even notice.

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James wrote on August 28th, 2014

Glad I could inspire the article for you Glenn :-) I almost always use arse, as I think back to the looney tunes cartoons where a donkey would appear when someone says ass. Don't really use bad-arse / bad-ass, usually stick with more Aussie/brit used terms.

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 28th, 2014

Bring it on! :-)

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 28th, 2014

Yeah, I definitely agree when it's spoken. But I don't write it with an American accent, I just use the American spelling. And I'd be very surprised if any/many of my readers read it with an American accent.

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 28th, 2014

Haha. Yes, please accept my thanks!

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