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The Washington Post’s article on the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC written by Hank Stuever under the headline, At Oscars, the kids were all right and the 'Speech' was well-prepared was full of Greek to me who have little knowledge about American culture and entertainment world.

As I cannot pick up all the words and expressions I felt difficulty in understanding, I just want to make sure of the meaning of three phrases:

  • NYU, whassup

  • a little Marilyn Monroe drag

  • worked her derriere off

What do these phrases mean? Though I guess whassup is ‘What’s up,’ and work one’s derriere off means ‘Work very hard,’ I’m not sure.

Is it very rude if I tell somebody, particularly to a lady, that ‘I worked my derriere off in the office?’

Here's the context for the above-mention phrases:

Anne Hathaway hosted the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC Sunday night. And her co-host, James Franco, did what exactly? (Besides be handsome? Besides a little Marilyn Monroe drag? And besides shouting "NYU, whassup!" to the Best Live Action Short winner? What, that's not enough?)

Hathaway worked her derriere off and Franco came off like that lacrosse boy you wish your daughter didn't hang out with so much.

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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

To go in drag means to dress appropriately for the opposite sex; almost exclusively used to refer to a man dressing as a woman, although theoretically it could refer to a woman dressing as a man. "Marilyn Monroe drag" would be James Franco dressing up as Marilyn Monroe, the famous actress.

Derriere is French for butt and working your butt off is indeed working very hard.

"NYU, whassup!" is a "shout-out", basically a mention of someone (in this case, New York University) while on the air (or in print) as a public acknowledgement that you hold them in some esteem. (see wikipedia's Name-Dropping entry.)

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Hellion. I can't still make it out why James Franco appeared in the opposit sex's (Marilyn Monroe's) costume in the dignitary party like Academy Awards party. Shouln't he wear tuxedo as the co-host of the party? Did he wear Marilyn Monroe'sdrag just for giving surprise to the celebrity guests? –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 1 '11 at 5:26
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(Cont'ed) It's still unthinkable to me even if Americans like a joke. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 1 '11 at 5:30
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I didn't watch the show myself, but (a) the hosts can change outfits fairly often; I think I heard that Anne Hathaway wore 3 or 4 different dresses, and (b) the phrase said "a little Marilyn Monroe drag", so presumably it was just for a couple of minutes, perhaps one skit or one presentation where a little tongue-in-cheek homage to Marilyn Monroe was appropriate. ("best onscreen kiss" or some such?) –  Hellion Mar 1 '11 at 5:34
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Here's a link to a photo of the occasion: imnotobsessed.com/2011/02/27/… –  Hellion Mar 1 '11 at 5:37
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Hellion. I saw the photo of James Franco in marilyn costume, and was aghast. It's incredible scene to me who is simply square without sense of humor. Dear, dear! –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 1 '11 at 9:43
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Well, there are three questions here, I'll take one to start with.

derriere, means backside, bottom, butt, ass.

If you "work your derriere off", it means you work really hard, intensely.

I believe the phrase comes from the usage of "to work off", meaning to lose or incrementally reduce something by work. You can "work off a debt", by performing work in return for money to pay your debt off. In dieting you can "work off some excess weight" by exercising or working hard. It is this last meaning that may hold the key, "work my butt off" may mean work so hard your bottom reduces.

It could also mean you worked so hard you wore yourself out, no strength left.

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In order:

NYU, wassup!

This is known as a "shout-out"; in this case James Franco was referring to the fact that one of the Oscar recipients thanked the film school at New York University, and was either saying that in a gently mocking way or else actually did attend NYU film school himself and was calling out to acknowledge that fact and the people at that school.

A little Marilyn Monroe drag ...

Marilyn Monroe was a film star of the 1950s and early 1960s. Generally drag means dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex, but in this case it might be more figurative. It could be that Franco merely did some kind of Marilyn Monroe impression. I didn't see that part, so I can't tell you exactly which.

Working off her derriere

This is a polite way of saying "working her butt off" or "working her ass off", which means working very hard. Figuratively speaking, it implies that one works so hard that one's buttocks actually fall off.

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+1 Couldn't help laughing at "...that one's buttocks actually fall off." :-) –  Tragicomic Mar 3 '11 at 12:09
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  • Whassup does indeed mean "what's up". NYU stands for New York University; the Best Live Action Short winner goes (or went? he certainly looked young enough to still be a student, but it wasn't clear from his acceptance speech) to that school.

  • a little Marilyn Monroe drag: at one point in the program, James Franco appeared in drag, i.e. dressed as a woman. I didn't think the intent was to make him look like Marilyn Monroe, but apparently his pink dress reminded this reviewer of the famous screen siren1.

  • worked her derriere off: again, you're correct that this means "worked very hard". While it's somewhat informal, it is not impolite at all; in fact, derriere is a euphemism for ass/arse (depending on which side of the pond2 you hail from), so this is a more polite version of the phrase worked her ass off.

1 Screen siren = female movie star, often more famous for her sex appeal than her acting ability.

2 Pond in this context = the Atlantic Ocean; British and American English use the words ass and arse slightly differently.

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