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Are there any polite synonyms for asshole-ish behavior? A good synonym would probably have about the same impact and wouldn't send people looking for their dictionaries.

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Do you need a specific part of speech? –  tenfour Oct 24 '11 at 6:10
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It would help if you could explain how the person or entity is asshole-ish. Being asshole-ish can mean different things to different people. A rude person could be considered an asshole. So could an arrogant or a mean person. –  KaptajnKold Oct 24 '11 at 12:14
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@Steve314: Let's not give the Yanks a misleading impression of us Brits! Most of us wouldn't actually say that arsey is a "polite synonym" for asshole-ish! –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 17:01
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@FumbleFingers - I live near Chatham, Kent - around here, general everyday offensiveness is about as polite as you can hope for ya thick bas... er, sorry about that. –  Steve314 Oct 24 '11 at 23:50
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In the absence of any clarification from OP on exactly what kind of "asshole-ish behavior" he has in mind, I don't see much point to this question. It makes quite a difference to me whether I'm discussing the recent behaviour of the finance industry at a dinner party, or telling a drunk at the bar what I think of him chatting up my date. Except if that bar was in Chatham, where I wouldn't bother with the verbals. Just lay in with fists and feet, the only language they understand there. –  FumbleFingers Oct 25 '11 at 0:14
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16 Answers 16

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Contemptible behavior or base behavior convey contempt without vulgarity. But I think it will be impossible to quite satisfy your requirement for a word with “about the same impact”. I doubt that vulgarity can be matched for impact by anything but blasphemy – and that only when your audience is religious.

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God forgive me, but now I'm curious what blashphemy would convey the meaning of asshole-ish behavior. –  kojiro Oct 25 '11 at 12:21
    
That's a new question, I suppose – I was just making the point about relative impact. –  MετάEd Oct 25 '11 at 17:51
    
Actually, depending on your audience, you won't be able to find anything that comes close to blasphemy in impact. They'll be agast! –  Arlen Beiler Oct 31 '11 at 21:13
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Reasonably polite yet quite damning is the word foolishness. With slightly more impact yet just as understandable is idiocy.

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Boorish is a pretty common option.

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With optional accessory "uncouth". –  Optimal Cynic Oct 24 '11 at 6:16
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Not that I'm familiar with the word, but also feel like "boorish" has more of an "insufficently refined for the situation" kind of feel. Like someone who thinks it's appropriate to bring their own beer to a dinner party. –  jprete Oct 24 '11 at 11:54
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@broiyan: It may be true that only 3% of Americans know the word boorish. And quite possibly 99% of them would understand asshole-ish even if they'd never actually seen the "word" before. But that doesn't alter the fact that boorish is a perfectly valid word, and asshole-ish is best left for inarticulate assholes to use if they know no better. –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 13:07
    
If truly only 3% of Americans have heard of the word boor or don't understand boorish then there is more of an illiteracy problem than I thought there… –  ghoppe Oct 24 '11 at 17:20
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@broiyan if that example is the context of the word you're looking for, you should add it to your question. –  ghoppe Oct 24 '11 at 17:23
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I would probably use the word intolerable, whose meaning is both clear and precise. Assholes can’t be tolerated.

Other similar options I’d consider would be unspeakable, reprehensible, and abhorrent.

Also, if you feel like basic synonyms for bad/awful lack force, you could always add a strengthening adverb. Calling someone’s behavior truly rotten, while kindergarten-friendly, is a serious accusation if leveled with the proper gravity.

In light of OP’s search for words both more basic and more emotional, I'm adding heartless and soulless to my list.

These alternatives to asshole-ish were made thinking about OP’s example in a comment about the behavior of the financial industry. I wasn’t really thinking about the general “jerk” sentiment.

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Good efforts, however, "intolerable" IMHO lacks force. "Unspeakable" is seen off with a "nobody asked you to speak". "Reprehensible" -- yawn. "Abhorrent", where's my dictionary. –  broiyan Oct 24 '11 at 8:15
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Obviously, you know your audience. In my world, though, those are forceful words. The adjective intolerable is about as strong as they come. –  onomatomaniak Oct 24 '11 at 8:19
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+1 for truly rotten. –  broiyan Oct 24 '11 at 10:25
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Some assholes can be tolerated. Some assholes HAVE to be tolerated. –  DJClayworth Oct 24 '11 at 15:34
    
If asshole-ish behavior were truly and universally not tolerated it would be dying off. Not my observation. –  mickeyf Oct 25 '11 at 1:07
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I would call asshole-ish behavior “rude”.

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"Knowingly rude" might also sound about right but probably fails to convey the level of offence taken, IMO. –  broiyan Oct 24 '11 at 8:22
    
If he or she means to be rude, then perhaps "mean" would fit better. –  Cees Timmerman Oct 24 '11 at 8:56
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How about antisocial? –  Joren Oct 24 '11 at 13:29
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Rude is quite specific. A person who is manipulative and destructive may be an asshole, but is not rude. –  DJClayworth Oct 24 '11 at 15:35
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"Antisocial" works until it's a group of assholes socializing at the expense of others. –  Cees Timmerman Oct 24 '11 at 16:38
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I would say it depends the kind of asshole you are dealing with, for asshole really is a convenient shortcut for a variety of people exhibiting an annoying behaviour. Concerning the ones I usually deal with, I enjoy using terms such as negatively combative or harmfully confrontative.

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Arrogant or rude, depending on your flavor of asshole.

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Please, lets not use "asshole" and "flavour" in the same sentence. –  Chris Cudmore Oct 24 '11 at 14:50
    
@chris I didn't even notice until you said that... Thanks a lot. –  Mahnax Oct 24 '11 at 14:55
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While I don’t use that word myself, like most profanity, its meaning is not very precise. It is used to mean many different things which is only sometimes informed by the context. I’ve seen (or heard) the word used to mean all of the following.

  • arrogant
  • mean-spirited
  • hateful
  • rude
  • self-centered/self-absorbed
  • condescending
  • inconsiderate
  • intolerant
  • self-promoting (especially at the expense of others)
  • stingy
  • greedy
  • argumentative
  • hurtful
  • abrupt, forward, or tactless in speech
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This is the answer. Too many different kinds of behaviour may be described as "asshole-ish". –  DJClayworth Oct 24 '11 at 15:36
    
Most assholes are afraid of getting hurt, so they become obessesed with getting power or control, or they offend others before others have a chance to offend them. We need more words to describe this kind of obnoxious behavior –  makerofthings7 Oct 24 '11 at 16:47
    
I consider the tone of the first sentence of this answer superlatively "asshole-ish." Just kidding! :p –  sequoia mcdowell Oct 24 '11 at 17:13
    
Thank you, but in my opinion and obviously it is only that, I think the right synonym would be a word that means all of 8 of your 14 plus others. (Which I why there might be a need for a single synonym if only it could be found.) Since I'm not any authority I am not going to say which 8. –  broiyan Oct 25 '11 at 7:47
    
@Broiyan, my point in listing all of the above was to say that you would have to pick the exact meaning you wished to convey before picking a single synonym. –  Andrew Neely Oct 25 '11 at 22:12
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The word that comes to mind is jerk.

(I’m surprised no one has said this thus far. Any reason for not?)

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because it is not polite, I guess... XD –  fortran Oct 24 '11 at 14:25
    
Maybe not... but certainly more polite than asshole –  user606723 Oct 24 '11 at 14:26
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Where I come from, jerking is far more profane that showing your ass :p –  fortran Oct 24 '11 at 14:39
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Err... thats not a primary definition of jerk. jerk - sudden movement.; A way to prepare meat; an unlikable person, especially : one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded; Also, a physics term. –  user606723 Oct 24 '11 at 14:45
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Of course it is not the primary definition! The same as an asshole primary definition is the anus, and not a person... ¬¬ I think I'm done here, as the system suggests, this is taking too long. Good luck the next time you call someone jerk while trying to be polite. –  fortran Oct 24 '11 at 14:51
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Wikipedia defines psychopathy as

a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness

Which are all asshole attributes.

Generally, an asshole is a fast driver behind you, who tries to push you to go faster. A moron is a slow driver in front of you who won’t speed up no matter how much you ride their tail.

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In other words, the moron is anyone in front of the asshole? –  mickeyf Oct 25 '11 at 1:10
    
@mickeyf - Precisely. –  Chris Cudmore Oct 25 '11 at 15:39
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In a business context, unprofessional is the usual euphemism that I see used. Otherwise, rude or insensitive both get the idea across.

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I think highly objectionable might serve your needs. It communicates that the object of your ire is behaving in a way that you consider unacceptable and probably rude. I think this is a good fit for asshole-ish because calling someone an asshole mostly communicates that you don’t think they are behaving as a mature adult should.

Her behavior at dinner was highly objectionable; she offended just about everyone at the table.

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In a comment you wrote

Example: “The financial industry exhibits asshole-ish behaviour.”

If that is the context of your word, one could say:

  • The financial industry exhibits predatory behaviour.
  • The financial industry exhibits heartless (or cold-hearted) behaviour.
  • The financial industry exhibits callous behaviour.
  • The financial industry exhibits ruthless behaviour.
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Troll:

One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. (Urban Dictionary)

This term seems to be gaining use outside forum environments.

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As @makerofthings7 suggests in a comment, I think that obnoxious is the perfect synonym for asshole-ish.

It is polite, almost aggressively so, a reasonably good synonym for most of Andrew Neely’s suggestions and I expect it is reasonably well known.

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One possible answer is odious.

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