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I am spending one month in the US and it seems that everything is "big ass", "lame ass", and "crazy ass". What is the purpose of modifying every adjective with "ass"? Is this an Americanism or some global trend which I have yet to notice (I don't watch television). Where did this phenomenon begin?

Medicine before the disease: I have seen the relevant XKCD comic.

EDIT: I ust found this from another E.SE page. It does discusses the phenomenon but does not mention the origin. Is this phenomenon not new?

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I'll bet you get an ass-ton of responses on this. – Robusto Apr 12 '12 at 18:47
For those who haven't seen the relevant xkcd comic: xkcd.com/37 – Hugo Apr 14 '12 at 15:27
up vote 3 down vote accepted

It may have begun as part of a few stock phrases, but now I would say -ass functions as a generic intensifier. Colloquial English has a lot of these (one might say an assload), often making use of rude or vulgar words for added impact. One could as easily say fucking crazy, crazy as shit, crazy as hell, hella crazy, crazy as fuck, crazy as balls, or even combine them as balls-ass crazy.

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Actually, I have been exposed to people who use this as their normal speech. I do not know what they would say should they ever have the need to get vulgar! – dotancohen Apr 13 '12 at 1:13

A little poking around on Google NGrams around gave 'stupid ass' as the oldest usage of the form I could find (1671). Which makes sense to me since it comes from comparing a person to the animal: Literally "a stupid ass."

The other forms are, I think, just derived from that original usage of 'ass' where other adjectives are substituted for the original 'stupid'. In effect, 'ass' becomes just a vulgar word for 'person'.

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Actaully, I have heard it referred to non-people as well. Just yesterday, I heard a Matzoh referred to as "a big ass cracker". – dotancohen Apr 14 '12 at 18:59

My personal belief is that the first popular formation of this nature was bad ass, which people liked because of its strangely onomotapoeic properties, and that the generalized use of "ass" as a suffix formed by analogy from there. (That is, the existence of one popular idiom of the form "<adjective> ass" created a conceptual space for other constructions of that form to flourish in.)

I would say the phenomenon has been perceptible for maybe the last 25 years, highly visible for the last 15 or so.

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Onomatopoeic? Exactly what sound do bad asses make? – Mark Beadles Apr 12 '12 at 2:58
They Baaaaaah like sheep. (The good ones Bray the way they are supposed to) – Jim Apr 12 '12 at 3:40
Thanks. The theory does sound plausible. – dotancohen Apr 12 '12 at 15:26

enter image description here

Google books NGram Viewer

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You do realize that I am going to now waste hours with that thing, don't you? – dotancohen Apr 13 '12 at 1:14

Merriam-Webster says of adverb ass:

Definition of ASS
often vulgar
—used as a postpositive intensive especially with words of derogatory implication

Origin of ASS
First Known Use: circa 1920

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Thank you, Hugo. – dotancohen Apr 14 '12 at 18:58

I tend to think that fat ass probably predates bad ass although I cannot prove it. The cited book contains material originally published in 1744 so it dates at least from then.

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I'm certain that's an older established usage, and I'd think that it sort of set the stage for bad ass. I'm not sure it had the right kind of memetic value to spawn the other variants, though. I wonder when it first became common to use it to refer to a person rather than a portion of a person's anatomy. – chaos Apr 12 '12 at 14:57
Note that 'fat ass' has the same cadence as 'bad ass', which chaos refers to as the idiom's onomatopoeic property. In any case, it certainly is close enough to alliteration to be pleasing to the ear. – dotancohen Apr 12 '12 at 15:27
@dotancohen: That isn't actually what I meant, but a good point. :) – chaos Apr 12 '12 at 16:06
Then what property were you referring to as onomatopoeic? – dotancohen Apr 12 '12 at 17:02

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