I was surprised to see the New Yorker’s (February 26) article titled, “Boehner defends decision to remain on ass,” which was chockablock with the word, “Ass.”

“Minutes after telling the United States Senate to “get off their ass” to avoid the deep spending cuts that will take effect this Friday, House Speaker John Boehner called an impromptu press conference to announce his intention of remaining on his ass “for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Boehner’s words drew a strong rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said that Mr. Boehner’s suggestion that the Senate get off their ass while he remained on his “seems like the height of hypocrisy, ass-wise.”

My question:

  1. Is it acceptable (or sometime welcome) for decent statesmen to repeat the word, “ass” in public, e.g. in a press conference and in mass-media in western world? In our country ass is “A-word,” not suitable to utter in public.

  2. Is “remain on one’s ass” a precise antonym to “get off one’s ass”?

  3. What dose “ass-wise” mean? Does it mean “in terms of the implication of Ass”? Is it used as a noun or adverbially here?

  • 3
    No, I do not think respectable statesmen should use that word in public. It is not appropriate.
    – tchrist
    Feb 27, 2013 at 3:48
  • Yeah, I think this is unnecessarily vulgar -- plus, I want the sequester to go into effect! Feb 27, 2013 at 16:32
  • You people DO know that was all satire, right?- that Boehner and Reid didn't really say any of that?
    – user38401
    Feb 27, 2013 at 17:31
  • Oh, no—it's from the Borowitz Report (newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2013/02/…), the online New Yorker's version of the Onion! I thought it was from the upcoming issue of the print magazine. The essence of good satire is, It's funny because it's plausible. Thanks for the reality check, Elaine Yvette.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 27, 2013 at 18:31
  • 1
    But of course I stand by everything I wrote under the delusion that the story was factually accurate.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 27, 2013 at 18:33

4 Answers 4


When you read biographies of politicians and other public figures going back many decades, you see that crude language is by no means a recent phenomenon in the precincts of power.

What has changed dramatically in recent decades is the willingness of some news outlets to reproduce their salty language. The New Yorker is among the publications that have adopted this relatively new approach. And of course, many online-only outlets are even less circumspect about crude language than The New Yorker.

It hardly comes as a surprise these days that if political opponents start talking colorfully about one another's posteriors (or "keisters," as one politician preferred to call them), the verbatim version of the language will come out.

On the other hand, as far as I know, the Associated Press still hews to the older standards of diffidence toward coarse language. To that end, the Associated Press Stylebook (2002) lays down the following guidelines for handling such words:

obscenities, profanities, vulgarities Do not use them unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them. When a profanity, obscenity or vulgarity is used, flag the story at the top: Eds: Note contents of 4th graf. Then confine the offending language in quotation marks, to a separate paragraph that can be deleted easily by editors who do not want it. In reporting profanity that normally would use the words damn or god, lowercase god and use the following forms: damn, damn it, goddamn it. Do not, however, change the offending words to euphemisms.Do not, for example, change damn it to darn it. If a full quote that contains profanity, obscenity or vulgarity cannot be dropped but there is no compelling reason for the offensive language, replace letters of an offensive word with a hyphen. When the subject matter of a story may be considered offensive, but the story does not contain quoted profanity, obscenities or vulgarities,flag the story at the top: Editors: The contents may be offensive to some readers.

Regrettably, AP fails to identify which words are obscene, which profane, and which vulgar, perhaps to avoid shocking the reporters and editors who occupy a typical newsroom. It's a darned (I mean d-----) shame, really.

But to answer your questions:

  1. In much of the United States, "ass" continues to be viewed as unacceptably vulgar language, though probably not as outright obscene in most places.

  2. “Remain on one’s ass” is as precise an antonym for “get off one’s ass” as I can readily imagine.

  3. "Ass-wise" (as opposed to "wise-ass") is not a word in common use in this country, but it undoubtedly means something along the lines of "with regard to, on the subject of, or in connection with asses."

  1. I would not suggest any use of ass to be acceptable in formal speech, but I would also not suggest statesmen are not individuals entirely limited to formal speech. If a statesman were to be overheard saying such a word, it could be used in formal speech as a quotation. I believe the New Yorker used it here because of the unique humor of the quote, although they could have rephrased it to be more clear.

  2. I would agree that remaining on one's ass is sufficiently antonymous with getting off one's ass.

  3. Ass-wise in this case clearly refers to whether one should (a) remain on one's, or (b) to get off one's, by which it is suggested that Boehner's remark is hypocritical, and is used here prepositionally.

The hyphenated "-wise" suffix is occasionally used to designate whatever precedes it as a topic for discussion or of matters concerning.


Mr. Boehner’s suggestion seems like the height of hypocrisy, ass-wise.


Mr. Boehner's suggestion seems like the height of hypocrisy, if we're speaking on the matter of whose ass is where.

  1. No. Other representatives have recently been quoted using the word "posterior," which may sound less crass.

  2. "Remaining on one's ass" seems to be the equivalent of "sitting on your ass" in that you are too lazy to get up off your ass (out of your seat, literally) and do something about A problem. While both phrases carry a somewhat vulgar stigma, you are correct that they are antonyms.

  3. "Ass-wise" may be a play on words for "wise ass," meaning someone acting bigger than his or her britches in a jaunty way. See also "smart ass" and "jackass." I do understand the term as cited in OP, and don't want to get it bass ackwards.

  • 2
    I disagree with your #3. "-wise" is a widely-used suffix; see this question. The similarity to "wise-ass" is merely fortuitous.
    – MT_Head
    Feb 27, 2013 at 7:41
  • 2
    Upvote for perspicacity and rare correct use of "fortuitous". Feb 27, 2013 at 16:31
  • 2
    I'm inclined to take 'ass-wise' for 'as far as "ass" concerns' rather than 'wise ass' and 'smart ass.' Feb 27, 2013 at 20:42

Is it acceptable (or sometime welcome) for decent statesmen to repeat the word, “ass” in public, e.g. in a press conference and in mass-media in western world?

No. Considering the context here, the word "ass" is just American English. In England and the rest of the UK, this would translate into the word arse. It's not something to use in English generally, as "ass" with this meaning is not something that exists in all of the western world.


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