In New York Times’ (November 7) article under the title, “Poppy Bush finally gives junior a spanking,” Maureen Dowd introduced the following statement of Jon Meacham’s new biography, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.

”While G.W. Bush used to say that what he liked about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld was their brass appendages, Poppy offered a dimmer anatomical appraisal, calling each an “iron-ass.”

I’ve never heard the word, “iron-ass.” I don’t find this word in neither Oxford nor Cambridge online English dictionary.

Google Ngram shows that the word emerged around 1915 and continues intermittent usage at a nominal level of 0.000000045 in 2000 in contrast to “iron butt,” of which incidence rate is a digit higher (0.000000376).

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Incidentally, Urban dictionary defines “iron butt” as a nickname for a long-distance motorcyclist. It often specifically applies to someone who has motorcycled 1000 miles in a 24-hour period.

What does “iron-ass” mean? Does it mean wrongheaded or ironhanded? Is this popular word, though Google Ngram indicates otherwise?

  • 1
    It means tough and unyielding.
    – deadrat
    Nov 9, 2015 at 1:43
  • @Mari-Lou. Thanks for you adding Ngram chart. The currencby and usage trend is clear at a glance.I wished to do it everytime I refer to Ngram, but couln't. Nov 9, 2015 at 4:34

3 Answers 3


The meaning of the word is on "iron" rather than "ass". There are a lot of words that have "X + ass" such as dumb-ass, hard-ass, bad-ass and the list goes on and on. In these words, the X has a meaning and "ass" means just "man", "person" or "friend", etc.

Iron is broadly ued to mean:

Used figuratively as a symbol or type of firmness, strength, or resistance: ‘her father had a will of iron’

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

"Iron-ass" means someone with a will of iron".


This is an ad-hoc escalation of the term "hard-ass," to convey the meaning that they're "extra" hard-ass.

  • 1
    So why was that, "a dimmer anatomical appraisal"? In what sense is it better to have an ass made out of brass than an ass made out of iron? P.S. I'm British so I have very little sense of the distinctions between different metallic types of 'ass'. [Oh, I've just twigged -- the brass appendages were balls!] Nov 9, 2015 at 1:48
  • 1
    "Brass appendage" most likely meant "brass balls". Together with iron ass makes the whole Bush 43 cabinet like the "feet of clay" bible parable.
    – user662852
    Nov 9, 2015 at 1:54
  • Considering Bush43's well-documented malapropisms...it isn't terribly outlandish to imagine that he didn't "fall that far from the tree." It isn't crazy to imagine that Bush41 was/is a little bit "out there?"
    – dwoz
    Nov 9, 2015 at 2:27
  • @dwoz: Obviously we can't know, but I would guess that W.'s malapropisms do not have a genetic basis. There's good reason to think they were a somewhat-intentional part of his carefully-crafted folksy image; and even if we take them to be completely unintentional, his prior (acknowledged) drug abuse seems as likely a cause as his parentage, IMHO.
    – ruakh
    Nov 9, 2015 at 8:12

This description from James H. Straubel's Air Force Diary -- 111 Stories from the Official Service Journal of the USAAF should tell you what you want to know:

THEY USED to think their commanding officer was a slave driver, a hard, unyielding, unsympathetic man. "Iron Ass" was the name.

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