1

I've tracked down a potential folk etymology of "butt that won't quit" from the phrase 'legs that won't quit', but I can't attest that in a dictionary anywhere.

My question comes from my perceived notion it meant 'Won't give up' with the 'ass' being a Synecdoche for the person in question, that is it's not just the ass that won't give up but the whole person. Perhaps the connection of Asses (the animal) being stubborn contributed.

I'm not the only one who thought this. I'm a native speaker though, so I didn't think it was language barrier. Maybe I am a naive speaker though.

The main reason I am asking is that I am wanting to use this in a novel to imply somebody who won't give up no matter what (I'm not after alternatives though), and wanted something punny like:

They had an ass that wouldn't quit. In fact <the main character> suspected it had take up a second job, and worked in a soup kitchen on weekends.

But that doesn't connote their stubbornness if this is an uncommon interpretation of the phrase.

Does this meaning work for that phrase at all, and if so how common is it?

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  • 1
    Perhaps you can have someone be confused, and then the character clarifies: "I didn't say they had an ass that won't quit, I said they were an ass that won't quit."
    – Hellion
    Jul 6 at 16:26
  • 3
    I just searched for "an ass that wouldn't quit" in Google Books. Every single one of the 10 matches on the first page of results was a sexualised reference to a female with a shapely posterior. I also tried searching for "a mule that wouldn't quit" (mules being stereotypically stubborn) to see if I might find any more "literal" instances, but that returned no matches at all. Jul 6 at 16:50
  • 2
    I'm sure you realise that in AmE (and most particularly, AAVE, but very rarely in BrE), ass is very often used as a synecdoche for a person. As in Get your ass over here! ("Come here") and Your ass is grass! ("You're screwed"). So given that "background context", I wasn't really expecting to find every single one of the results I looked at all being effectively literal references to ladies' shapely posteriors! Jul 6 at 17:11
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    @Lambie debatable. See the wikipedia page. My intended use is closer to metonymy/synecdoche, because part is being used to refer to the whole. I think the traditional use is closer to a metaphor (because quitting is not an act asses, as a body part, are literally known to do or not do.) See pars pro toto ""butt" or "ass", used to indicate a person's entire self or body ("get your butt on a plane" or "the boss fired my ass")"
    – Pureferret
    Jul 6 at 18:08
  • 1
    synecdoche is referring to the whole thing by one of its parts. An ass is an ass, period. However, here you are using ass to mean someone stubborn. That is a metaphorical use of a word to refer to a person. As in: He's an ass. An ass that won't quit just sounds like: he's a fool who won't quit being a fool.
    – Lambie
    Jul 6 at 18:13
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I'm not trying to make you the butt of the joke: I agree that in this one case your conclusion is refreshingly naïve. An ass that just won't quit is callipygian, not equine.

I have Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American slang open to won't quit: outstanding; great; truly beautiful. It's hard to disprove a negative, but I simply cannot idiomatically read "ass" in your text as relating to stubbornness. (A commenter discovered empirically that every ass that won't quit was a bottom.)

McWhorter's Nine Nasty Words, which I am finishing today, tells how "ass" jumped from donkey to buttocks, at least in America. Also, see there a discussion of "ass" as a pronoun, along the lines of the synecdoche you mentioned.

You've seen several clever rephrasings in the comments but, in the end (sorry), your version doesn't have the effect you're looking for.

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You could have it as a retort: he has an ass that won't quit. You mean he IS an ass that won't quit. Sounds like something in a rom-com where speaker 2 is destined to fall in love with that ass, both in regards to his prize-winning posterior and stubbornness.

This whole page has made my day though. Love! 💕

2
  • Hello, Mags, your answer is only an opinion you give, and this is discouraged on this site. You could edit it and bring some clear facts and explanations. That would need some research on your side. hope you are up for it. Good luck.
    – fev
    Jul 8 at 7:41
  • Welcome, Mags. Please take the tour so that you will better understand how this site works. :)
    – Davo
    Jul 8 at 11:35

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