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In Alan Hollinghurst's 2004 novel The Line of Beauty, winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize, there appears the term arse-knit. What does it mean?

In context, it seems to be some kind of uncomfortable physical condition, maybe similar to chafing, but I could not find an actual definition anywhere. The OED doesn't appear to have it, and the only Google hits are either how to knit (out of yarn) something that looks like an arse, or variants on the phrase "it made my arse knit buttons", or quotes of the passage from the novel itself.

Here's the passage where it appears. Since the context is a sexual encounter and the language is explicit, I've put it in a spoiler box. The scene is set in London in 1983, and the characters Nick and Leo are young British men.

"Your arse is so smooth," [Nick] whispered, while his hands stroked hungrily through the short rough hair on [Leo's] chest and belly.

"Yeah ... shave it ..." said Leo, between grunted breaths as Nick got quicker and bolder, "get arse-knit ... fucking murder ... on the bike ..." Nick kissed the back of his neck. Poor Leo! With his arse-knit and his ingrowing beard he was a martyr to his hair.

(Part I: "The Love-Chord (1983)", Chapter 2, page 36 of the US first edition)

It was previously established that Leo is an avid cyclist, and that he suffers from ingrown beard hairs.

So I deduce the following about arse-knit:

  • It's some sort of painful or unpleasant physical condition, perhaps like a skin irritation or rash

  • It's aggravated by riding a bicycle

  • It has some relationship with body hair

  • It's relieved (or perhaps aggravated?) by shaving. (Leo's meaning is somewhat ambiguous: does he shave in order to avoid arse-knit, or does he get arse-knit because he shaves?)

I wonder if there is a more common equivalent in either British or American English, or perhaps a medical term for the condition.

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    Speaking as a (former) cyclist, I can tell you that often, on a long ride, the hairs on your butt (where it rests on the saddle) get tangled to the point where is can be painful to walk. This especially the case early in the season, before the hairs get pulled out.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 12:18

2 Answers 2

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With his arse-knit and his ingrowing beard he was a martyr to his hair.

Arse-knit seems to be a noun - the informal name (a sociolect of cyclists or, more likely, part of the speaker's idiolect) of a condition in which the hairs of the buttocks become tightly entangled with one another such that the stretching of the skin would be painful.

Note that he also had an ingrowing beard. The suggestion is then that his body hair is very curly and probably quite hispid.

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I wonder if there is a more common equivalent in either British or American English, or perhaps a medical term for the condition.

There is the less common medical term dasypygal meaning hairy buttocks.

Although not an actual dictionary entry, Merriam-Webster includes it in their page This Is a List of Butt-Related Words

The combining form of pyg- is found in many technical words, often too obscure to be found outside of specialized dictionaries, such as pygalgia (“pain in the buttocks”) and dasypygal (“having hairy buttocks”).

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  • So you think that arse-knit means simply having hairy buttocks and nothing more? I had the impression from the context that it referred to some particular unpleasant consequence of having hair there. Merely having hair on one's buttocks would seem pretty neutral; I wouldn't think it would evoke Nick's sympathy ("Poor Leo!"), nor be parallel with an "ingrowing beard" in making Leo a "martyr to his hair".
    – someone
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 15:39
  • No, but I am not going to discuss it. Use your imagination and spare us the graphic detail, please. Perhaps the author made up the word. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 15:41
  • Well, I can imagine a lot of things; I wanted to know whether the term was understood as meaning something specific. Clearly it's graphic - that whole passage of the novel is graphic - but I wouldn't think it was out of bounds for this site. But if you don't want to say, no problem; I can wait and see if someone else will. Thanks for taking the time to answer in any case.
    – someone
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 16:00
  • (And I know it might seem like I'm trying to troll - but that's not my intention. There are lots of other offensive-language questions on this site (the Related sidebar has fap, balls, etc.) that I think people ought to have answered for themselves with any dictionary or Urban Dictionary, and probably just posted here for the sake of attention. But I really did try on this one, as I noted, and came up with nothing. And it's not like it's something I just made up - it's from a major published novel.)
    – someone
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 16:05
  • Ah, okay, I see what you are getting at. That's a reasonable guess. Still, I would have thought it had an established meaning. The book doesn't contain made-up words otherwise; the characters use realistic speech patterns, and it's set in real life, not some fantasy world. It doesn't seem in keeping with the novel's tone to have a character use a completely made-up word and have another character understand it.
    – someone
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 16:13

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