Ascent of the A-Word.
19 December 2012
by Geoffrey Nunberg
Who isn't intrigued by that title?*
I only read about half of Geoffrey Nunberg's Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years, but that was mainly because it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It's interesting; it's basically a look at the linguistic and cultural history of the word "asshole" and its related concept, assholism.** I was amused for a while, but then couldn't stick with it. At least it's better than Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, but still, only good if you're looking for an (at times dry) cultural history. Some particular assholes are mentioned, but not enough to keep me interested. I can give you a flavor of the text:
"Obtuseness is the true measure of the asshole. We calibrate how much of a prick or bastard or fucker someone is by the amount of harm he's willing to inflict. But we reckon the degree of someone's assholeness not by the actual hurtfulness of his behavior but by the breadth of his self-delusion, the discrepancy between his perceptions and the reality before his eyes, the energy of his denials and rationalizations. The greater the gulf, the more of an asshole he is." (p. 152.)
Does that intrigue you? Then you might like this book. (Or you could try Aaron James's Assholes: A Theory--looks like we have a new mini-genre starting!***)
*At least I was. But I am a big believer in swearing. I think it's one of the few perks of adulthood. Unfortunately, since CRjr repeated his first swear word the other day (the big one, after me, of course), I'm going to have to start to watch it. Or, CRjr could just learn what he should and shouldn't repeat!
**Mr. CR pointed out that our go-to pejorative terms around here tend to be "tool" or "dick," so perhaps that's another reason I wasn't drawn into this one.
***Or even Robert Sutton's older The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, which I read and enjoyed when it first came out.