Friday, March 11, 2005

Going all Balaam on your ass

Hello. Professor Bruce Telford here (from the linguistics dept. at University College, Barkettle) guest blogging for the usual chap.

At some point in the past few years, the phrase "going all [something] on your ass" has crept into our colloquial idiom. Our journalistic idiom also. Worryingly, I have even seen it once or twice in student assignments I have marked. The time has come to examine this figure of speech, before it crops up in the Bible itself.

In short, it is an extention of "...on you" (as in "sorry if I'm going all mawkish on you"). Obviously the "on you" there is entirely redundant. But does the addition "r ass" make it viable?

Another example:

"Now, I'm about to go all linguistic on your ass."

What the person here is saying is "Please be forewarned that I am about to embark on an extended monologue regarding the technicalities of language, which may or may not fill you with feelings of oppression." Clearly the colloquial version is more succinct, but this does not explain why "ass" is chosen to represent the whole. Why not "head"? Or "navel"? Indeed, the choice of "ass" suggests a vague anal fixation on the part of the speaker. He is looking at and addressing the face, but his thoughts are of the anus.

The literal meaning sheds some light on this area:

"Now, I'm about to seize your anus and write a two page essay on linguistics on it, scrawling ink across the buttocks and using the central cleft as a page demarcator."

Could this perhaps be an indicator of true desire: to forego face-to-face communication and deal henceforth solely in facio-anal?

Another possibility: that of "ass" in the zoological sense. The speaker is making the bold assumption that his interlocutor possesses a donkey, and that the interlocutor will permit him to mount said donkey, from which perch he will commence lecturing. However, the figure of speech in question is now in general usage in the Western world, whereas donkeys are not. Again, this could be a latent desire on the part of the speaker.

My conclusion is that the phrase has no worthwhile value, other than to reveal character traits in the speaker best left hidden. If allowed to continue flourishing in the general idiom, my biblical warning will become a depressing reality. In which case Numbers 22:28-31 (King James Version) will look like this:
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam went all angry on the ass's ass, and he smote it with a staff.

28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, "What have I done unto thee, that thou hast gone all angry on my ass, smiting it three times?"

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, "Because thou hast mocked my ass: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thine ass."

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, "Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? Was I ever wont to do so unto thine ass?" and he said, "Nay."

31 "Well then," said the ass. "There you go."


Jenny D said...

The high-profile crossover moment in this (as far as I could tell, I am basically completely out of it) was the Pulp Fiction line "I'm going to get medieval on your ass." And to my horror the professor teaching a lecture course at Yale on the Canterbury Tales couldn't resist saying it again and again...

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