arse and ass

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
Are both 'arse' and 'ass' used in British English?
(1) Don't be an ass. vs. Don't be an arse.
(2) Move your ass. vs. Move your arse.
I thought 'arse' was the British spelling of 'ass' (American spelling), but I'm not sure. Is it?

And if 'ass' is also used in BrE is it pronounced the same as 'arse'?

Also, is 'arse' ever used in AmE?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    It would be interesting to know when and where arse came into being. Balaam's ass in the Bible certainly isn't spelled arse in the King James version, despite the fact that it was produced by Brits. :) Or is the donkey "ass" entirely different from the human buttocks "ass" in British English?

    I would really like to know how it came about.

    [edit] I've looked at a few etymology sites but I haven't really found a clear, definitive answer.

    [edit] Ah, a little more reading... so "arse" is the traditional word for the buttocks and "ass" for the animal and somehow in American English the word "arse" got collapsed into the word "ass". That's very interesting. I honestly thought that "arse" was some sort of euphemism used by British English speakers to avoid saying "ass". Thanks for asking this question, JungKim.

    So, back to your questions:

    "Don't be an ass" is referring to the animal, I assume, so it seems that it should be the same in British and American English.

    "Move your arse/ass" would be British for the first and American for the second because it refers to the body part.

    Does that sound correct, British English speakers?
     
    Last edited:

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, ass and arse were different words.

    Arse was spelt like this in Middle English, but it would have had a short vowel. In some American dialects/accents in the 18th and 19th centuries, the /r/ after vowels was lost. (The loss of /r/ is not only a British phenomenon.) This resulted in arse (with still the short vowel) being pronounced ass (and eventually written ass). This also happened with cuss (curse) and bust (burst).

    In Britain, the vowel lengthened before the /r/ got lost. The spelling wasn't revised though. In most English English pronunciations, arse, curse and burst are pronounced without /r/ (although the <r> appears in the spelling) with long vowels. AmE ass, cuss and bust are pronounced without /r/ (and the <r> removed from the spelling) with short vowels.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    "Don't be an ass" is referring to the animal, I assume, so it seems that it should be the same in British and American English.

    "Move your arse/ass" would be British for the first and American for the second because it refers to the body part.
    That, I think, explains this Ngram ("be an arse" is almost non-existent even in BrE) as well as this other Ngram ("your arse" isn't non-existent at all in BrE). According to the latter Ngram, though, even in BrE "your ass" is more common than "your arse," which is interesting.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    That, I think, explains this Ngram ("be an arse" is almost non-existent even in BrE) as well as this other Ngram ("your arse" isn't non-existent at all in BrE). According to the latter Ngram, though, even in BrE "your ass" is more common than "your arse," which is interesting.
    The use of ass as the name of an animal confounds those results.

    One way to see the true distinction between AE usage and BE usage is to add "hole". The BE Ngrams (which always AE mislabeled books, probably accounting for the ass versions) show lots of the r version while the AE Ngrams show an almost complete lack of the r version.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    In Britain, the vowel lengthened before the /r/ got lost. The spelling wasn't revised though. In most English English pronunciations, arse, curse and burst are pronounced without /r/ (although the <r> appears in the spelling) with long vowels. AmE ass, cuss and bust are pronounced without /r/ (and the <r> removed from the spelling) with short vowels.
    I understand that in BrE "arse" has a long vowel but "ass" a short vowel. I also know that in AmE "cuss" and "bust" has a short vowel.

    But in AmE does "ass" really have a short vowel?
    I thought that "ask" had the same vowel as "ass" in AmE, and that "ask" in AmE had a long vowel. (I think that "ask" in BrE has a long vowel as well). No?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm calling /æ/ a short vowel although admittedly it can be prolonged. The long vowel is /ɑː/ is used in father, RP ask and arse. General American ask has /æ/.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    If /æ/ can be called a short vowel, then is there a vowel in AmE corresponding to its long version (/æ:/)?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In English, we usually think of /eɪ/ or /ɑː/ as the long vowels, eg do you say data with a long or short vowel? (You can say /ˈdeɪtə/, /ˈdɑːtə/ or /ˈdætə/.)
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I say /ˈdætə/ but I always thought it was a long vowel. :)
    You said earlier "I'm calling /æ/ a short vowel although admittedly it can be prolonged."
    Is it possible in AmE for /æ/ to not be prolonged?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Any vowel can be prolonged. In English we talk about short vowels and long vowels, and /æ/ is considered a short vowel. Some linguists prefer the term tense and lax for vowels. Long vowels are tense; short vowels are lax. See Wikipedia:
    Contrast between vowels on the basis of tenseness is common in many languages, including English; for example, in most English dialects, [iː] (as in the word beet) is the tense counterpart to the lax /ɪ/ (as in bit), and /uː/ (as in kook) is the tense counterpart to the lax /ʊ/ (as in cook).
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Ok I get it. It's considered a short vowel.
    But the thing is, I've always thought that the vowel sound in "ass" (and "ask") is prolonged when pronounced in AmE. That is, I've never heard an American speaker not prolong that vowel sound. So regardless of the technical categorization, is it ever possible not to prolong the vowel sound in "ass" (and "ask")?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, it is. Listen to a speaker from northern England. You'll hear /as/ and /ask/. Short vowels, though more open (lower) than the American vowel.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    So regardless of the technical categorization, is it ever possible not to prolong the vowel sound in "ass" (and "ask")?
    Sorry. I was asking about AmE only.

    Yes, it is. Listen to a speaker from northern England. You'll hear /as/ and /ask/. Short vowels, though more open (lower) than the American vowel.
    So does that mean that in AmE it's never prolonged, right?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Whether a vowel is "prolonged" or not has no bearing whatsoever to whether we call it a long or short vowel. That misconception may be what's confusing you were.
    I'm not confused. I said I understand it's classified a short vowel.
    My only question was whether "ass" or "ask" is ever not prolonged in AmE.
     
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