kicking ass and taking names

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Tanuki, Aug 7, 2005.

  1. Tanuki Member

    Deutschland, (Deutsch)
    "kicking ass and taking names"

    I recently stumbled across this (apparently rather popular) idiom... and while the first half is more than self-explanatory, I wonder a bit about the "taking names" part.

    What idea is behind that construction? Why would anyone "take somebodys name"?
    Smells a lot like etymology, but I thought maybe someone can explain it nonetheless... :)

  2. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I've just read a few dozen passages with the expression, "time to kick ass and take names" but I haven't found the etymology. It means, simply, to be very tough.

    I'm guessing that the origin is from any of
    -the military
    -police jargon
    -a school gym coach:)

    I'll wait with you for something more authoritative.

  3. garryknight Senior Member

    Kent, UK
    UK, English
    It simply means "to write somebody's name down", presumably for the purposes of some kind of punishment later on.
  4. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    As a "military brat" during my entire childhood, and one who has run afoul of the military police my share of times-- I can answer this one with authority. This is indeed a military term, specifically Navy, and the exact unit is the Navy military police, or Shore Patrol.

    When the Fleet is in town, it is the job of the SP to patrol and manage crimes and other behavioral problems of Naval personnel, preferably before they happen-- but to deal with them effectively when they do happen.

    As things have evolved, the line between prevention and cure becomes very blurred when the SP wade into a barroom brawl and break it up. So does the line between behavioral problem and crime. Many unwritten rules and areas of "understanding" exist. The relationship between the SP and the rest of the service can be adversarial, even hostile at times-- so a greatly-outnumbered squad of SP goons has to behave with tact and discretion.

    So most of the time a ruckus is broken up, distance is created between the warring parties, and the matter is forgotten. The rupture point comes when a sailor persists in his infractions, or expresses his defiance a little to openly. In such cases, the possibility looms that backup will be called for, and a wagon or two of swabbies will be hauled to the brig.

    In this interval of looming, there is a failsafe measure, where the SP will sequester the "ringleaders" and confiscate their ID cards long enough to make official note of who they are. Once this process is started, people down the pecking-order of wrongdoing will tend to calm down a bit, even disperse.

    That's because there's a huge difference between showing up at first call with a black eye and a fat lip-- and being written up for the offence. In the first case people spread the news about your ruckus, in the second it is read out at the muster, and the duty officer will then very possibly see to it that the incident goes into the permanent records of the people involved.

    That will just depend, of course, on how lightly the wayward deck apes and anchor-crankers tread during the next watch. Good behavior, the report gets a general filing, stays in the morning report as a list of names. Act up or annoy the watch commander in any way, and your name goes into your record-- you may even be called before a board in an "article 15" to be judged and possibly reprimanded. Enough of these article 15s and the quality of your discharge can be compromised. An honorable discharge is not that difficult to get out with-- why screw up bad enough to have to face the private-sector job hunt with a general, less-than-desirable or even a dishonorable?

    A returning squad of SP knuckle-draggers might be asked how the night went, by their relief, who are assuming the next watch-- how did it go? I heard there was a real rumble.

    Oh yeah there was, at Gentleman Johnny's. We kicked ass, though-- and we took names.

    A certain type of squid gets billeted as a Shore Patrolman, the sort who would chortle like Beavis & Butthead at this point, with high fives all around.
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Great etymology FFB,

    Now, how do you respond when an Army brat substitutes MP for SP?
    I think the process is similar in all the armed services.
  6. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In fact I was an Army brat to begin with, shortly before the air corps became the USAF. Our assignment in Naples from 1959-62 was with AFSOUTH, the HQ for NATO in the southern European Command. It was also the main port of call for the 6th Fleet, and so Naval personnel predominated even among the brat echelons, and all our support activities were under the purview of the Navy.

    The Army has a much more hardcore approach to policing soldiers, largely because the interface between them and the local civilian community is an ongoing and "permanent" thing. Soldiers get leave much more frequently, and their good behavior is a condition of receiving a pass. In the Navy, the ship puts into port infrequently, sometimes very infrequently-- so denying a sailor liberty would be a much more severe sanction. And for what? Sailors don't get the chance to misbehave on foreign soil except when on liberty.

    So SP incentive has to be after-the-fact. That's why "taking names" is something that usually happens in the heat of the battle of misbehavior-- at exactly the time when "kicking ass" is also happening.

    So no, the combination of "kicking ass and taking names" is specifically Naval, and I'm confident that phrase derives from SP policy, not that of military police in general.

    When I lived in Japan (1953-56) incidentally, my nemesis was neither the MPs nor the Shore Patrol-- security on an AFB is in the hands of apes, or the AP-- Air Police. The Marines are part of the Navy, of course, and their chief penalty for not fixing that embarrassing situation is, they are under Shore Patrol jurisdiction. This overlays a very aggravating factor, when lines are drawn-- what do the S--Pushers do when they wade into a contretemps between sailors and Marines? Antagonisms are very likely to repolarize, and the ass-kicking can sometimes go the other way.

    Anyway, not being a Navy brat, I have no special inclination to "credit" the etymology one way or the other.
  7. Gigglesnort New Member

    Okay guys, turn down the testosterone or cite chapter & verse of your bonafides. I believe there was an almost instantaneous transmigration of usage between the military services. Movies made in the forties almost all had some variation of the practice in a comic relief scene; Some variation of a military policeman shows up in the scene and from his disheveled appearance, it is obvious he has recently been engaged in a brawl. When braced by his superior officer, he replies, "I was takin' names or kickin' A.., sir, when my pencil broke and it just kinda' went down hill from there."

    Unfortunately, modern day usage is inapropriately applied ("Kicking A.. & taking names") by the hip, slick and cool who have only a vague or tenuous notion of its proper place in the exchange of ideas but wish to appear "Kewl."
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2010
  8. AfghanistanBananaman

    AfghanistanBananaman New Member

    Abu Dhabi
    The phrase "Kick Ass and Take Names" is commonly used by Police Sgts. as they dismiss patrolmen from roll call (shift briefing). When Police meet socially, they may often give their job description as "I kick ass and take names for a living". All in the law enforcement community will automatically know they are greeting another policeman.
  9. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Where does this happen?

    I doubt that it happens everywhere.
  10. AfghanistanBananaman

    AfghanistanBananaman New Member

    Abu Dhabi
    It seems to be used with humor. The phrase "Kick ass and Take Names" has evolved into another way of saying "Go out and do a good job". Football Coaches are also heard telling players to go out and "Kick ass and take names".
  11. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    When I was a sergeant I never used this phrase to dismiss a roll call, nor in the 25 years I have spent in America's largest law enforcement agency have I ever heard any sergeant use it for that purpose. As for that description of how we police officers supposedly refer to our occupation when meeting socially, it is absurd nonsense; we do nothing of the kind. If I ever heard anyone saying such a thing, I would not "automatically know" that I was "greeting another policeman"; I would assume that the person could do absolutely anything (for example, hotel concierge; fishmonger; flight attendant; professional dog walker), and was merely being facetious.
  12. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    To be clear though, when used commonly, you're just talking about kicking ass.
  13. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    As far as I know, it is short for 'kicking ass first then taking names after', i.e. similar to 'shoot first and ask questions later'.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 14, 2011
  14. tonybellini New Member

    It is an old saying. Therefore, anyone younger than 60 will not be familiar with it. When someone is "taking names" they are placing the names of people on a literal or metaphorical list. They are people who can't be trusted, make mistakes, or are lazy slackers. In other words, the list contains a history of a persons mistakes/indiscretions. Mom's used to say "you are on my list young man."
  15. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Completely untrue.
  16. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Just because it's an old saying doesn't mean younger people haven't heard it. The fact that something's been around a long time can sometimes make it spread even further, so long as people keep using it...

    And they do keep using it. Quite a bit, actually. :)
  17. srk Senior Member

    South Bend, Indiana
    English - US
    The phrase was expanded when I served: I'm gonna be kicking ass and taking names, and I ain't got no pencil!
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2012
  18. mathman Senior Member

    near boston
    English-American/New England
    I agree (that it is untrue that only older people know this phrase). When my daughter was 11 (she is now 23), she played soccer, and the defenders on her team used to wear shirts at practice that had "KATN" in large letters on the back. Everyone knew what it meant.
  19. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    Looks to me like Tanuki was asking about "taking names," and tonybellini was responding specifically to that term - not to the entire "KATN" saying - when he said that it was an old phrase no longer in common usage....
  20. Sylphadora

    Sylphadora Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish, Spain
    The first time I heard this expression I didn't realize that it was a popular saying. It was on a Castle episode called Headhunters, and the character of Richard Castle said it. At that moment I thought that the expression was something that Richard Castle had come up with.

    But now I just heard it again on a New Girl episode called Bully, so I've realized that it is indeed a saying! Everyday you learn something new :)
  21. StoneWolf

    StoneWolf New Member

    American (Englishish)
    I had always been under the impression that "taking names" referred to collecting dogtags from fallen enemy troops post battle.
  22. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I never had that impression. In addition, that image makes little sense. One might be interested in recording the names of one's own troops killed in battle in order to (for example) notify family members, but would have little motivation to do the same with the enemy.
  23. StoneWolf

    StoneWolf New Member

    American (Englishish)
    I disagree, that it makes no sense.

    From (my imagined view of) a soildier's view, how any fallen warrior is treated, friend or foe, is, by extension, how they imagine their own body being treated.

    Dog tags are issued in pairs (or desgined to be split in half) one to stay w/ the remains, the other to be turned in for notification purposes.

    If a soildier knows that, regardless of the outcome, their family will be told, their remains will not be left out to rot or be scavenged, etc, they can fight on, one less thing to be concerned about.

    It is not out of concern for the fallen enemy, but himself.

    That, and, the several wars we had w/ English speaking troops. It's very difficult to dehumanize the enemy when you can understand their dying sobs for their mother.
  24. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Your idea is noble, but from Troy down to the present, not borne out by experience -- and the expression is based on actual experiences rather than otherwise.

    The last war in which American soldiers faced enemy troops from a place whose first language was English was the Civil War -- and this expression does not date back to 1865.

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