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Arse about face

Last week I looked at bollocks (in a manner of speaking). This week, as promised, I’m looking at arse. I almost couldn’t be arsed to do this, as I’ve had the plumbers in this week. They came to install a boiler that is big enough to power a small country, and the first thing they did was to chop through the gas pipe to our cooker. The boiler is so environmentally friendly that it blew a fuse after five hours and has since contributed nothing to any kind of warming.  Mind you they worked their arses off, and hopefully the electrician will be able to get off his arse next week and come and work his magic on the wiring which is all arse backwards. But as Jim Royle would say, ‘Boilers? My arse!’

Arse in British English is the same as the American term ass. The pronunciation was apparently the same in Victorian times, but the Americans then changed to what they felt was a more polite version (I found that on the internet, and now can’t remember where I read it; I’d look it up again, but I can’t be arsed. Sorry).

According to an online dictionary (you can see there’s been no expense spared on this research) arse (n. slang) means:

  1. the buttocks
  2. the anus
  3. a stupid person; fool


Its roots are very old. According to the dictionary again, they are:

the Old English ærs meaning ‘tail, rump,’ from Proto-Germanic *arsoz (cf. Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse ars, Middle Dutch ærs, German Arsch “buttock”), cognate with Greek orros “tail, rump, base of the spine,” Hittite arrash, Armenian or “buttock,” Old Irish err “tail.”

Arse (aaaaaahhrs) is used in all sorts of phrases in British English.

I give you:

  • a pain in the arse: a pain in the butt;
  • an arse: an annoying person;
  • arse about: as in stop arsing about and get on with your work.
  • arse backwards: you’re doing it all wrong
  • arse licker: a sycophant or obsequious person;
  • arse over elbow or arse over tit: to trip up;
  • arsed; to take the trouble to do something, as in, ‘I can’t be arsed’;
  • arseholed: drunk;
  • arsy: to be rude or uncooperative;
  • arsy tarsy: pettish and flouncy
  • as rough as a badger’s arse: describes a particularly bad personal state, either due to hangover as in ‘I feel as rough as a badger’s arse’, or to describe a not very attractive member of the opposite sex.
  • face like a well skelpt arse!: a face like a slapped arse;
  • she needs a kick up the arse: she needs some encouragement;
  • tight as a duck’s arse: someone who is extrememly careful with their money
  • you don’t know your arse from your elbow: you know nothing.

arse 3

German playwright Goethe even used arse in his play Götz von Berlichingen where the hero says the king can lick his arse.

There’s also the phrase ‘running about like a blue-arsed fly’ meaning to be very busy. This could possibly come from ‘a blue house fly’ as there are parts of England where the pronunciation of house sounds just like arse. Cockney comedian Mickey Flanagan tells of how he went to New York and upset some girl by asking if could come up her ‘arse’ – when all he actually meant was that he wanted to pop round to hers for a cup of tea.

Talking of Cockneys, the cockney rhyming slang for arse is aris (bottle and glass, arse; aristotle, bottle).

According to the online urban dictionary  ARSE is also an alternate name for the human enzyme Arylsulfatase E coded by the ARSE gene. One could therefore legitimately say:  “Could you please hand me that jar of ARSE.” Or, “I think your ARSE gene is acting up.”


My favourite arse phrase is ‘my arse and parsley’: a Scottish term of derision meaning, ‘Aye, that’ll be right’ as in, ‘You’ve won the X Factor? My arse (or erse) and parsley.’ In England this is just shortened to, ‘My arse’. As in:

‘Ed Miliband is a great Labour leader.’

‘My arse.’

Which could possibly be followed up by, ‘He’s about as useful as a one-legged man at an arse kicking contest.’

I leave you with Father Jack:

All picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of:

Rabbits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobiaseigen/130149019/

Devils house: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eepaul/3862425051/

German plaque: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6tz_von_Berlichingen_(Goethe)

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


47 thoughts on “Arse about face

  1. Loved this! My northern English hubbys fave abbreviated saying is CBA (can’t be arsed). Strangely, it is also the acronym for one of our biggest Aussie banks. 😁

    Posted by cheergerm | October 21, 2014, 9:13 am
  2. We usually say, ‘yer arse is in parsley’ rather than ‘and’. I thought it was because all the letters of arse are in there! But the meaning’s the same. This gave me such a laugh and a few new ones to be going on with. I love that arse sounds like house in some dialects – the fun that could be had with that! Can’t wait to see what’s next. 🙂

    Posted by scottishmomus | October 19, 2014, 9:39 pm
  3. Why is normal everyday language not as versatile as swearing? It should be deregulated and become a standard feature of business language, for instance. I live for the day when I can quote Father Jack’s “ARSE BISCUITS” in a meeting.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | October 19, 2014, 3:51 pm
    • Depends what kind of meetings you go to. You could say, ‘A pox on your biscuits’. People would just think you were being Shakespearean. Although arse biscuits does have a certain snappy quality to it.
      I have to say, though, that I can’t see myself ever wanting to reject a biscuit. Shoving a hob nob up your arse would be such a waste.

      Posted by elainecanham | October 19, 2014, 4:02 pm
    • Oh, you wouldn’t believe the kind of meetings I have to go to. And I wouldn’t dream of putting a real biccie anywhere near an arse. But nothing describes that particularly special type of sickly corporate guff better than “arse biscuits”.

      Posted by Tara Sparling | October 19, 2014, 4:12 pm
    • I see what you mean,,,arse biscuits it is, then!

      Posted by elainecanham | October 19, 2014, 4:33 pm
    • I think arse biscuits and shoving a hob nob up your arse is going to be the new “thing to say” in NJ.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | October 20, 2014, 12:39 pm
  4. Some of my work enters this realm.

    Posted by awax1217 | October 19, 2014, 12:25 pm
    • Ha! But you could say that for all of us….

      Posted by elainecanham | October 19, 2014, 12:28 pm
    • I find it amazing that you answer my queries before I write them. I assume you are in England where civility rules and there are rules. How do you read my mind before I write my stuff. Or are you controlling my mind and I should become paranoid?

      Posted by awax1217 | October 19, 2014, 12:32 pm
    • Strictly speaking, I’m several hours in front of you. It’s just after noon here, although being Sunday I’ve only just had my breakfast. We can try the mind control thing if you like – I want you to go to your bank now, and pay me all your money.

      Posted by elainecanham | October 19, 2014, 12:37 pm
    • Ha, Now I know you have no mind control. If you did you would know I am a poor snook with no money in the bank. And I am confused how can you be in front of me. The screen is empty. Just random letters thrown out of my dancing fingers. If you wish to know a little about me look at my bio. on my log. Hope you like it for I spend time to fabricate it.

      Posted by awax1217 | October 19, 2014, 12:45 pm
  5. Okay, arse is similar to ass, but we tend to use ass in a more derogatory way. Asshole, assface, asshat. We tend to go tits up instead of tits over arse, and bassackwards instead of arse backwards. We also are partial to kissing ass instead of licking arse, which I must say disturbs me a little, we will often say something like assed up, when we have made a mistake, but I think my personal favorite it arsey tarsey. And that shall also be included into my new jersey verbage.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | October 18, 2014, 9:24 pm
  6. Some of those expressions I never heard before, but shall attempt to take them aboard! “Arse over kite” and “From arsehole to breakfast” are two I commonly hear down here.

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | October 18, 2014, 6:39 pm
    • Arsehole to breakfast??? That’s brilliant. What does it mean?

      Posted by elainecanham | October 18, 2014, 6:51 pm
    • Clean up your room. It’s a mess from arsehole to breakfast. I tripped on a toy and went arse over kite.

      Posted by Bruce Goodman | October 18, 2014, 6:52 pm
    • I got the second, because it’s like arse over tit/elbow. But the first is a new one for me. A mess here can be a dog’s breakfast; you’ve made a right dog’s breakfast of that!

      Posted by elainecanham | October 18, 2014, 6:55 pm
    • I sometimes wonder – especially in Australia whose expressions we often pinch – if, in an unsubstantiated theory of mine, they use rhyming slang more often than we give credit for. They were, after all, populated by rhyme-slanging convicts. So “arsehole to breakfast” could actually be a rhyming slang for “dog’s breakfast”.

      Posted by Bruce Goodman | October 18, 2014, 7:38 pm
  7. I do like it when my education is fun. Thanks Elaine.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | October 18, 2014, 5:43 pm
  8. Enjoyed this. I live in the part of the country where house and arse are pronounced the same. “Arta cumin rahnd ar arse?”. Want to go back to the previous blog now so I suppose I’ll have to get my arse in gear. Nice one!

    Posted by simon682 | October 18, 2014, 4:09 pm
  9. Funny post!
    I love saying arsed. I love saying it and looking at people’s faces when I say it in an English accent.

    Posted by zareenn3 | October 18, 2014, 1:38 pm
  10. Some lovely old favourites here and little snippets I didn’t know such as the possible origin of blue-arsed fly, which I used in an email a mere week ago. I adore ‘arse and parsley’ – what a delight. I’d say more but I can’t be arsed.

    Posted by First Night Design | October 18, 2014, 1:26 pm

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