‘Ass’ goes mainstream

For those of you keeping track of NPR’s use of “ass,” here are the latest figures:

In the last year, the word has appeared 22 times in NPR produced news reports. … Interview guests and callers have said “ass” 14 times on air. NPR hosts, reporters and guest commentators said the rest. Three were direct quotes, three were in reference to the animal and two used the term in a casual manner.

NPR’s ombudsman team says they don’t know if ass “has become formally respectable to the rest of society, but with that record it seems to be going mainstream on NPR, at least for a fair number of circumstances.”

I get a second on “going mainstream” from the publisher of Geoffrey Nunberg’s “Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years.” I saw the book on the downtown Evanston Barnes & Noble “New Arrivals” table yesterday and wondered if Wal-Mart, Costco, or other stores refused to sell it. PublicAffairs publicity director Jaime Leifer answered my question in an email:

We didn’t have any particular problem with ASCENT OF THE A-WORD at the big-box chains or the discount clubs; they don’t often take our books—which tend to be too serious or specialized for them—so we weren’t surprised that they didn’t stock this one. Among our usual accounts, our publisher tells me that we actually had no problems with the title (hence the nice placement you saw in Barnes & Noble over the weekend) and the reception amongst the stores has been very positive.

Author Nunberg, who is NPR’s linguist contributor, adds in his email:

Actually, given the flood of X-rated titles out there (Sh*t My Dad Says, Go the F*ck to Sleep, If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the F**k Up? etc. etc.), you’d figure a mere mention of a suffixed “assholism” in a subtitle would come off as positively demure, even in Bentonville.

* Kicking you-know-what (npr.org)
* Check out the comments on Nunberg’s Facebook wall