From Ben Zimmer, two instances of ass-avoidance in the news.
First, from the New York Times, a story about GoDaddy shifting its advertising strategy, “GoDaddy Steps Away From the Jiggle” by Stuart Elliott (on September 5th):
A marketer whose sexy advertising polarized consumers for years is trying to distance itself even more from its previous provocative approach, as executives seek to strike a balance between being noticed and being castigated.
In a commercial scheduled to begin running on Thursday, GoDaddy, the Internet services company, will recast itself as a helpmate to small-business owners by adopting a new theme for its advertising, “It’s go time.” The commercial, by Deutsch New York, part of the Deutsch division of the Interpublic Group of Companies, features the action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme playfully embodying the new GoDaddy brand personality by enabling entrepreneurs to meet whatever challenges they face.
In interviews and news releases, GoDaddy executives are describing the new brand personality with phrases like the one a family newspaper would paraphrase as “enabling our customers to kick tail.” But the sassy unparaphrased version is missing from the commercial, which will appear on godaddy.com as well as on television, initially during the NBC coverage of the first game of the N.F.L.’s 2013-14 season.
The changes in GoDaddy’s approach arrive as marketers and consumers debate how far is too far when it comes to language and imagery in mainstream ads. The original GoDaddy brand personality was characterized by buxom, scantily clad women called “GoDaddy Girls”; ad copy replete with double entendres, many delivered by the racecar driver Danica Patrick; and online commercials that were racier than the eyebrow-raising television versions. Bob Parsons, the founder of GoDaddy who was then its chief executive, originated and reveled in those tactics for what he called “GoDaddy-esque” ads.
The unexpurgated “help you kick ass” version can be viewed here:
This is a big step away from the raciness of the earlier GoDaddy ad copy, though it has the slang idiom kick ass (with the alternative kick butt):
[Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms 2003] to be very exciting or effective … The DVD of that war movie truly kicks ass.
[Collins English Dictionary 2003] [vb intr] to be impressive, esp in a forceful way pop music that kicks ass; [adj kick-ass] forceful, aggressive, and impressive
But even this has been toned down for the NFL tv ad, and the NYT has chosen to paraphrase the idiom because of the word ass in it, despite the fact that the word is not understood literally.
The paper has not always been so ostentatiously modest. Its coverage of the Kick-Ass movies, for instance, has been straightforward.
On the first movie, from Wikipedia:
Kick-Ass is a 2010 British-American superhero action-comedy film based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who co-produced with Brad Pitt and co-wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman. Its general release was on 25 March 2010 in the United Kingdom and on 16 April 2010 in the United States. It is the first installment of the Kick-Ass film series.
It tells the story of an ordinary teenager, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who sets out to become a real-life superhero, calling himself “Kick-Ass”. Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a former cop who, in his quest to bring down the drug lord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), has trained his eleven-year-old daughter to be the ruthless vigilante Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz).
The cover of the comic book and a poster for the movie:
And from the 4/16/10 review of the movie by Manohla Dargis in the NYT:
A story about a teenager who yearns to be a superhero, and a little girl who’s the star of her own splatter-happy head trip, the big-screen comic “Kick-Ass” could not be more calculating, or cynical.
No avoidance there, or in other Times stories about the comic book and the movies.
Now on to a different case of ass-avoidance, involving author Meg Medina and her young-adult novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, about bullying. In her own words (from September 4th):
Author Uninvited: A School Decides I’m Trouble
Let me start by saying that I am not making this up.
This week I was officially uninvited to speak on bullying at a middle school due to the title of my latest YA novel, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.
The timing could not have been more ironic. September is the month when the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book Week, our annual reminder about the importance of intellectual freedom.
Sure, the title has raised eyebrows – as I knew it would. But the title of my book wasn’t an issue several months ago when I was contracted to be part of the school’s anti-bullying event. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of girl’s unraveling as she navigates being in the crosshairs of a physical and emotional abuser.
… last Friday, I received a painful email from the teacher who had reached out to me in the first place. She was apologetic as she explained that her principal needed reassurances. He needed to be sure that I would not state the name of my novel. Or show a slide of the cover. Or use “coarse language” during the presentation.
Medina was of course unwilling to provide these reassurances, so she was uninvited.
Here we have a different slang idiom. From the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary (2nd ed., 2006):
kick (somebody’s) ass (mainly American very informal!) to punish someone or to defeat someone with a lot of force The General saw the conflict as a chance for the Marines to go in and kick ass. We want to go into the game and kick some ass.
Or, as in Medina’s title, ‘beat somebody up’. Not (necessarily) literal ass-kicking, but generalized aggression and dominance — a sense that is extended further in the ‘forceful, aggressive, impressive’ idiom kick ass.