The sequel to my allergic ass

🐇 🐇 🐇 pour le premier mai. A follow-up to yesterday’s posting “My allergic ass”, which was (mostly) about pronominal ass — possessive pronoun + ass, used of a person, to refer not to their buttocks but to that person: his ass ‘he, him’, your ass ‘you’, my ass ‘I, me’.

[Ambiguity may ensue: my ass is warm can mean either ‘my buttocks are warm’ or ‘I am warm’ (you have to figure out from context which was intended); while my ass is heart-shaped is probably about my buttocks (well, I might be Candy Man, shaped like a candy heart), and my ass is allergic is probably about me (though I might conceivably have buttocks afflicted by contact dermatitis).]

Now: through Facebook discussions, two different threads have emerged from that posting: one about material in a long citation in the 2006 Beavers and Koontz-Garboden paper on pronominal ass; the other about the source of the example — my allergic ass — that provoked my posting.

The citation in the Usenet newsgroup, from B&K-G 2006. Rife with pronominal ass, including two 1sg examples (all the 1sg pronominals are bold-faced):

their asses sure know how to fuckin’ jam. kick ass guitar, whaling keys, and fuckin’ screetching ass voices! dig it. fuckin’ a. after the fuckin’ jam was over my ass handed the old chick her ten fuckin’ bucks…. his ass claimed that his old lady gave him the fuckin’ bucks to fuckin’ buy an ice cream sandwich…. i told his ass i needed the fuckin’ money in order to fuckin’ buy some beer. shit. my ass ain’t ready to rip off texaco quite yet. [AZ: note the alternation between 1sg my ass and 1sg I; I’m not quite sure what to make of it]

Two things. screetching ass and whaling keys.

screetching ass. I’m assuming this is a spelling of screeching-ass ‘screeching like hell, screeching very loudly’ = screeching, giving ‘a harsh, piercing cry’ (NOAD) + the intensifier –ass. The canonical example of the intensifier is big-ass ‘really big, huge’; and then we have bad-ass ‘really bad’ (for several senses of bad), crazy-ass ‘crazy as a coot’, cool-ass ‘cool as hell’, weird-ass ‘totally weird’, etc.

Intensifying –ass is historically related to, but now distinct from, compounds of the form Adj + ass ‘Adj-assed, having Adj buttocks’, like huge-ass (bathers), cute-ass (twink), pimply-ass (kid), smooth-ass (boys), hot-ass (queer). (In a previous life, I had some small fame as a cute-ass, in fact hot-ass, in fact fuckable-ass, queer. Fame is fleeting, art endures.)

Yes, rooting around in English vernacular grammar will get you a lot of ass. Three different kinds in just this little subsection of the posting: pronominal ass; intensifier –ass; and ass as head in bahuvrihi, aka possessive, compounds like hot-ass (compare: graybeard, flatfoot, etc.; bare-faced, red-headed, etc.).

whaling keys. From Rod Williams on Facebook yesterday (4/30):

I’m thinking whose should be wailing keys, Cap’n Ahab?!

My response began (as usual, I’ve edited and improved it):

John and Andrew had to take the spellings they got, and this one is interesting, because it seems to indicate that the writer doesn’t distinguish (at least partially) voiceless [hw] (mostly spelled WH) from fully voiced [w] (mostly spelled W) (as most younger American speakers do not) — so you end up with an image of harpoons and seaspray (whaling) instead of dolorous howling (wailing).

For a very large portion of American speakers — call them WH-voicers — The distinction in pronunciation is neutralized to [w], across the board, but spelling practices are complex.

WH-voicers have to learn, essentially by brute memorization, which spellings go with which meanings. If they just followed their instincts, they’d spell everything with a W, since [w] is the pronunciation they have, and indeed this the most common pattern of spelling error. WACK for WHACK, WIFF for WHIFF, WIZZ for WHIZZ.

However, for some speakers the WH spellings seem to have picked up connotations of toniness, correctness, fanciness, or elevated diction, so we see some spelling errors in the other direction, but usually contrived so as to produce an actual orthographic word of English, as in the fairly common error WHOA IS ME for WOE IS ME. And, possibly, WHALING for WAILING.

In any case, having put forward neutralization of phonemic contrast — a technical term boiling down what I said above about pronunciation differences and meaning differences — as the source of Alt.Music Guy’s misspelling, I then began having alternative thoughts.

Phonemic neutralization is in fact a common source of misspelling, as in GEORGE BERNARD SHAH for GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, an error I’m particularly fond of. The question is whether that’s what’s going on with Alt.Music Guy’s WHALING. That is, the question is what was going on in Alt.Music Guy’s head when he typed in whaling. And for that, there’s no easy answer. It’s a question of plausibility in context, and we have only the tinest bit of the context (we don’t, for example, know anything about Alt.Music Guy or who he thinks he’s writing to, or why). So it’s all very suppositional.

So, some further phenomena. There are speakers who possibly have the distinction, but also use [hw] pronunciations for emphasis, to convey surprise, disbelief, extravagance, and so on. I’m on firm ground here because I am such a speaker.

A [hw]indows system? You fucking bought a [hw]indows system?

(My memory for the exact utterance is uncertain, but I recall having used [hw] and then being startled that I had, so I wrote it down on a slip of paper. Which I lost — I don’t really have a filing system, I’m an office pig — but the act of writing it down kept it in my memory.) After that, I began noticing other times when these purely expressive [hw]’s exploded from my mouth.

But of course I never spelled it WHINDOWS . I am an excellent speller, and years of reading and editing student writing has merely blunted some of the edges of my abilities.

There’s plenty to suggest that Alt.Music Guy, on the other had, is a wretched speller. So expressive WH is a real possibility.

Especially when you realize there are WH-voicers who’ve picked up expressive uses of the [hw] pronunciation; they don’t use the phonetic feature to differentiate words, but they do appreciate that it can convey a variety of emotional nuances.  You can see how that could happen: the various phonetic realizations covered by the transcription [hw] share an explosive expulsion of breath that’s quite audible (especially in contrast to the quieter voiced [w]) and so can mark salience, significance, and the like.

In my experience, such speakers are pretty common. I used to spend long lunch hours at a long-gone restaurant around the corner from my house, eating and drinking slowly and writing on a pad of paper, meanwhile attending covertly to all the social life around me and noting features of linguistic, social, or sociolinguistic interest (I am, in a weird sense, always on the job).

By these means, I caught a whole lot of expressive [hw], almost surely from WH-voicers (because that’s now almost everybody around here). Especially common with the accented question words what, where, when, and why (which standardly have WH spellings, even for WH-voicers), but also words like willow and women. As in these dimly recalled examples:

No, no, [hw]illow Road! Not Middlefield!  [local streets]

[hw]omen, [hw]omen, that’s all she ever writes about!

So these uses are a likely source of Alt.Music Guy’s WHALING. (And once he’d written the WH, he just went on with an actual spelling he knew.)

Doing drag. The my allergic ass citation appeared in a Facebook posting from Sister Hera Sees Candy — the wonderful drag name of a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, a San Francisco order of queer and trans drag nuns. (l had to add that explanation when I realized that not all of my readers would recognize the Sisters as just part of the San Francisco gay landscape. In my opinion, an especially delightful part, though they’re only one corner of a sprawling drag scene in the area.)

Here’s Sister Hera at the Pride Parade in 2015:

(#1) (photo by Alan Grinberg on Flickr)

The drag name is a POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau):

Hera Sees Candy =  Hera Sees (a pun on heresies) + Sees Candy

(which incorporates the name of the Greek goddess Hera (Roman Juno), the queen of heaven).

Meanwhile, Sees Candies are a local thing too. (If you live in California, or travel through major American airports a lot, you surely know Sees, but they now market pretty widely.) From Wikipedia:

(#2) [ad copy:] Assorted Chocolates: An irresistible mixture of best-selling creamy, nutty, chewy and soft center favorites wrapped in See’s rich milk and dark chocolates. Approximately 26 pieces. $26.50.

See’s Candies is an American manufacturer and distributor of candy, particularly chocolates. It was founded by Charles See, his wife Florence, and his mother Mary in Los Angeles, California in 1921. The company is now headquartered in South San Francisco, California. See’s kitchens are located at its headquarters and maintained at its original factory in Los Angeles, where there are also retail shops.

… The See’s Candy company primarily vends its products in its own stores, and those of fellow Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Nebraska Furniture Mart. See’s candies are also available at its stores in a number of airports in the United States.

Hera Sees Candy, meet Chantal Boustier. To Gadi Niram on Facebook earlier today (again, somewhat edited):

I was pleased that the Sisters got into this posting, partly because I think it’s just wonderful that I live in a world where people I know do drag (and where some play in rock bands and some are cartoonists and some are professional classical musicians and some are stud hustlers and some are public intellectuals and some are poets and a whole hell of a lot of them are scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and techies and … ) — this is in fact the world I dreamed about living in when I was a kid and couldn’t imagine achieving, how cool-ass is that.

Oh yes, I tried to work our friend Derik Cowan and his drag persona Chantal Boustier into things, because I could then say that when he and I first met he was a fagling late-teen and I was in my 50s. (But I had to make do with Sister Hera Sees Candy, because that’s what was in my data.)

Unaccountably, I have no photos of Derik as Chantal. But I can at least explain the drag name.

Chantal is the name of a character in Jean Genet’s The Balcony, a part that Derik played in an undergraduate performance.

As for boustier, from NOAD:

noun bustier: a close-fitting strapless top worn by women.

Well, yes, customarily. But this is Drag World, and the wearers of those bustiers are, underlyingly, dudes. Or you can just dress your pecs in a bustier and show off your bare belly (adorable or with rock-hard abs, as the case may be), as in a croptop. Break out your bustiers, boys!

(#3) On eBay, listed as a men’s Gothic punk vest or t-shirt; or as a crossdressing or sissy bustier / camisole / croptop (patent leather with lace trim, in black). I must say I like the frank labeling of some clothes as for sissies (as well as crossdressers; the two categories are distinct, and only a bit overlapping), because I have some sissy — their label — friends too, including some into sissy clothing, specifically sissy panties (typically, of pink lace), which make them feel happy (and that is a very good thing, and anyway, these guys are just adorable in their sissy panties)

When I was younger (like 40 or 50 years younger), I might have considered wearing a lace-trimmed bustier as goofy party wear (well, for certain kinds of party), without any other drag accoutrements, just prettying up my seriously hairy upper body and sending entertainingly mixed gender messages (I actually considered getting a Hello Kitty jockstrap in vivid pink, for a similar purpose). Sort of like the one above, but in some much faggier color, and absolutely not in unbreathing shiny patent leather: real (padded) leather, or some slinky comfortable fabric. What would Loretto Young wear?


One Response to “The sequel to my allergic ass”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    I laughed longer and harder than I almost ever do at the thought of “a Hello Kitty jockstrap in vivid pink”. Thank you for brightening up the end of what has been a very dull day.

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