Bush's swift victory

January 25, 1991|By Mary Corey

In the war of words, at least, President Bush has scored a victory.

So says Robert L. Chapman, author of "The New Dictionary of American Slang," who credits the president with popularizing the expression "kick ass."

Since Mr. Bush reportedly used it last month -- commenting that Saddam Hussein would "get his ass kicked" in a war -- the bold sentiment, and the somewhat less potent "kick butt," have quickly gained favor with troops and the public.

"It crops up everywhere now," says Dr. Chapman, who defines it as "to assert power; be rough; punish." After hearing the term used by an Army private a decade ago, he began finding it quoted in everything from Sports Illustrated to Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.

Although the phrase is common among college students and athletes, it has definite masculine connotations, says Thomas Kochman, a University of Illinois professor who has studied slang.

"The idea of getting kicked in the ass means you're less manly, more of a patsy," he says.

But Maj. Martin Compton, a public affairs officer for U.S. Central Command, gives the expression a less aggressive meaning. "It's just a way of saying you're going to get somebody's attention," he says, "like you'd do to a mule."

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