You may have heard that Donald Trump is a pussy ass bitch. You may have heard it, to be precise, from Chrissy Teigen; she called him that after he insulted her husband (John Legend) and her, back in 2019:
It’s back in the news because we just learned that Trump tried to trump it – according to a former Twitter employee testifying before congress, the White House asked Twitter to take it down, and Twitter said no. You can read more about it on Slate, in an article by Heather Schwedel that quotes me, Jonathon Green, Ben Zimmer, and a couple of noted linguists.
Obviously, the real question for us on this here blog today is “Why did Donald John Trump object so strongly to being called a ‘cat donkey dog’?”
You’re here on the sweary blog about swearing, so you know as well as we do (and Trump did too) that Teigen’s characterization was not meant in its most literal, schoolbook sense. We’ve had articles about pussy and Trump – Nancy Friedman wrote “A feline profanity” part 1 and part 2, and Colleen Barry gave us “‘Pussy’ on a hot Trump mic.” We’ve learned about the excellent usability of ass – Stan Carey introduced us to Ismo Leikola’s perspective on it. And bitch is a whole-ass category. But there’s something special about Teigen’s usage, and what it tells us about English-language crude terms of abuse… and about Trump in particular.
As Nancy Friedman and Colleen Barry discussed, Trump has a longstanding association with the word pussy through his infamous “grab them by the pussy.” But that’s not the same pussy. Pussy referring to a person doesn’t come by way of pussy meaning ‘vagina’; it started as a term for feline, endearing women, and was then applied to effeminate—especially homosexual—men. From there it became a term of abuse for any man who fails to display proper “manly” dominance and instead lets himself be dominated by others.
So Teigen was calling Trump timid and effeminate, which is especially insulting to someone who thrives on a hypermasculine domination, subjugation, and humiliation of others. It is perhaps ironic that although, when the two words are used anatomically, cunt is a synonym for pussy, when applied to people cunt typically means someone who engages in exactly Trump’s favorite kind of deliberately unpleasant behavior, whereas pussy is applied to someone who entirely lacks the nerve for it.
And then comes a donkey! Well, of course, ass doesn’t mean ‘donkey’ here; it’s an American rendition of the word that was originally arse – it merged in form with ass meaning ‘donkey’ and, in the figurative senses meaning ‘jerk’, has a lot of overlap and blurred lines as to which ass is which. But here it’s ‘butt’, being used as a modifier to pussy, meaning more or less ‘like’ or ‘in the manner of’ or just intensifying the descriptive in a negative way (making its object the butt of the joke, or worse). You’ve likely seen it in expressions like “broke-ass friends” or “lazy-ass brother”; it attaches to an adjective or, more recently, an attributive noun, to make a compound modifier of a following noun.
This -ass apparently got this function – as a clitic or a suffix, depending on whom you ask – among US Marines during the 1940s, when big-assed, used literally (referring to a woman, typically), spread to use on other objects and got trimmed down to big-ass; the Oxford English Dictionary gives a first citation of this use as “big-ass nightstick” from 1945. You can read much, much more about its development in Wilson Miller’s 2017 master’s thesis, “Grammaticalizaton in English: A Diachronic and Synchronic Analysis of the ‘ass’ Intensifier.” Anyway, though pussy and ass carry an anatomical taint between them, in Teigen’s use pussy ass is better rendered as ‘contemptibly timid’.
And, as mentioned, if you have [something]-ass you need a noun following it, which in this case is bitch, which continues the theme to mean a subjugated man. Its application to people started with women, who continue to be its main targets, since after all a bitch is most literally a female dog. It can mean an unpleasant and ill-tempered woman, but it first of all meant a lewd or lascivious woman, like a “bitch in heat,” and from that extended to prostitutes – male and female – and gay men. For a whole historical tracking of its different uses, see Green’s Dictionary of Slang, written by our illustrious co-fucker Jonathon Green. The use of phrases like “my bitch” or “his bitch” to mean a prostitute who is controlled by a pimp is quite recent, dating from the 1960s, but that’s an extension of a well-established use.
And that implication, of a controlled sexual subordinate, is clearly present in Teigen’s phrase. It’s the same reason why when people called Trump “Putin’s bitch” they meant that he was in a (metaphorically sexually) subservient position to Putin, doing his bidding in the same way as a dominated woman is expected to for the man who dominates her. So the irony piles on further, not only because in a literal sense a pussy is a cat and a bitch is a dog, but because when originally applied to a woman pussy and bitch meant opposite kinds of person (sweet versus nasty); but since both are terms referring to women, the application of either to a man, in the male-dominance schema, is a grievous insult.
And that is how “cat donkey dog” – well, “cat buttocks dog” – becomes “contemptibly femininely timid kind of sexual subordinate.” It shows very clearly the misogynistic basis of a lot of English swearwords (this is also true in many other languages, as I wrote about for the BBC), and Trump’s response to it shows how strongly he objects to being treated as he aims to treat women… especially when he’s being treated that way by a woman. Boo hoo… what a chicken, and what a turkey.
“…though pussy and ass carry an anatomical taint between them”
Literally! Well done!
LikeLiked by 1 person
You don’t mention the timeline for “pussy-ass” at all. The earliest I can find is from Diamanda Galas in “Notes from the Pop Underground” from 1985:
DG: I describe them as a group of ill-humored anti- feminist diesel dykes, who run around town performing ritual castrations. The group is composed of a tattoo artist, an arsonist, a telephone repairperson, and, what else do we have-let’s see-a veterinarian -ha! for the castration. Because I believe the police state and the prevention of rape are mutually exclusive, and therefore if women want to stop sitting around and weeping in their stupid little pussy-ass feminist weep sessions, they’d better get their cleavers out and learn how to deal that meat. Otherwise they’re gonna be walkin’ around in bear and fox furs for the rest of their life. No, walkin’ around in bear and polyester for the rest of their life, instead of wearing soft furs, with a .22 revolver and being perfectly comfortable.
The snippet view on Google Books gives “Well fuck you, you pussy-ass bitch!” from page 36 of “The Americas Review”, Volumes 14-15, 1986. I can’t find it online, except at HAPI, where I would need to get a free one-month trial. The original may be earlier than the use by Diamanda Galas, which would make “pussy-ass bitch” quite traditional.
The phrase “pussy-ass” was, of course, also included in the lyrics of “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A, released in 1988, well-spaced away from the bitches.
I had assumed the arse bit was along the lines of pansy-ass, the pansy or pussy being an attributive adjective with ass as the noun rather than the ass just being an intensifier. Perhaps with ass as “Oneself, one’s person or body.” but perhaps as the buttocks being particularly a target of the accusation of effeminacy. Though that might be my misunderstanding of pansy-ass. The phrase “pussy-ass” is then adjectivized and bitch becomes the noun. Therefore, it is Trump’s effeminate/weak arse that is the reason for his being the bitch of any halfway-intelligent commenter who wants to own him.
There is also the delightful turn of phrase in one of the definitions of “pussy” in the OED: “In the usage of homosexual men: the anus”. In this case “ass” could be an intensifier by doubling or it is simply that his arse is that kind of arse.
Though I would also be happy with the reading that his arse is so plagued with boils that it is full of pus.
Butt, what about his tiny mushroom, to match his tiny hands?
LikeLiked by 1 person
To be more specific, the Orange Menace is a cat donkey SHE-dog