This past weekend, I had dinner with some people of an older generation. The talk turned to music and the inevitable “back in my day” rants began. Apparently, only in the 50s did singers actually sing so you could understand them. Only in the 50s did songs consist of more than three notes. I waited for a comment about wholesome subject matter but that didn’t come, luckily.
Throughout the conversation, I just smiled and nodded. There was no use in bringing up the fact that my high school years were punctuated with grunge. I think my audience would have sniffed or look at me with immense pity.
I know that one day I will look back at the glory days and proclaim, and rightly so, that my youth was the pinnacle of civilization and the world today is going to hell in a hand basket (although, I should probably update it to “hell in a backpack” or “hell in a messenger bag”). All punctuated with the proper fist flourish, of course.
Time is like the soft focus camera; it makes everything look pretty and lets ugliness fade into the background. Every era before ours was more cultured. Except for when it wasn’t, and then it was just quaint.
I recently picked up In the Best Families, a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout. The vernacular voice of the narrator is supposed to be somewhat street (for the 30s, when the Wolfe series began, or the 50s, when this book was written and set), but I found it to be a little campy. “This is the way it’s gonna play, see” type of thing. I’m sure it was thrilling writing or even edgy writing for the time, but reading it now, the style seems quaint. It’s not a more civilized time or more cultured, it’s just kind of funny.
Then, the narrator described something as “bassakwards.” I nearly fell out of my seat. Call me naive, but I really thought that faux pig latin to soften a faux bad word was relatively new.
Merriam-Webster claims the word doesn’t exist. But, according to the Urban Dictionary, bass ackwards is the correct spelling. The two given definitions go back to the early 2000s. Dictionary.com claims it is one word that originated in the 50s (hmm, about the same time as all that listen-able music) and is a “euphemistic spoonerism as alter. of assbackwards.” Why does “euphemistic spoonerism” make me laugh?
In 2006, bass ackward appeared in a book title, a YA book title no less.
More recently, the faux bad word was used as the title of an explicit record.
A quick Amazon search found several more recent books (1995 to present) with bass ackwards in the excerpts…most having to do with terrible fish puns. Then Amazon served up 1939’s The Grapes of Wrath (with a hyphen, which, according to all the amazon excerpts, is the preferred spelling). Hmm, perhaps I should have paid more attention in Junior English. How did I miss that?
And the number of websites that use bassackwards in their URL…I’m astounded. I’d heard the word before, but I never knew how popular it was…or how old!
P.S. Assway ackwardsbay, the correct Pig Latin phrase according to this Pig Latin translator, just doesn’t have the same ring as bass ackwards.