The Empire State. The Show Me State. Vacationland. The Spirit of America. Live Free or Die Hard. Oh wait, that last one was a Bruce Willis movie. Eh, close enough, we all know where New Hampshire stole their slogan from. American states were all blessed with or donned by their local bureaux of tourism slogans and nicknames to get people to come to their otherwise boring or fly-over state. You often see these on state license plates. According to our across-the-pond frenemies at The BBC, ” a high-profile campaign has been launched to change the state’s official slogan from ‘Unbridled Spirit’ to ‘Kentucky Kicks Ass.'”
Kicks ass. Me finds it a bit crass. “‘If you can put it on the front of a movie theatre, you can say it out loud,’ says Paul Heacock, editor of the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idiom.” They cite the 2010 film, Kick-Ass, as making this all okay. But the movie Kick-Ass was an superhero action movie, full of people literally and figuratively kicking ass, not the Bluegrass State. Just because people allegedly say “kicks ass” out loud does not make it any less borderline inappropriate for official state slogan usage. A state slogan is a perfectly crafted slice of Americana by some faraway advertising firm, an uplifting saying, or an inside joke among inhabitants long forgotten that people just deal with. But it represents the state and the people, sort of the state mindset. They may not all make sense (Missouri, the Show Me State?) but they’re all more or less politely fun. Until now.
Think about it – if you were at a job interview, would you say “I really kicked ass at my last job sir, and you should hire me to kick some more around here.” Not so much. “Ass” is, in fact, considered a four-letter word, despite its only having three letters. It’s not bum or butt or bottom or booty or tush or derrière. It’s ass. Like asshole. Kicking ass, if we break down the literal meaning further, means thrusting your foot upon someone’s rear, which is either mean or violent, and always physically painful. None of these are good.
The BBC explains ‘A player could “kick ass” at chess by deploying an audacious opening manoeuvre. A florist might compose a “kick-ass” bouquet of chrysanthemums.” Yes, this is true, but only in the most casual, colloquial, 8th-grade graduation speech ever sense. No one knows why Virginia is for Lovers, but at least it’s not “Virginia: Sounds like Vagina” or “Virginia is for Doin’ It”. All perfectly acceptable words in this bold, edgy, and daring 21st century, but still send a prickle up my old crochety spine.
The BBC informs us that American presidents have been increasingly using swear words, and this makes them more relatable. It seems that it’s Richard “Dick” Nixon who is to blame for all this:
“‘…it is no coincidence that this trend began shortly after the Watergate scandal, in which the White House was forced to release tape recordings of President Richard Nixon’s profanity-strewn tirades. ‘Before Nixon, you could pretend that people in high positions wouldn’t use words that way,’ says Heacock. ‘That wasn’t possible after 1975.'”
Surprising, however, that no one seems to attribute the fact that the president of the free world at this time was named DICK and that every guy and their dad was named Dick back then? Maybe this caused us to loosen up.
I’m all for presidents getting off their high horses and talking like us commoners. Keep it coming, I’m happy to know that Obama isn’t going around like, “Fudge!” every time we accidentally kill teenage civilians in his oh-so-carefully orchestrated drone attacks. But that still doesn’t mean swear words or even not-so-nice words should become so mainstream an entire state of people must identify with them.
“‘Kicking ass’ is acceptable vulgarity,’ says Michael Adams, professor of English language at Indiana University-Bloomington and author of Slang: The People’s Poetry. ‘It’s on the line but it’s not stepping over the line.'”
I just don’t agree. I think “kicking ass” is acceptable vulgarity among your peers and maybe some forgiving, “with it” older folk, but not okay to promote your state. I mean, how can you go from “Unbridled Spirit”, conjuring up star-spangled images of old time frontiersman, pionneers, saloonsmen, fiddlers, floozies, and his lordship Colonel Sanders to “Kentucky Kicks Ass”?
Conclusion: Kentucky, class it up.