meaning and early occurrences of ‘kiss my arse’

The imperative phrase kiss my arse is a very rude way of expressing profound contempt—cf. meaning and origin of the word ‘pogue’: the name of the Irish band The Pogues is from pogue mahone, anglicisation of Irish póg mo thóin, meaning kiss my arse.

The earliest recorded occurrence of kiss my arse is from The Killing of Abel, one of the mystery plays known as the Wakefield, or Towneley, plays (the unique manuscript dates back to the mid-15th century):

Abel: God, as he both may and can,
Spede thee, brother, and thi man.
Cain: Com kis myne ars! Me list not ban,
As welcom standys ther oute.
     – in contemporary English:
Abel: God, as he both may and can,
Assist you, brother, and your man.
Cain: Come kiss my arse! I do not want to curse,
So you are welcome elsewhere.
—text: The Towneley Plays (2018), edited by Garrett P. J. Epp – Medieval Institute Publications, Kalamazoo, MI

The second-earliest occurrence of the phrase is from a passage about the conduct of George Villiers (1592-1628), 1st Duke of Buckingham, at the court of James Stuart (1566-1625), King of Scotland as James VI (1567-1625) and King of England and Ireland as James I (1603-1625), in The Court and Character of King James. Whereunto is now added The Court of King Charles: Continued Unto the beginning of these Unhappy Times. With some Observations upon Him in stead of a Character (Printed at London by R. I. and are to be sold by J. Collins in Little Brittaine, 1651), by the English courtier and politician Anthony Weldon (1583-1648).
—in this passage, “kiss his arse”, preceded by “bidding him”, represents the reported speech transposition of “kiss my arse”:

Now Buckingham had found, by many passages, the Kings desire to be rid of him, he made Court to the Prince 1, and so wrought himself into his affection, that Damon and Pythias 2 were not more dear each to other, which by no means could the old King away with, nor in truth did any other like or approve of the Prince his poor spirit, fearing it foretold his future inclination, that could ever indure any familiarity with such an one, as had put such foul scorns and affronts on him [= the Prince] in his [= Buckingham’s] time of greatnes with the Father: especially, such as […] this man [= Buckingham] had done the Prince at two severall times, once, before an infinite concourse, by bidding him in plaine termes kisse his Arse; a second time, offering to strike him […]: The first of these audacious affronts was at Royston, the second at Greenwich, before about 400. people. Neither of which were to bee indured by a private person, but by a Prince from a private person, surely it shewed a much lesse spirit then should have been inherent to a Prince, and after this, to bee so deare with him, as to be governed by him all his life time, more then his Father was in the prime of his affection, I can give it no title meane enough.

1the Prince”: the future Charles I (1600-1649)
2 Damon was a legendary Syracusan of the 4th century BC whose friend Pythias was sentenced to death by Dionysius I. Damon stood bail for Pythias, who returned just in time to save him, and was himself reprieved.

The Anglo-Welsh historian and political writer James Howell (circa 1594-1666) recorded an extended form of the phrase—of obscure meaning—in Παροιμιογραϕια [Paroimiographia]: Proverbs, or, Old sayed sawes & adages, in English (or the Saxon toung) Italian, French and Spanish whereunto the British, for their great antiquity, and weight are added (London: Printed by J.G., 1659):

Stick a sprigg of Nettle in her arse and send her for a token to the devil.
Newes, newes, the skin of your arse will make a new pair of shooes.
Kiss my arse for a week of fair weather.
If that be so, I’le give you leave to make a whistle of my arse.
The Fox had a wound he knew not where,
He look’d in his arse and found it there.
Fly brass, the Coblers nose in the Tinkers arse.
Dabb quoth Dawkins, when he hit his wife in the arse with a pound of butter.
Ile not creep in her arse to bake in her oven.
What’s that? It is a layer for my Ladies arse, lick you the tother thing; Norfolk.
Better a clout then the arse out.
You may lend your arse, and shite thorough your ribbs.
It melteth like butter in a Sowes arse.
The Devil wipeth his arse with the poore mans pride.
Cleanly quoth Catch[illegible]ole when he wip’t his arse with his elbow.

The phrase then occurs in an anonymous pamphlet, The Republican Bullies Or, a sham Battel between two of a side, in a Dialogue between Mr. Review and the Obvervator, lately fall’n out about keeping the Queen’s Peace: To which is likewise added a Letter from Chester, relating to the Election held there, for that County (London: Printed and Sold by J. Nutt, near Stationer’s-Hall, 1705).
—Context: The passage in which the phrase kiss my arse occurs refers to the fact that The Storm: Or, A Collection of the most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters which happen’d in the Late Dreadful Tempest, both by Sea and Land (London: Printed for G. Sawbridge in Little Britain, and Sold by J. Nutt near Stationers-Hall, 1704), by the English novelist and journalist Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), contains a number of unacknowledged borrowings from A Discourse Concerning the Origine and Properties of Wind. With an Historical Account of Hurricanes, and other Tempestuous Winds (Oxford: Printed by W. Hall for Tho. Bowman, 1671), a learned volume by Ralph Bohun (baptised 1639-died 1716), Church of England clergyman and fellow of New College, Oxford:

Obs. You can Father it you mean, just as you did another Man’s Philosophical Essay upon the Winds, in your Elaborate Collection about the late Dreadful Storm, when you made bold with several Pages from the Learned Dr Bohun, without saying so much to the Dr. for his Assistance as kiss my A—se.

In the following passage from The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Volume 2 – London: Printed for A. Millar, over-against Catharine-street in the Strand, 1749), the English novelist Henry Fielding (1707-1754) humorously implies that the phrase to kiss someone’s arse means to behave obsequiously towards someone:

He then bespattered the Youth with Abundance of that Language, which passes between Country Gentlemen who embrace opposite Sides of the Question; with frequent Applications to him to salute that Part which is generally introduced into all Controversies, that arise among the lower Orders of the English Gentry, at Horse-races, Cock-matches, and other public Places. Allusions to this Part are likewise often made for the Sake of the Jest. And here, I believe, the Wit is generally misunderstood. In Reality, it lies in desiring another to kiss your A— for having just before threatened to kick his: For I have observed very accurately, that no one ever desires you to kick that which belongs to himself, nor offers to kiss this Part in another.
It may likewise seem surprizing, that in the many thousand kind Invitations of this Sort, which every one who hath conversed with Country Gentlemen, must have heard, no one, I believe, hath ever seen a single Instance where the Desire hath been complied with. A great Instance of their Want of Politeness: For in Town, nothing can be more common than for the finest Gentlemen to perform this Ceremony every Day to their Superiors, without having that Favour once requested of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.