The Meaning of A-hole

The Meaning of “Asshole”

Harry Frankfurt partly inspired this. I thought: Frankfurt put his finger on “bullshit”, and I am a philosopher, so I should define “asshole”. After considerable tinkering and with the help friends, I settled on this definition: the asshole is the guy who systematically allows himself special advantages in cooperative life out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunises him against the complaints of other people.


The difference between a jerk and an asshole is that an asshole knows what he is doing.




What about dickhead?

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The article divides foul language into four categories, that one is in the category " slurs , which invoke a metaphor"

Asshole on the other hand has broken out of that group and is now in the category " vice terms , which purport to classify a kind of moral personality".

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There is a list of 262 general insults in the American-English language. In the Dutch language we even have some more: 277.

Dickhead might be a slur but even slurs have varying connotations .

I would argue that dickheads do it with intention, assholes do not.

Assholes are living under the illusion that they are at the center and the world should bend around them. They are in fact idiots, some are highly functioning idiots but, idiots just the same.

That is why a true asshole is often astonished or angry when you confront them. They don’t understand why you are objecting to their assholic behavior because they have the right to do it.

But a dickhead knows he’s wrong. His reaction will most oftem be a shrug or a terse comment like “deal with it”.


In the book Aaron James takes the stance that assholes take small liberties - often many at a time which add up quickly - but they rarely do anything that causes long term or serious harm.

I mention this and the word dickhead because - untill reading his book - I had a specific person that came to mind whenever that word was mentioned. We shall call the person Captain X

But in reading the book I became unsure if Captain X met the definition. He clearly did lots of small things with an undue sense of entitlement like throw a fit if he found anyone touching his chair or if you didn’t make a fresh cup of coffee everytime he came to the bridge (even if the pot was less than 5min old), had ebay purchases helicoptered out to the ship, rearranged work and watch schedules around his frequent naps… But he did lots of bigger things to.

The biggest was he actively fired people that rubbed him the wrong way (i.e. refused to play all his games) and, even worse, he refused to promote anyone he liked.

He was fully engaged ALL the time and actively plotted his schemes. And complaining didn’t bother him… he’d just shrug and say deal with it.

Now his opposite number was 110% disengaged. He was so disengaged that we had to steal his signature and have a stamp made because the paperwork piled up so high. He refused to even use the stamp but he “kindly” left the stamp out on his desk for anyone to use. He would take tons of small liberties too but never did anything big because he wasn’t self motivated enough to do anything big.

And if you called this guy out he would get pissed!

The funny thing is that the ship ran great because the crew was too botch. The first captain made sure he only had the best person for each job and the signature stamp of the second resulted in LOTS of free overtime.

I’d say most Captains are either assholes or dickheads BUT I also want to make clear that it’s not necessary to be either. I’ve worked for a rare few that were neither and still managed to run a great ship… I think it’s just a lot easier to be a dick or asshole than lead by example and since your boss is hundreds of miles away you can get away with it too.

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