Few things on earth are as pleasing as a beautifully formed gluteus maximus. It is an aesthetic wonder on a par with any cathedral dome: I gaze in awe at its roundness, its aloofness, the way it counterbalances our lumpen heads. The butt is like a separate bodily realm, a sort of defiant exclave that mocks us with the wry, tantalising grin etched between its voluptuous cheeks.
Arse. Ass. Backside. Batty. Behind. Booty. Bottom. Bum. Butt. Buttocks. Buns. Crack. Derrière. Duff. Posterior. Rump. Tush. What a ridiculous collection of words we depend on to represent this corporeal treasure. I feel uncomfortable using any of them; they either cushion their subject in a tweeness verging on euphemism or else smack of sexual cliché. It is surely not an etymological coincidence that most of these words are pivoted on the plosive consonant ‘b’, which phonetically and graphically combines to make an uncanny onomatopoeia (both in lower and upper case).
Backside, behind, bottom, butt and bum are the most socially acceptable terms because they don’t carry any explicitly sexual connotations. They are even considered quaintly colloquial in that they manage to signify and sterilize their subject at the same time, like a linguistic anaesthetic administered to that very spot. Only booty, batty and ass/arse are genuinely slang expressions, although they are relatively mild in any given social context. Owing to the dearth of alternatives, these words must fulfil between them a diverse range of socio-linguistic functions, from bearing the brunt of comedy to the grunt of pornography. In consequence, they have become too widely assimilated into mainstream discourse to be considered as profane as some of their genital counterparts.
J shares my love of butts. We will be driving along, for example, when we glimpse a stupefying specimen waiting (orbiting, as it were) at a bus stop. “Such butt,” she’ll say elliptically. Because language simply cannot grasp it: we can only stare at it in dumb disbelief. It boasts such complete certainty in itself that it transcends the physiological imperatives that engendered it in the first place. Where the face is a dissembling apology of itself, the arse stands supreme (despite itself). Thus we implicitly grasp what it is that we revere about it: it is a triumphant mockery of the nature that fashioned it and the culture that crowned it.
I propose more research be done into the mysteries of this hallowed hump: linguistic, historical, anthropological, anything damn it. I recommend more public sculptures be erected in its honour. I demand that a more fitting and respectful word be coined to pay tribute to it.
Predictably, I wanted to find a photo of a perfect posterior to accompany this text but J recommended against it. “It’s too obvious,” she said. But the real problem is the illusory nature of the butt as an objet d’art (sic). Because we (okay, me) project our dubious desires, complexes and ideas onto it, it subtly recedes from us, like a celestial body, eluding our fumbling language, slipping away from our groping advances.
A few years ago I was walking along in the Old Town when I passed two women talking and smoking outside a bar. One had her back to the wall; the other had her bulging, swelling (…) protruding out into the world. Instinctively I reached out to touch it. It was just so magnificent, so perfect. Then I realised, to my horror, that my hand was reaching out by itself. I violently yanked it back and hurried away. I had never experienced anything like it before (nor since thankfully): a total loss of self-awareness and control in the taunting, pouting face of it. Such, for me, is the irresistible gravitational pull of a beautiful (…). There is nothing I would rather gaze upon and contemplate for it contains, both within and without its cavernous walls, all the secrets of the world.