Among the colorful vulgarisms spoken by characters in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (a raucous entertainment of dubious propriety in which I recently essayed a small role) is the phrase “assled around.” It purports to be an authentic bit of Texas country slang, although as a lifelong Texan, I must confess the first time I ever encountered the term was in the show’s script by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson.
Its meaning is fairly clear from the context. Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (the estimable Kevin Cooney in Theatre Under The Stars’ production) is complaining to Miss Mona (Michelle DeJean) that he didn’t see Lee Harvey Oswald shot on television because “I assled around and missed it.” The invaluable online Urban Dictionary clarifies further in advising that assle is a verb derived from ass (meaning “buttocks”) and means “to vary from a direct course (especially so as to hinder those behind you, causing aggravation),” and in a more general sense, “to drag one’s feet, lag behind, meander, be dilatory or a slowpoke.”
Vance Randolph in Blow the Candle Out, “Unprintable” Ozark Folksongs and Folklore, comes closer to Ed Earl’s usage in defining assle around as “loaf or wander idly about.”
The precise nature of the derivation from ass is left to the reader’s imagination, probably related to either sitting on it or being slow in moving it.
Neither The Oxford English Dictionary nor any of the various Websters I consulted has a listing for assle (or its variant assel), but they are helpful in letting us know that ass (and its British counterpart arse) stem from the Greek ourra (meaning “tail”), and that it has been in English usage since at least the year 1000 A.D., when the Benedictine Abbot Aelfric referred to someone’s “bare ers.” (He wasn’t a great speller, even though he was called “Aelfric the Grammarian.”)
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has a degree with honors in assling around, from an institution of higher learning that prefers to remain anonymous, for reasons that are abundantly clear from the following:
An apostle in a castle
Wet his whistle with a wassail
From the vessel of a vassal
Who was facile as a fossil.
Then he tusseled with the tassel
On a fissile sessile thistle
As he wrestled with a passel
Of epistles full of gristle.
On a trestle he would assle,
Far from hustle and from bustle,
Until jostled in a hassle
By a missile on his muscle.