From Middle English asse, from Old English assa, back-formed from assen, from Celtic (compare Old Irish asan, Old Cornish asen), from Latin asinus. Replaced Old English esol, from Proto-West Germanic *asil, also a loanword from the same Latin word.
Variant of arse; used chiefly in North America. Ultimately from Middle English ars, ers, from Old English ærs, ears, from Proto-West Germanic *ars, from Proto-Germanic *arsaz (compare Old High German ars (German Arsch), Old Norse ars, Old Frisian ers), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃érsos (compare Ancient Greek ὄρρος).
Contrary to the widespread belief of this being a euphemism, it arose as a pronunciation spelling (of the older form arse still used in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) that shows the loss of -r- before s increasingly common in all words since the 18th century in both England and its colonies. In the USA, "dropping Rs" (non-rhotic pronunciation) was common in prestige speech until the 1860s, when the American Civil War shifted the country's centers of wealth and political power to areas with fewer cultural connections to the British elite. (See also these similar cases, some of which retained both spellings with different meanings: cuss from curse, gash from garsh, bass from barse, bust from burst, passel from parcel.)
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