A Peck On The Cheek

As I’ve been conducting research for this documentary, I’ve found that the devil really is in the details, especially when it comes to language.  While the subject matter of “Better the devil you know” is rather obvious, I was wondering if that popular adage of “Kiss my ass!” also has its origins with the Prince of Darkness, after finding depictions of witches kissing his bottom.

Wood carving of witches kissing the devil's bum

Witches kisses the devil’s bum at the Sabbath (from The Compendium Maleficarum, 1608)

Before “kiss my arse” became Americanised, it was already more of an insult than a kind invitation, and its use is dated back to the early eighteenth century by Mark Morton in his book ‘Dirty Words – The Story Of Sex Talk’.

Other sources link it back to the late 1300s, to Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale”, where it was used as a prank played on a foppish parish clerk.  Thinking he was about to kiss the young and beautiful Alison’s face, he “kiste her naked erse full savory” when she presented her posterior instead, the clerk erupting in rage as he realised he had been the butt of a joke.

Seen as depraved and debasing, it is no surprise that it became included in the increasingly elaborate and grotesque reports about witches when the witch hunts began to sweep medieval Europe.  One popularly held belief was that they would literally kiss ass to pay their respects to the devil at the Sabbath.  Apparently, Martin Luther was known to say “Tell the devil he may kiss my arse!” although it is not clear whether that was him defiantly challenging evil, or, as the catholic church at the time would rather have people believe, him wanting to indulge in some devilish delight.

Whether it was witches allegedly kissing the devil’s bum at the Sabbath that originated these expressions or not, if you image all the arse kissing that is happening around the world today as a show of respect or to secure / advance status, it seems that not all that much has changed!  Probably not what Jesus had in mind when he said to turn the other cheek…

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