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The sentence is from a novel, and here is some part I'm stuck because of the meaning of 'ass'. I know 'ass' means something bad, but I'd like to know what exactly means in this sentence. I guess it means like 'jay knows when he feels embarrassed because of something stupid he has done'.

A jay can cry, a jay can laugh, a jay can feel shame, a jay can reason and plan and discuss, a jay likes gossip and scandal; a jay has got a sense of humor, a jay knows when he is an ass as well as you do - maybe better.

  • Jay is a bird, 'blue-jay'

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    You seem to understand the meaning correctly; an ass is a donkey, and in Europe at least is thought of as a very stupid, stubborn animal. – StoneyB Jul 23 '15 at 2:23
  • @StoneyB: But let's not forget that an asshole can also sometimes be characterized as "stupid" (though that one's more closely associated with being unpleasant). And whereas BrE speakers know our arse from our ass as well as our elbow, AmE speakers could easily get them confused. I assume at least some Americans apply ass as a derogatory epithet akin to BrE arse = shit = cad = unpleasant person. – FumbleFingers Jul 23 '15 at 2:52
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For a person to be "an ass" is not well-defined. Generally, it suggests that the person consistently behaves offensively, although it can also be applied to a specific incident.

The word "ass" actually has two separate meanings/etymologies http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ass On the one hand, the oldest derogatory meaning likens a person to an obstinate, stupid animal, the ass (or donkey), as in the phrase "he made an ass of himself", and the connection goes back at least to Shakespear's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The fairy Puck considers the inept actor Bottom to be an ass, and therefore changes his head to that of an ass, literally "making an ass of him".

The second, more recent, line of development, starting with the British "arse", changed it to "ass", which is to say the part we all sit on. Since both meanings are unsavory (in certain social circles), the two meanings have to some degree become mingled when referring to objectionable behavior, and in contemporary American usage, the derogatory "ass" is usually shorthand for the more offensive "asshole".

There was a young girl from Madras

Who had a magnificent ass.

It was not, as you think,

Round, firm and pink;

It was grey, had long ears and ate grass.

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