The German Knight Who Coined the Phrase ‘Kiss My Ass’ Was the Iron Man of His Time

The German Knight Who Coined the Phrase ‘Kiss My Ass’ Was the Iron Man of His Time

Götz von Berlichingen had an iron hand. He was a knight and mercenary living in Germany in the 16th century, fighting in inter-city wars, blood feuds and any other conflict he found himself in. He lost his hand in one of these, aged 24, when a cannonball hit his sword and caused it to cut half of his arm off, which seems simultaneously really lucky and really unlucky. He began wearing an iron prosthesis with working fingers like some kind of insanely cool-looking big-bearded Game of Thrones motherfucker.

The prosthesis was incredibly cool, and well ahead of its time. As a 2019 paper in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research points out, “Despite 21st century silicone chip microprocessors, miniature electric motors, sensors and myoelectric controls, developing an upper extremity prosthesis with suitable functionality remains a remarkably difficult problem to solve. ... But von Berlichingen commissioned a local blacksmith to forge and engineer an iron prosthesis capable of wielding a sword.” A system using springs and levers meant it had an incredibly impressive amount of grip and control, and as such, his iron fist saw him through a lot of battles.

Circa 1519, when he was 39 or so, he was recruited by Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg to fight against the Swabian League in one of the hundreds of regional wars that were going on in Europe all the time. The Swabian League got the upper hand in the conflict, and von Berlichingen was invited to surrender. According to legend, the iron-handed man instead invited the leader of the Swabian League to lick his ass.

Now, for clarification, he was not actually extending an invitation or request for a tongue to be placed on or between his buttocks. It was, rather, meant in a dismissive, “fuck you” kind of way. Probably not the most necessary clarification in the world, admittedly, but it can’t hurt.

Von Berlichingen ended up being forced to surrender, but was released a year and a half or so later, and went on to lead a long and happy if rather consistently violent life. However, the insult he had delivered the Swabians was to outlive him. “Er kann mich im Arsche lecken” (“He can lick me in the ass”) became synonymous with von Berlichingen, along with the more direct version “Leck mich im Arsch” (“Lick me in the ass”). The command became known in some circles as “the Swabian salute,” and even as “Götz von Berlichingen.” Yep, the guy’s name became a slightly subtler way of telling someone to kiss your ass.

The Swabians themselves are no slouches when it comes to rudeness either. Their specific dialect of German is celebrated for its graphic euphemisms, including “muggeseggele” to mean a small amount of something — this translates literally as “a housefly’s nutsack,” but is perfectly family-friendly and shows up in kids’ cartoons. There is a type of potato pasta popular there, similar to elongated gnocchi, that are known as “Bubelspitzle,” or “little boys’ dicks.” It’s a fun language!

Anyway, a man’s name becoming a way of telling someone to lick your ass has, of course, been a great source of pleasure for people who name vehicles. Multiple U-boats in World War II were named after von Berlinghen, as was a division of Nazi grenadiers. As far as their opponents were concerned, they were named after a reasonably obscure historical figure — plus they were unlikely to concern themselves with researching his life as they were busy, you know, fighting World War II. But the soldiers in those boats could chuckle away that they were in the equivalent of a submarine called Eat Shit Motherfucker. (Still though, they were Nazis, so the hell with them.)

However, Götz von Berlichingen may not have told the Swabians to lick his ass at all. The tale came from his autobiography, in which he details a different incident where he instructed a soldier to do it — slightly more euphemistically than in the famous version (“Er solte mich hinden lecken,” or “Tell him he can lick my behind”). The line was rewritten slightly by German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for a play about von Berlichingen in 1773, which then led to Mozart — the Mozart — writing a goofy party song about it.

Mozart’s party song involved six people harmonizing, insisting that the listener lick their asses quickly (the rest of the lyrics have been lost to time). He also rewrote a piece of music by another composer, Wenzel Trnka, to echo the same theme, featuring lines like “Lick my arse nicely, lick it nice and clean, nice and clean, lick my arse,” and the bizarre “Like the licking of roast meat, my daily activity.” 

What’s that you ask? Was Mozart’s butt-tune covered by Insane Clown Posse and Jack White? Yes it was, and it’s excellent. (Mozart really loved poop jokes. He once said that the guests at one of his concerts included “the Duchess Smackarse, the Countess Pleasurepisser, the Princess Stinkmess and the two Princes Potbelly von Pigdick.”)

Obviously, Götz von Berlichingen’s legacy is not limited to an insult — his iron hand has made him a fairly iconic historical figure, and Goethe’s play has been filmed several times. His clenched iron fist still shows up in some modern German military insignias, too. But if the main thing he is remembered for is a defiant demand for a rectum-tonguing in the face of certain defeat, well, there are worse legacies to leave behind. And that ICP track’s a banger.

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