"Snatch a knot in their ass," explained.

A Georgia Congressman Thinks the Senate Needs Someone to “Snatch a Knot in Their A--.” Um, What?

A Georgia Congressman Thinks the Senate Needs Someone to “Snatch a Knot in Their A--.” Um, What?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 27 2017 1:25 PM

A Georgia Congressman Thinks the Senate Needs Someone to “Snatch a Knot in Their A--.” Um, What?

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“Somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass.”

Still taken from MSNBC

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This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing.

Speaking on MSNBC on Wednesday, Georgia Republican congressman Buddy Carter used a colorful expression to vent his frustration over the Senate’s lack of progress in overhauling the Affordable Care Act: “Somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass.”

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While Carter’s Georgia constituents may be familiar with “snatch a knot in” meaning “hit” (with either a person or a body part as the object), the idiom was opaque to most people who heard it. In the reply thread following a tweet from Newsweek’s Matthew Cooper about Carter’s comment, some appealed to Urban Dictionary for illumination:

To hit someone, usually used in a threat of punishment or retribution. A knot is generally snatched in one’s ass, though variants include the neck and the head.
“Boy, if I ever catch you looking around under my mattress again, I’m’a snatch a knot in your ass!”
by Professor Darkheart August 28, 2005
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An article on Heavy.com similarly relied on The Online Slang Dictionary, which defines “snatch a knot in (one’s) ass” as “to get beat up; to severely injure,” with the example sentence, “If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to snatch a knot in your ass.”

The expression does seem to originate from Carter’s home state of Georgia, and its use often suggests inflicting punishment on a child. The earliest example I’ve found is from the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, in a letter to the editor from Apr. 15, 1941, with some advice for President Roosevelt: “BUT if he expects ALL the people to ‘rally round the flag, boys’ and do it with a snap and determination he’ll have to snatch a knot in the tails of those hellions who are deliberately trying to tie up production — and do it NOW.” FDR was expected to administer a metaphorical, not literal, ass-whuppin’, of course.

snatchaknot1941

The letter writer uses tail instead of ass, but the intent is clear enough. [Update: See below for an earlier tail expression, “jerk a knot in (someone’s) tail.”] An example I found from Pensacola, Florida in 1978 has a different body part as the object: head, which seems a likelier place to leave a knot (if that is understood as “a lump raised by a blow, esp one on the head,” as defined by the Dictionary of American Regional English):

“Santa pulls them aside and gives them the word he’s going to snatch a knot in their heads if they don’t behave,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, Dec. 25, 1978, p. 64
Roy Blount Jr., who was raised in Decatur, Ga., used it in a 1982 book, with a pronominal object (them).
“But if you could find it in your heart not to saddle them with a criminal record, could you just let me snatch a knot in them?”
And I would snatch a knot in them.
I don’t mean physically. I don’t pound on my children.
–Roy Blount Jr., One Fell Soup: Or, I’m Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life, 1982 [1984], p. 71
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Later in the 1980s, there are scattered examples outside of Georgia and the Florida panhandle. In both of these examples, the object is child rather than a part of the child’s anatomy.

I am willing to concede my suggestion that those people snatch a knot in that child might be ill-founded.
Springfield (Mo.) Leader and Press, June 16, 1986, p. 11
If you read the piece carefully, you can feel the pain and indignation of a parent who would snatch a knot in her child before she would see him become one the vermin who sell death and misery on street corners.
Philadelphia Daily News, Sep. 28, 1987, p. 37
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“Snatch a knot in (someone’s) ass” has never achieved more than regional usage, as opposed to, say, “whup (someone’s) ass.” If Carter had said that some ass-whuppin’ was in order in the Senate, there would have been far less confusion. Regardless, Carter’s use of the expression raises alarm bells given that he was specifically asked about Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who joined Maine’s Susan Collins as the only two Republicans to vote against a motion to open debate on the repeal of Obamacare. This follows what Carter’s congressional colleague Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) recently said, specifically criticizing Republican “female senators from the Northeast” for opposing the efforts to pass the healthcare overhaul. Farenthold suggested a duel was in order: “If it was a guy from south Texas I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”

Given the gendered aspect of this threatening language, Carter’s use of a violent ass idiom is a bit reminiscent of the “hot-mic” moment at an event after the vice-presidential debate in 1984, when George H. W. Bush was heard saying about his rival Geraldine Ferraro, “I think we did kick a little ass last night.” Asked about that comment in a 2008 interview, Bush became “visibly embarrassed” and said “I really regretted it.” In retrospect, of course, Bush’s language seems pretty tame, now that we live in an era of far more regrettable hot-mic moments.

Update: On Twitter, Bill Lamb notes another variation on the theme, “jerk a knot,” known to him from North Texas.

“Jerk a knot in (someone’s) tail” is an older usage with wider distribution, so it’s likely that “snatch a knot” developed as a regional twist on that expression. Jonathan Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang has a relevant entry (under knot):

jerk a knot in to strike (someone), punish.
1942 McAtee Supp. Grant Co. Dial. in ’90s 6: Jerk a knot in one’s tail, v. phr., threat of condign punishment for doing or failing to do the thing in view. 1967 Ford Muc Wa 176: I’m gonna tie a knot in old Charlie’s tail, tonight. 1979 Crews Blood & Grits 39: I told you enough, Mayhugh,…I’m gone jerk a knot in you about cussing.
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(The 1942 citation is from Waldo Lee McAtee’s Supplement to Rural Dialect of Grant County, Indiana, in the ‘nineties.)

It also appears that knot in these expressions originally had a more literal meaning but later may have been reinterpreted to refer to “a lump raised by a blow” as the usage came to be associated with corporal punishment. And that also could explain why ass (or another body part) came to be used rather than tail.

The earliest citation for “jerk a knot in (someone’s) tail” in the newspaper databases is this intriguing 1889 example from Alabama, in which the tail belongs to “the British lion”:

jerkaknot1889
It is said that Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, will be U.S. Minister to the Court of St. James. This is a high compliment to the American press, but the chances are, if Whitelaw accepts, that he will want to fly the bloody shirt from Parliament House, and jerk a knot in the tail of the British lion before he has been in London a day.
Our Mountain Home (Talladega, Ala.), Mar. 13, 1889, p. 2