Please be warned; as far as offensive words go, you are entering a hardhat area.
(All slang euphemisms for cunt are followed by the date that word is first recorded.)
I love the word cunt. I love everything about it. Not just the signified vulva, vagina and pudendum (which are all kinds of cunty goodness and will be returned to shortly), but the actual oral and visual signalled sign of cunt. I love its simple monosyllabic form. I adore that the first three letters (c u n) are basically all the same chalice shape rolling though the word until they are stopped in their ramble by the plosive T at the end. I love the forceful grunt of the C and the T sandwiching the softer UN sounds, enabling one to spit the word out like a bullet, or extend the un and roll it around your mouth for dramatic effect; cuuuuuuuuuuuunt! I love it because its deliciously dirty, endlessly funny and, like an auditory exclamation mark, is capable of stopping a conversation in its tracks. Walter Kirn called cunt ‘the A-bomb of the English language’, and he’s absolutely right (Kirn, 2005). I love its versatility. In America, it is spectacularly offensive, whilst in Glasgow it can be a term of endearment; ‘I love ya, ya wee cunt’ is an expression heard throughout Glaswegian nurseries. That’s not true, but Scottish folk do possess a dazzling linguistic dexterity with cunt. Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel, Trainspotting, contains 731 cunts, (though only 19 made it into the film.) The great Billy Connolly explains more about Scottish use of cunt here.
But, more than anything else, I love the sheer power of the word. I am fascinated by cunt’s hallowed status as, to quote Hugh Rawson, "The most heavily tabooed of all English words" (Rawson, 1989). There have been significant shifts in social attitudes since 1989 and there are now other contenders for the most offensive word in the English language; ni**er and other racial slurs are obvious heavyweights. Ni**er is a deeply offensive word because of its historical context. It is not just a descriptive word, it is a word that was used to dehumanise black people and justify some of the worst atrocities in human history. It is a word that requires its own study and you can read the deeply troubling and complex history of the N-Word here. We can understand why racial slurs are hideously offensive, but cunt? Does it not strike anyone else as odd that the most offensive word in English is a word for vulva? Or that this word could even be considered in the same league of offence as ‘ni**er’ – a word spawned from the darkest and most rank of human atrocities? As far as I am aware, cunt is comparatively free of racial genocide, so then we have to ask, how did cunt get to be so offensive? What did cunt do wrong?
Let’s turn to the etymology first. Cunt is old. It’s so old that its exact origins are lost in the folds of time and etymologists continue to debate where in the cunt cunt comes from. It’s several thousand years old at least, and can be traced to the old Norse ‘kunta’ and Proto-Germanic ‘kuntō’; but before that cunt proves quite elusive. There are medieval cunty cognates in most Germanic languages; kutte, kotze and kott all appear in German. The Swedish have kunta; the Dutch have conte, kut and kont, and the English once has Cot (which I quite like and think is due a revival). Here’s where the debate comes in; no one is quite sure what it actually means. Some etymologists have argued cunt has a root in the Proto-Indo-European sound ‘gen/gon’, which means to "create, become". You can see ‘gen’ in modern words gonads, genital, genetics, and gene. Others have theorised cunt descends from the root ‘gune’, which means "woman" and crops up in ‘gynaecology’. The root sound that most fascinates etymologists is 'cu'. 'Cu' is associate with the female, and forms the basis of 'cow', and 'queen'. ‘Cu’ is linked to the Latin cunnus ("vulva"), which sounds tantalisingly like cunt (but is probably unrelated), and has spawned the French con, and Spanish coño, the Portuguese cona, and the Persian kun (کون). My favourite cunt theory is that the ‘cu’ also means to have knowledge: 'can' and 'ken' become prefixes to 'cognition' and other derivatives. R. F. Rattray argued that knowledge and cunt are etymologically linked: "The root cu appears in countless words from cowrie, Cypris, down to cow; the root cun has two lines of descent, the one emphasising the mother and the other knowledge… cunt, on the one hand, and cunning, on the other" (1961). Certainly, in the middle ages 'quaint' meant both knowledge and cunt (but, more of that later). The debate will rage on, but the bottom line is cunt is something of a mystery.
But, here is what we do know; it is the oldest word for female genitals in the English language (possibly the oldest in Europe). Its only rival for oldest term for the boy in the boat (1930) would be Yoni (meaning vulva, source or womb). The English language borrowed yoni from ancient Sanskrit around 1800 and today it has been appropriated by various neo-spiritual groups who hope that by calling their duff (1880) a yoni they can avoid the horror of cunt and tap into some ancient veneration of the flapdoodle (1653). Of course, the irony is cunt and yoni may even have sprung from the same Proto-Indo-European root. Furthermore, cunt is far more feminist than vagina or vulva could ever dream to be.
Vagina turns up in the seventeenth century medical texts and comes from the Latin vagina, which means a sheath or a scabbard. A vagina is something a sword goes in to; that’s its entire etymological function – to be the holder of a sword (penis). It relies on the penis for its meaning and function. We may as well still be calling the poor thing 'cock alley’ (1785)’ or the ‘pudding bag’ (1653). There are many cunning linguists who get their proverbials in a twist when you confuse vagina with vulva; to be clear, the vagina is the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the vulva - and the vulva is the external equipment ('comprising the mons pubis, labia majors, labia minora, clitoris, vestibule of the vagina, bulb of the vestibule, and the Bartholin's glands' (Websters Medical Dictionary, 2016.) Vulva dates to the late fourteenth century and from Latin vulva, meaning "womb” – some have suggested it comes from ‘volvere’, or wrapper. In his 1538 Latin dictionary, Thomas Elyot defined a vulva as ‘the womb or mother of any female animal, also a meat used of the Romans made of the belly of a sow, either that hath farrowed or is with farrow’ (Elyot, 1538). So, yet again, the meaning of vulva is dependent on being the container for a penis - or a questionable cut of a pregnant Roman pig.
Cunt, however, predates both these terms and derives from a Proto-Indo-European root word meaning either woman, knowledge, creator or queen, which is far more empowering than a word that means ‘I hold cock’. Plus, cunt means the whole glorious goodie bag; inside and outside. Cunt is the whole damn shebang. There’s no need to split pubic hairs when it comes to cunt. Words like ‘vulva’ and ‘vagina’ are linguistic efforts to offer sanitised, medicalised alternatives to cunt. And if that wasn’t enough to sway you over to team cunt, in 1500 Wynkyn de Worde defined ‘vulva’ as ‘in English, a cunt’ (Ortus vocabulorum, 1500).
Cunt is not slang; cunt is the original. So, cunt is the godmother of all words for ‘the monosyllable’ (1780) – but, has cunt always been such an offensive word?
The simple answer to that is no. To the medieval mind, cunt is simply a descriptive word; a little bawdy perhaps (as cunts tend to be), but certainly not offensive. The fact that cunt would make into de Worde’s dictionary and medical texts shows how every day the word was. Lanfranc of Milan is not cunt shy in his fifteenth-century medical text Chirurgia Parua Lanfranci, when he describes 'in wymmen neck of the bladder is schort, is made fast to the cunte' (Lanfranco. and Hall, 1565).The earliest cunt citation in the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1230, and is a London street in the red light district of Southwark; the beautifully named ‘Gropecuntelane’. And it did exactly what it said on the tin: it was a lane for groping cunts. There were Gropecuntelanes (or variations of Grapcunt, Groppecuntelane, Gropcunt Lane) found throughout the cities of medieval Britain. Keith Briggs (2009) locates Gropecuntlanes in Oxford, York, Bristol, Northampton, Wells, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Windsor, Stebbing, Reading, Cambridgeshire, Shareshill, Grimsby, Newcastle, and Banbury. Sadly, all of these streets have now been renamed, usually as ‘Grape Lane’ or ‘Grove Lane’.
Whilst Scottish folk may be calling their friends cunts, medieval people seem to have been calling their children cunts. Cunt actually turns up in a number of medieval surnames (though they are quite possibly aliases); Godwin Clawecunte (1066), Gunoka Cuntles (1219), John Fillecunt (1246) and Robert Clevecunt (1302) have all been recorded (Reaney, 1984; Jönsjö, 1979). And if the possibility of meeting Miss Gunoka Cuntles on Gropecuntelane was not an exciting enough prospect (and it should be) a Miss Bele Wydecunthe appears in a Norfolk Subsidy Roll of 1328. And, just whilst we are on the subject of cunt monikers, in his study of humorous names, Russell Ash found a whole family of Cunts living England in the nineteenth century; Fanny Cunt (born 1839), also her son, Richard '‘Dick'’ Cunt; and her daughters, Ella Cunt and Violet Cunt (Ash, 2008).
Medieval literature is similarly awash with cunts with no hint of bashfulness. The Proverbs of Hendyng (c.1325) contains this advice to young women; ‘Give your cunt cunningly and make (your) demands after the wedding’ (ʒeve þi cunte to cunni[n]g, And craue affetir wedding). Fifteenth-century Welsh poet, Gwerful Mechain, advised fellow poets to celebrate the ‘curtain on a fine bright cunt’ that ‘flaps in a place of greeting’ (Gwerful Mechain and Howells, 2001). Medieval society was far more sexually liberated than we give them credit for, and one reason cunt wasn’t considered offensive is because sex wasn’t that offensive to them. Sex was a source of great humour, eroticism and absolutely central to married life, but finding sex offensive is something that came into its own during the early modern era.
Historically, the most taboo language has shifted from the blasphemous to bodily functions, and is now in a process of moving to race. Swear words that would get you into serious trouble in the middle ages were blasphemous ones. If you caught your soft areas in a zipper in the thirteenth century, you might cry out something like ‘God's teeth’, ‘God’s wounds’ (Z'wounds) or ‘God’s eyes’. Cunt, by comparison, was descriptive word; suitable for all occasions. It was not euphemistically twee, overly medicalised, or a humorously grotesque – cunt was cunt.
One medieval author who dropped the C-bomb with the precision of a military drone is Geoffrey Chaucer (1343–1400). The word that Chaucer uses in The Canterbury Tales and House of Fame is not “cunt,” but “queynte.” However, the reader is left in little doubt as to what a queynte is, the Wife of Bath is quite clear;
'What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?’
(What ails you that you grumble thus and groan?
Is it because you'd have my cunt alone?)
Chaucer's most famous cunt joke is in 'The Miller's Tale', where 'queynte' means both knowledge and cunt (remember the root to both cunning and cunt?)
As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte,
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte,
And seyde, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.”
(The clerk had been subtle and cunning,
and quickly he caught her by the cunt,
and said, if I cannot have my will,
for love of thee, darling, I will spill.)
Chaucer, Allen and Fisher, 2012)
The use of ‘quaint’ as a synonym for cunt is seen in a variety of other works. In his 1598 Italian / English dictionary, John Florio uses ‘quaint’ as a synonym for cunt and defines ‘potta’ as ‘a cunt, a quaint’, and a ‘pottuta’ as ‘that hath a cunt, cunted, quainted’ (Florio et al., 1598). The playful double meaning of ‘quaint’ turns up again in Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress (1653).
"Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: the worms shall try
That long preserved virginity:
And your quaint honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my lust".
It has also been suggested that William Shakespeare's "acquaint" in his Sonnet XX (1609 is a play on 'quaint' and 'cunt'. And if any man knew the comedic power of a well-placed cunt it was Shakespeare. In Act III, Scene 2, of Hamlet, the eponymous hero asks Ophelia, "Lady, shall I lie in your lap?" Ophelia replies, "No, my lord." Hamlet, then asks her, "Do you think I meant country matters?" (Shakespeare, 2009) When David Tennant played Hamlet, he paused on the first syllable to emphasis this; 'Cunt-ry matters'. In Twelfth Night (Act II, Scene V) Malvolio describes his employer’s handwriting; "There be her very Cs, her Us, and her Ts: and thus makes she her great Ps" – making for a simultaneous pun on "cunt" and "piss" (Greenhill and Wignall, 1997). You can read more Shakespearean blue here. The immortal bard’s status as a smut peddler has been discreetly swept under the cultural rug, but his work is full of innuendo and nob gags. In 1807, a shocked Thomas Bowdler edited out all the rude jokes so women and children could safely read it, and published The Family Shakespeare (which was completely cunt free). This led to the addition of the word 'bowdlerise' to the English language, which means to remove passages of a text that are considered objectionable.
Cunt was used freely in the bawdy ballads of Shakespeare’s contemporaries who felt no such compulsion to veil their cunts in double-entendres. Ragionamenti della Nanna e della Antonia (1534–36) by Pietro Aretino tells readers to shun flowery euphemisms and just say cunt; ‘Speak plainly, and say fuck, cunt and cock; otherwise thou wilt be understood by nobody’ (Arétin and Bonneau, 2008). The Scottish play Philotus (1603) contained the lines ‘doun thy hand and graip hir cunt’ (Philotus, 1603). And John Crouch’s Mercurius Fumigosus (1654) celebrates ‘cunt and good company’ (Newspaperarchive.com, 2017). But, the fact that big name writers (such as Shakespeare and Marvell) used cunt as a saucy punchline and camouflaged it in puns and cheeky hints suggests that, by Shakespeare’s time, cunt was being censored.
It is no coincidence that it was around this time that the first laws banning sexually obscene material came into force. In Britain, the first parliamentary bill to restrain ‘books, pamphlets, ditties, songs, and other works that promote lascivious ungodly love’ was drafted by William Lambarde in 1580. The 1662 licencing act banned the publication of any 'heretical, seditious, schismatic or offensive books, or pamphlets wherein any doctrine of opinion shall asserted or maintained which is contrary to Christian faith' (British-history.ac.uk, 2017). Language is a powerful tool of social control; as sex became repressed, words linking to the body became taboo. After all, how can we enjoy the sexuality of our bodies, shame free, when the very words we use to talk about them, think about them, or write about them are considered obscene? Ellis Cashmore argued cunt’s banishment to the naughty step is a result of mass sexual censor and the rise of ‘modesty’: "with rules came manners, and with manners came courtesy, and with courtesy came modesty, and the word 'cunt' [was] referring to parts of the body that were enclosed, they were secreted away" (The C Word: How We Came To Swear By It, 2017). Women’s sexuality came in for particular censor and punishment, and cunt was an obvious symbol of all puritan rule sought to repress.
By the seventeenth century cunt had acquired a shock factor, and one author who revelled in the deliciously deviate embrace of cunt was John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680).
Rochester was an English poet and courtier of King Charles II. He was the poster boy of debauchery, sexual excess and simply dripped with ‘fuck you’. If Cromwell’s parliament had attempted to dam up sexuality, Rochester surfed to notoriety on the tidal wave of sexual repression that was unleashed when the plug was pulled on Puritan rule. Geoffrey Hughes once described Rochester as revelling "a world seen from crotch level" (Hughes, 1998).
Wilmot's poem Advice To A Cuntmonger begins as follows:
"Fucksters you that would bee happy
Have a care of Cunts that Clapp yee,
Scape disease of evill Tarsehole,
Gout and Fistula in Arsehole".
He described his attraction to a lover as "A touch from any part of her had done 't, / Her hand, her foot, her very look's a Cunt" (1680). In his 1684 play Sodom features characters such as 'Queen Cuntigratia' and her maid 'Cunticula'. His A Ramble through St James Park (1672) contains eight cunts as he grows increasingly jealous of his mistress’s other lovers.
When your lewd cunt came spewing home
Drenched with the seed of half the town,
My dram of sperm was supped up after
For the digestive surfeit water.
Full gorged at another time
With a vast meal of slime
Which your devouring cunt had drawn
From porters' backs and footmen's brawn.
It’s tempting to read Rochester’s work as a celebration of sexuality, but he directs considerable anger and hatred towards cunts and their owners. In Sodom he defines cunt as ‘Love’s common nasty sink’ and claims ‘she that hath a cunt will be a whore’. His verse is full of degrading, grotesque descriptions of diseased, balding, biting, feral cunts. In Ramble in St James Park, his hatred towards the women (and genitals) he desires is projected onto the the other men, whom he spurns as 'obsequious' 'curs' in their hunt for cunt.
So a proud bitch does lead about
Of humble curs the amorous rout,
Who most obsequiously do hunt
The savory scent of salt-swoln cunt.
Rochester also frequently employs cunt to mean sex, as does R. Thompson in his 1680 Unfit for Modest Ears; ‘Cunt was the Star that rul'd thy Fate, Cunt the sole business and Affair of State’ (Thompson, 1680). By the seventeenth century, cunt was also being used as a derogatory synecdoche for women, especially a sexual woman - in much the same way as women can be charmingly referred to as ‘pussy’ (1699) or ‘clunge’ today. In 1665, Samuel Pepys writes about a powder that should ‘make all the cunts in town run after him’ (Pepys, Latham and Matthews, 2000); and E.J Burford warns his readers against ‘citty cunts’ in 1675 (Burford, 1675).
By the eighteenth century, cunt was regarded as an obscene and ugly word. In his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), Francis Grose defines cunt as ‘a nasty name for a nasty thing’, instead employs the euphemism ‘the monosyllable’. Such modesty from a man who lists ‘Mrs Fubb’s Parlour’, ‘Buckinger’s Boot’, ‘Scut’ and a ‘Lobster Pot’ as common synonyms for ‘a woman’s commodity’ (Grose, 1785). ‘Cunny’, a derivative of cunt, and ‘quim’ come into common usage in the eighteenth century. John Cleland’s 1748 bonk-buster Fanny Hill was a cunt free affair, and Cleland boasted he had written it without one rude word. The annual almanac on London sex workers Harris’s List (1757 to 1795) also shies away from cunt, preferring instead to use ‘mossy grot’ and ‘venus mound’.
But one eighteenth-century author who uses cunt precisely for its shock factor is the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). There are ‘little cunts’, ‘frigged’ cunts, ‘open cunts’, ‘pretty cunts’, ‘infamous’ cunts, ‘bloodied’ cunts, ‘fucked’, ‘licked’ and ‘rascal’ cunts (Sade, 2006) If you shake any book by Sade, a cunt will fall out; Sade is a cunt piñata. But Sade delighted in writing the most extreme, deviant pornography and his repeated use of cunt, rather than twee euphemisms seen in Fanny Hill, is testament to the cunt’s ascension to the most offensive word in the English language.
Despite their reputation for being sexually repressed, pornography flowed beneath the upper crust of Victorian prudery like the river of slime in Ghostbusters II. There is no doubt that cunt was a thoroughly obscene word. But, precisely because of this, Victorian erotica is simply groaning under the weight of cunts. Erotic novels such as The Lustful Turk (1828), The Romance of Lust (1873), Early Experiences of A Young Flagellant (1876) by Rosa Coote, Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving (1882) by Etonensis, The Autobiography of a Flea (1887) and Venus in India (1889) by 'Captain Charles Devereaux' are a veritable blitzkrieg of C-Bombs. And it is in the nineteenth century that cunt takes on a new meaning as an insult; a vile person. M. E. Neely’s 1860 Abraham Lincoln Encyclopaedia is the first recorded use of cunt as an insult to a man; ‘And when they got to Charleston, they had to, as is wont Look around to find a chairman, and so they took a Cunt’ (Neely, 1982).
Perhaps one of the most significant cunt moments in the twentieth century was the banning and subsequent obscenity trial of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), which contains fourteen cunts (and forty fucks). When Gerald Gould reviewed an edited version in 1932, he noted that "passages are necessarily omitted to which the author undoubtedly attached supreme psychological importance – importance so great, that he was willing to face obloquy and misunderstanding and censorship because of them" (Gould, 1932). In a 1929 foreword to the book, Lawrence explained how he wanted to rescue “cunt”, along with “fuck”, from the lexicon of dirty words and “make them stand for a healthy respect for sex”. The book caused a sensation not only because of its graphic descriptions of sex, and women’s sexual pleasure but because it uses sex to smash down class boundaries. Sex is one of the supreme levellers and for all her titles, money and privilege, Lady Constance Chatterley has a cunt; she is a sexual being. Sexual desire and pleasure have no understanding of the class system. Lawrence uses the word cunt throughout because it is the only word that can express the yearning, primal sexuality of Constance and subvert the pretensions of a society that viewed women as sexless wives and mothers. Lawrence’s use of cunt is shocking, but also incredibly tender and passionate; for Lawrence, cunt is a truly wonderful thing. One of the pivotal scenes in the novel is where Mellors teaches Constance the difference between cunt and fuck.
"Th'art good cunt, though, aren't ter? Best bit o' cunt left on earth. When ter likes! When tha'rt willin'!"
"What is cunt?" she said.
"An' doesn't ter know? Cunt! It's thee down theer; an' what I get when I'm i'side thee, and what tha gets when I'm i'side thee; it's a` as it is, all on't."
"All on't,'"she teased. "Cunt! It's like fuck then."
"Nay nay! Fuck's only what you do. animals fuck. But cunt's a lot more than that. It's thee, dost see: an' tha'rt a lot besides an animal, aren't ter? --- even ter fuck? Cunt! Eh, that's the beauty o' thee, lass!" (Lawrence, 2017)
Cunt: ‘that’s the beauty of thee, lass’ – I don’t think I have heard a more marvellous definition of cunt. Sadly, despite Lawrence’s best efforts and a jury that agreed a work stuffed with cunts does have artistic merit, cunt has yet to be welcomed back to polite society. James Joyce uses one cunt in 'Ulysses' and calls the Holy Land 'the grey sunken cunt of the world' (1918). (Though he freely uses cunt in his private erotic letters to his wife, Nora, whom he delightfully calls 'fuck bird'.) The American beat poets like the shock of the cunt. In 'Howl' (1955) Ginsberg writes about a 'vision of the ultimate cunt'. But, cunt is there to shock. Cunt didn't make it into mainstream cinema until 1971, in ‘Carnal Knowledge, starring Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret. Nicholson's character (Jonathan Fuerster) screams at Bobbie (Ann-Margret) 'Is this an ultimatum? Answer me, you ball-busting, castrating, son of a cunt bitch!' 'The Exorcist' (1973) has two cunts in it ('Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter', and 'cunting hun'.) There is a third cunt that was cut from the final edit and is only seen in the Director's Cut. As a Doctor treats the troubled Regan, he tells her mother she has told him to "keep my goddamn fingers away from her cunt.'' Notice that the only cunt that was cut was the one that actually means Vulva? This has been true of most cinematic uses of cunt - it is far more often used as an insult than it is to mean the genitals. As the twentieth century wore on, cunt settled into its role as a powerful insult.
The Oxford English Dictionary did not admit cunt until the seventies. But, in 2014 the OED added 'cunty, cuntish, cunted, and cunting' to the entry under cunt; 'cunty" is defined as 'highly objectionable or unpleasant'; 'cuntish" means an 'objectionable person or behaviour.'; 'cunted' means to be drunk and 'cunting' is an intensifier that means 'very much'. There is no doubt that cunt is a very versatile word (noun, adjective, verb), but it still shocks. Last year, Ofcom (the regulator for UK communications) ranked swear words in order of offensive, and cunt came out on top. The British Board of Film Classification’s guidelines state that the word cunt can only be used frequently in films that are rated 18+. Cunt maintains an uneasy relationship with feminists who are undecided if the word is empowering or demeaning. Various feminist movements have tried to reclaim cunt. Judy Chicago led the 'Cunt art' movement of the 1970s and created works of art that aggressively displayed used ‘cunt’ to cut through prudish attitudes around female sexuality. Inga Muscio’s 1998 Cunt: A Declaration of Independence inspired a movement called 'Cuntfest' - 'a celebration of women'.
In 1996, Eva Ensler premiered a new play called The Vagina Monologues at the Here Arts Centre. The play features different characters talking about their sense of self, their sexuality and how they feel about their vaginas. One monologue is entitled "Reclaiming Cunt" and is a tour de force of cunt.
" I love that word
I cant say it enough
I can't stop saying it
Feeling a little irritated at the airport?,
Just say CUNT and everything changes
'What did you say?'
I said CUNT, that's right, SAID, CUNT, CUNT, CUNT, CUNT."
It feels so good.
Try it. Go ahead. Go ahead. .
The audience are encouraged to shout CUNT in unison and to feel the explosive power of the word as one. The Vagina Monologues were a landmark production in feminist theatre. Although I am very much in agreement with Ensler and also consider shouting cunt at Ryanaire baggage reclaim services to be highly therapeutic, Ensler's work hasn't forced the mass renegotiation with cunt we may have hoped for. Perhaps cunt is beyond reclaiming now. But it remains a deeply powerful and special word.
Cunt may be classed as an offensive word, but it’s an ancient and honest one. It’s also the original word; everything else came after. Words for women’s genitals tend to be clinical (vagina, vulva, pudendum, etc.), childlike (tuppence, foof, fairy, minky, Mary, twinkle, etc.), detached (down there, bits, special area, etc.), highly sexual (pussy, fuck hole, etc.), violent (axe wound, penis flytrap, gash, growler, etc.), or refer to unpleasant smells, tastes and appearance (fish taco, bacon sandwich, badly stuffed kebab, bearded clam). Cunt doesn’t convey any of these. Cunt is cunt. Words for the vulva seem to be in a constant state of trying to deny the very thing being described - your genitals aren't a 'twinkle' or 'fur pie'. Sadly, just as cunt the word has been censored, cunts themselves have been culturally censored to the point where the only cunts that we feel are acceptable are plucked, waxed, surgically trimmed, buffed, douched with perfumed cleaning products and served up covered in glitter. The vaginaplasty business is booming and you can have your labia cut off, your hymen rebuilt and a car air freshener installed (I joke). Is it any wonder we can't cope with cunt and resort to "down there". Cunt may never be allowed off the naughty step, but it is surely far less offensive than many synonyms on offer? And whilst people insist on calling cunt a Vagina or a Vulva so not to cause offence, it's worth remembering that we are actually calling cunt a scabbard - a cock holder, a sausage pocket.
Isn’t it ironic that the oldest, most enduring, direct and honest word for a woman’s genitals is also considered to be the most offensive in the English language?
Welcome to #TeamCunt
Addendum: Cunt does not make a women. Some women have cunts and some women do not. This article has discussed historical understanding of cunt, and historical attitudes that understood gender as binary and violently policed gender constructs as they saw them. Our ancestors had little understanding of gender fluidity and understood cunt as being female. Understanding historical attitudes to gender identity and sexual morphology is essential if we are to fully appreciate how heteronormativity and constructs of the binary of masculine and feminine came to dominate cultural narratives.
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4/12/2017 10:58:05 am
FYI: Slang Family Trees: Vagina
5/20/2018 03:03:24 pm
I lovedit a most refreshing article.you are a treasure!
4/12/2017 11:18:25 pm
This is wonderful writing and research. A real joy to read. #TeamCunt
Off the Grid
4/13/2017 03:28:48 am
Wonderfully informative. I fully support your crusade against sexual prudery and (by implication) against political repression of sexuality.
4/13/2017 06:36:26 pm
In your addendum you write "Our ancestors had little understanding of gender fluidity and understood cunt as being female" I respectfully put forth that "our" ancestors often had more complicated gender analyses, as many of the people who read this are not British or European and come from cultures that do not necessarily associate cunts with women.
I recall reading - years ago - that "cunt" might be derived from (IIRC) coney, meaning rabbit. The article pointed out that other small furry animals are used as names for women or female genitalia.
4/15/2017 01:53:21 pm
Btw, it was David Tennant (also known for playing Dr. Who)
4/16/2017 04:16:46 pm
Wonderful research and powerful writing, and so very enlivening. There appears to be a typo right at the end: "Addendum: cunt does not make a women." I'm figuring it should be 'woman'.
Dr Teri Merlyn
4/16/2017 04:24:49 pm
Thank you for this marvellous piece of work. Sometimes I feel like such a killjoy - a one-woman campaign to remove the word Cunt for the swearer's bible - interrupting when someone is mid-tirade, demanding they delete that word from their lexicon of abuse. Now I can send them this instead.
4/17/2017 06:35:23 am
Make that a TWO-women (at least) campaign. I've also been doing that for years.
4/16/2017 11:38:18 pm
Love this essay Kate, just a bit of additional historical information - the use of "cunt" as a term of endearment was pretty commonplace in my East Midlands childhood and youth in the 50/60's and it was ubiquitous in the London factories where I worked int he late 60's "all right you old cunt" was a friendly morning greeting - what the hell happened!?
4/17/2017 02:20:23 am
I am Dutch, 49, and the word 'conte' does not exist here. Sorry.
4/28/2017 11:30:19 am
I think that's because the origin of the word is anglo saxon - so even though the word goes back a few thousand years it's origin is from the UK- I could be wrong of course
4/17/2017 01:47:43 pm
thank you . the c*u*n*t cuntword and the f*u*c*k fuckword are beautiful elegant intimate profane and sacred and endlessly versatile
4/17/2017 07:10:11 pm
Lovely, informative, well researched and engagingly written.
4/17/2017 10:19:20 pm
You're on MetaFilter today, so congrats, lots more will know about you. And I lament there was no mention of the Cunt monologue in The Vagina Monologues, it is exquisite. Eve Ensler deserves her due for the cause.
4/17/2017 11:29:33 pm
Two authors, Nicolas Walter and Peter Fryer have also written about the history of the word. Your essay is well written and researched, and both confirms and expands on their work.
4/18/2017 01:07:48 am
your opening paragraph reminds me of the vagina monologues
"Cunt" has always been my favorite word for the vulva because, for some reason, it manages to express all the beauty, mystery, and splendor of that lovely organ. (I actually remember where I was and what I was doing the very first time I heard it. I was in first grade and a classmate used it in reference to that part of the anatomy of a girl in our class with whom I was madly in love. I instantly formed an indelible association in my mind, therefore, with that specific word, with the body part to which it refers, and with the intense passion and amatory love that I felt for that girl.)
4/18/2017 09:13:23 am
Very interesting, especially the section on 16th century street names. I use the word everyday at work being in the Highways construction game, it's common language but in front of my old mum NEVER! , I'm surprised how freely it is used with most people not knowing the true origins. Thanks for the insight
4/18/2017 03:48:23 pm
Yow! A "cunting" we will go. Well played.
4/19/2017 07:47:30 pm
I don't see any mention of 'twat' (the word we use in my family). Any thoughts on that one? Great article.
4/20/2017 04:41:56 pm
Excellent summary, much of which I've heard before as an amateur at linguistics (no pun intended) but with a great deal of piquant detail. I'm going to try to share this on Facebook, but as you may suspect, their algorithms are cunting awful.
4/21/2017 09:31:30 am
I narrated this book for Audible: The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History by Emma L. E. Rees which has a whole section on Cunt
4/23/2017 07:41:30 am
4/23/2017 10:08:54 am
Yes, I read this as well and saw the similarities.
4/23/2017 10:12:11 am
Fascinating subject. The evolution of language connected to gender is something that entrigues me.
4/24/2017 05:19:47 pm
There are loads of histories of cunt available and they all cover the same ground - etymology, gropecunte lane, Chaucer, Rochester, Shakespeare, Lawrence and the Exorcist. It's not like Rees is the first scholar to do this history.
4/22/2017 07:20:52 am
*Such* a pleasure to read! I loved the wit sewn all through the discussion. A 'blitzkrieg of C-bombs" - my God, I wish I could have thought of that.
1/23/2018 08:21:17 am
I especially loved the expression "cunt piñata",
4/24/2017 04:53:17 am
As other comments have noted, this is very similar to the section of Emma Rees's 'Vagina: a Literary and Cultural History' which documents the use of the word cunt, it's history and various euphemisms.
4/28/2017 12:32:46 am
Sounds like a case of sour cunts to me.
4/24/2017 05:57:36 am
Remarkably similar to the cunt-related section of Emma Rees' book 'Vagina: a Literary and Cultural History'... Interesting.
4/24/2017 07:48:36 pm
why has the level of intercourse deteriorated to one upmanship and who said what first? you are all beginning to sound like boring fucking cunts.
4/24/2017 11:25:56 pm
I can't even believe that people are trolling this. Get a life.
4/25/2017 03:29:40 am
Academics trolling other academics! Oh dear.
4/25/2017 05:47:55 pm
please tell me what trolling is - seriously i honestly need an explanation .
4/25/2017 12:44:28 am
Loved this article. Really accessible, witty and fun to read.
4/25/2017 11:46:38 pm
John Cassidy, "trolling" is agressive arguments played out in public online (e.g., on Twitter, Facebook, or indeed here). Typically, the aggression is unpleasant and intimidating. No idea how the word gained this meaning - perhaps that's the next word who's history is worth studying after "cunt"?
4/26/2017 05:46:19 am
thankyou charles oppenheim .
4/25/2017 03:01:50 pm
Nobody owns the history of cunt. Creating a dialogue between academics is much more tasteful than lowering oneself to troll on the internet. The only cunt you own m'dear, is your own.
4/25/2017 10:18:37 pm
I couldn't get through a day without saying the word cunt. I have argued about the word with no less than Stephen Pinker, and I've been fired for suggesting to my supervisor that she was being a cunt. What a cunt!
4/27/2017 12:52:36 pm
4/27/2017 01:15:45 pm
What a wonderful piece. I grew up sneaking black lace and nexus books into my parents house and reading them under the covers so to me the world cunt was never offensive. As an erotic writer now I sometimes use this word in my more fringe pieces. Sadly the mass market still prefers more flowery adjectives but I will slip a cunt in when I can. Thankyou so much for this wonderful piece of writing.
4/28/2017 06:09:50 pm
Words fail me to describe how much I love that you have written this. Thank-you.
4/29/2017 09:41:35 am
Incredible read! In my own research I am convinced that cunt is on of the oldest words in the human language. I have found it in every single language family, and almost every single language. The original usage did not include a t. That entered in as the word passed through the Middle East. Linguists cannot see this because they are trapped by the dogma that languages cannot show a common root and any words that old would be lost to time. But the word is clearly evident in every continent. I suspect that it originally referred to both genitals, And that early man had an understanding of equality-----2 halves to a whole. There are various languages where the root changes gender, or covers both genders. There is another word, puki, which is also scattered around the world.
5/1/2017 11:31:43 am
There's a very amusing preamble to Julian Cope's song "Cunt's Can't Just Fuck Off" which he's been doing on his latest song/speech tour, in which i discusses the use of Cunt as a term of endearment, and briefly references Inga Muscio's book - i'm not sure how much of the talk is included here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr4ro5XTFVk but you'll find a full vid from this recent tour online somewhere. Love the blog, thankyou.
6/6/2017 07:54:13 pm
Hi, I just reading your article. I've written a book for teens (I know, this is horrible self promotion) but I feel like you might be interested in it because part of it is about the word cunt. The book is called The Most Dangerous Thing.
6/11/2017 07:11:23 am
Lovely article. The only paragraph I was unsure about was the one about the Marquis de Sade: he wrote in French, so how does that relate to the history of the English word? Unless you want to make a point about his translator/s using the term cunt to convey what he said in French.... in which case it would be good to say so.
6/16/2017 06:51:38 am
Fascinating subject, but proof-reading would have improved it vastly
6/18/2017 01:25:19 pm
6/21/2017 08:46:27 am
Lovely, cunty article. very informative. I am irritated by people calling the vulva a vagina. We need to get down and dirty more.
6/21/2017 09:40:14 am
Obviously written by a right twat...
6/21/2017 04:28:03 pm
Wonderful! And the article is great, too. Kate, you're sweet and magically delicious...
6/25/2017 02:22:46 am
Fascinating article that deserves to be more widely shared, not swept under a carpet in a dark corner of a broom cupboard ;)
see you next tuesday
6/27/2017 10:54:10 pm
Madcunt is a well used term of endearment all over Australia particularly in Bondi Junction
8/15/2017 11:07:44 am
Enjoyed your paper.
8/15/2017 11:09:05 am
"much less" even
8/15/2017 02:24:03 pm
When I posted my recent comment, I hadn't seen SkorpionUK,s comment which it echoes...
8/28/2017 04:49:41 am
Get this: Facebook just suspended me for three days for posting this piece. Wonderful article!
9/21/2017 04:53:29 pm
Great read, thanks. My only addition would be this: I was told many years ago that cunt was derived from the the Latin "cunea" with means delta-shaped . "Cuneiform" obviously comes to mind. Just a thought.....
2/15/2018 12:14:15 pm
Fascinating pages. And interesting too. Congratulations.
4/2/2018 06:57:49 pm
Interesting article and well done - right up to the end where you specify that not all women have cunts - that is the exact opposite of the truth. The only humans without cunts are men. You don't have to pander to the men who delusionally think they have lady cocks.
Comments are closed.