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Cunt, referring to female genitalia, is one of the most taboo four-letter words in the English language. This is because it is considered offensive both by religious prudes and feminist prudes, which means very few people can safely say it without offending someone in their business or social circles.
The vagina is a wonderful place where we all came from,[note 1] and where many of us try to return to as often as possible. The word vagina simply means "sheath" in Latin, and it has been in use in English for more than three centuries. "Cunt," by comparison, is a legitimate non-slang word with an extremely long history. The first recorded English usage occurred in reference to a titillating London street named "Gropecuntlane", where the brothels were located. Nice! The Middle English word "quentye" had several homonymous meanings including 'pleasing-thing' and 'clever'. From this root we also derive the word 'quaint'.
'Cunt' has several cognates in other languages:
- cunnus in Latin, from Proto-Indo-European *kut-nos
- con in French
- cona in Portuguese
- coño in modern Spanish
- κύσθος (kysthos), in Greek
- kunta in old Norse, modern Norwegian, Swedish
- kunte in Danish, middle low German
- kut in Dutch
- quim in English
- "queynte" in Middle English[note 2]
Ultimately, it derives from the Proto-Indo-European stem *gwen-, meaning "woman" (giving it the literal meaning of "womanly bits" and thus cognate with such words as "gynecologist" and "banshee"). The word also has resemblances to "cunabula," a cradle and "cunicle," an obsolete word for a passage. The Romans extended the use of "cunnus" to mean whore in much the same way that English speakers used "cunt" as a pejorative term for "woman", as well as for a woman's anatomical parts. This usage has now evolved into an abusive derogatory term which has given "cunt" an entirely new meaning, particularly when applied to men as well as women.
Cunt is used — particularly by non–American English speakers — in a wide variety of situations, as well as in the more traditional usage in reference to the pudenda. Beginning with the most traditional use, examples include:
- "She had a lovely cunt."
- "She's a complete cunt."
- "He's a fucking cunt."
- "What kind of a stupid cunt do you think I am?" (may be used by either gender)
- "This cunting spanner doesn't fit any of these fucking lug nuts."
- "Barcelona want Cesc for 30mil, the fucking cunts."
- "Cunt cunt cunt the cuntin' cunt" (Australian)
- "Oh the everyday life of glorious Chinese cunts." (天朝木耳的日常, Chinese Manosphere)
It is widely considered to be the most offensive word in English, above the likes of "motherfucker" and "fuck,"[note 3] but its use and the public exposure to such language has degraded what such a prominent position means. Mark Lawson, writing in The Guardian (Feb 5, 2004), contends that the word has now lost its power to shock, at least in England. This was following an outburst from punk icon John Lydon (one time member of the Sex Pistols), who, at 10:30 p.m. on February 4th 2004, during a mainstream live British television transmission of "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!" (a reality show in which failing celebrities degrade themselves for tabloid attention) accused the voting audience at home of being "fucking cunts" for failing to choose him as that night's loser. Fewer than 100 complaints were received by ITV1 (the broadcaster) and Ofcom (the regulatory authority) combined — contrasted with the many thousands that complained about the blasphemy contained in Jerry Springer: The Opera at around the same time. However, swearing of any kind still generates steady complaints before the "watershed" time of 9:00 PM. Australians continue to use the word as a sort of hyphen.
Cunt in popular culture
- In 1975, lesbian and artist Tee Corinne published the Cunt Coloring Book, as an attempt to reclaim the word as something positive and to show the beauty and diversity of cunts. Some later editions of the book were published as Labiaflowers.
- One of the many segments of The Vagina Monologues is called "I Call it Cunt".
- "See You Next Tuesday" (C U Next Tuesday) is a catty acronym back-formation sometimes used intentionally.[note 4]
- The Clash, in keeping with their observed policy of using one swear word per album, use the line "all the young cunts" several times in their song "All the Young Punks" on Give 'Em Enough Rope.
- Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, regularly uses the term "cunt" in place of other male pronouns in his novels.
- In The Thick of It, Malcolm Tucker uses the word cunt - a lot.
- Not forgetting, of course, that book with the daisy[note 5] on the cover.
- In 2016, Samantha Bee gave her "Thunder Cunt" award T-Shirt to CNN host Jake Tapper "for making cable news bearable". In 2018, she called Ivanka Trump a "feckless cunt".
- In the first century BCE, Cicero held that cunnus should be avoided as being obscene.
- The City of London (ca. 1230 CE) once boasted a Gropecuntelane. It has since been renamed Threadneedle Street, a Victorian euphemism for sexual intercourse. It is the current location of the Bank of England. Many consider this oddly appropriate.
- Chaucer used the word unblushingly in his Canterbury Tales (1387-1400). The Wife of Bath in her tale, says:
- What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
- Os it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?
- In Twelfth Night (1600-1601) by William Shakespeare, the steward Malvolio picking up a letter, attempts to decipher it:
- By my life, this is my lady's hand.
- These be her very C's her U's and [here "and" substitutes for "N"[note 6]
- Her Ts, and thus she makes her great P's.
- In Hamlet (1603) by William Shakespeare, the title character uses "country matters" as a thinly-veiled euphemism.
- HAMLET: (lying down at OPHELIA's feet) Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
- OPHELIA: No, my lord.
- HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap?
- OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
- HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?
- OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
- HAMLET: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
- OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
- HAMLET: Nothing.
- In The Royal Angler of Windsor, a ditty on the Subject of Nell Gwyn, Charles II's mistress, John, Wilmott, 2nd Earl of Rochester writes:
- However weak and slender be the string,
- Bait it with Cunt, and it will hold a king.
- By the time that Robert Burns came to write his Merrie Muses of Caledonia (ca. 1800), the use of the word was expurgated from the text:
- For ilka hair upon her c___t
- Was worth a royal ransom.
- The word was used several times in the first part of the 20th century by authors such as D. H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), and James Joyce, in Ulysses (1922), in which he describes the Dead Sea as "… the grey silken cunt of the Holy Land". However, it was not until Lady Chatterley's Lover was finally cleared for full publication in 1959 (US) and 1960 (UK) that the word "cunt" could once again be used in mainstream literature.
- The word is still taboo on mainstream British television,[note 7] but Kenny Everett,[note 8] had a character called "Cupid Stunt"[note 9] while Rik Mayall played a character called A. Cnut. There was also a Monty Python sketch in which a character who was able to pronounce the letter k but not the letter c (which he mispronounced as b) was advised to use ks in place of hard cs. For his own failure to think of this, the character then self-deprecatingly referred to himself as a "silly bunt". This line only appeared in live performances of the sketch and recordings thereof; presumably it was too salacious for television.
- To call someone a "burk" or "berk" is a closeted way of calling them a cunt, using the rhyming slang of "Berkshire hunt". It is worth noting that, despite its etymology, this term is not regarded as being anywhere near as offensive as the word cunt.
- The London Times bans this word in its personal ads. Back in the 1960s some ingenious woman evaded the ban by posting "See you when tea is ready, my darling."
- Similarly, "dropkick" is rhyming slang, short for "dropkick punt". (Australia)
- Come love, and dwell with me
- Under the greenwood tree,
- None can more happy be,
- Than I shall be if blessed with thee!
- (Quoted in Pearsall 1969, 495)
- Gustave Courbet did name his painting L'Origine du monde ("The Origin of the World") exactly because of that.
- As immortalized by Chaucer: 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."
- Although it might have competition from racial slurs, such as nigger
- If you don't get it, pretend that you're a trendy text-messaging teenager with no grasp of standard English and rewrite the first two words.
- It's a Gazania actually, but whatever.
- It should be noted that "cut" meant the same thing as "cunt" in Elizabethan slang.
- Though it has been used sparingly on occasion, usually post-watershed; The Thick of It uses it particularly liberally.
- A disc jockey & anarchic TV (sic) personality of the 1970s & 1980s
- Reportedly, this was his second choice for the name. The first (rejected) name was supposedly "Mary Hinge".
- Wordlist Love Your Vagina (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:07:10 UTC).
- The oldest example of "vagina" in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from 1682, pre-dating the first use of the word Penis by around two years
- Etymology Online
- The Riverside Chaucer
- cunnus, in T. G. Tucker, Etymological Dictionary of Latin (Halle, 1931, repr. Ares Publishers, 1985) ISBN 0-89005-172-0
- Rawson, H. (1981), A Dictionary of euphemisms and other doubletalk, Macdonald
- The Urban Dictionary only admits of the term being abusive towards women
- Has swearing lost its power to shock?
- Cunt Coloring Book: Drawings by Tee Corinne (1975) Pearlchild Productions.
- Labiaflowers: A Coloring Book by Tee Corinne (1981) The Naiad Press. ISBN 0930044207.
- Corinne, Tee (1943-2006) by Tamsin Wilton (2002) glbtq Encyclopedia Project.
- Great moments in swearing: Naughty spelling in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night by John Kelly (December 1, 2016) Strong Language: A Sweary Blog About Swearing.
- Believe Nothing
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