Monday, 11 October 2010

It's Only Words

A serious note: This blog entry will contain some pretty hefty language (for reasons you'll soon see). If you are under 18 please leave and visit If you are over 18, but are easily offended, please GO AWAY NOW. If you continue to read, and are offended, that's your fault, not mine. I've tried to be as mature and sincere as possible in this blog post, and am intending it to hopefully provoke a genuine and considered discussion. Thankyou please.


What was your initial reaction when you read that word? Was it:

a) Shock and outrage?
b) Embarrassment?
c) Laughter?

Or did you feel no discernible reaction whatsoever?

We've all (presumably) been brought up to realise that that word is something you just do not say, in public, and is one of those words which is taboo. Hence the warning I wrote at the top there. Sometimes, though, I wonder why this is.

The word "cunt" is a four-letter word, and is made up of these letters: C, U, N, T. We know these letters - they're all in the English alphabet, and we use them all the time. So it's fair to say the letters aren't the problem here. Instead, perhaps we have to look at the word itself. From the OED:

1. The female external genital organs. 
2. Applied to a person, esp. a woman, as a term of vulgar abuse.

Embarrassment about body parts, and their names, is nothing new, as any schoolchild will tell you. Nevertheless, it is interesting how some are used. In her last column in The Guardian's magazine, I noticed Lucy Mangan use the word 'vagina'. Whilst it didn't bother me, it surprised me slightly, as I wouldn't have expected it to be used. Instead, I would have expected a softer, more subtle word in it's place - "flower", "ladyparts", etc. These are slang terms for the vagina, yet another slang term, "cunt" would never, ever be used.

Perhaps the key term here is "vulgar abuse". If you watch a film and the word "cunt" is used, it's probably being used as part of an abusive statement - "you fucking cunt" etc, rather than when describing a part of a woman's body. The funny thing is, there are thousands of abusive words and phrases, yet 99% of them are not treated as seriously as cunt. I've been around women who would quite happily call people "wankers" and "twats" and all sorts, but never "cunts". What qualifies as "vulgar" and what doesn't? I honestly don't know. I think we'd all agree that cunt is vulgar, but why exactly?

I looked up the word on OED for a specific reason, because as well as giving a definition, it also lists some examples of where a word has been used in the past. I'm not joking when I say in this case, it's quite interesting:

a1325 Prov. Hendyng (Camb. Gg. I. 1) st. 42 Yeue {th}i cunte to cunnig and craue affetir wedding.
c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 172/12 In wymmen {th}e necke of {th}e bladdre is schort, & is maad fast to the cunte. 
1552 LYNDESAY Satyre Procl. 144 First lat me lok thy cunt, Syne lat me keip the key.
1956 S. BECKETT Malone Dies 24 His young wife had abandoned all hope of bringing him to heel, by means of her cunt, that trump card of young wives.

Whilst I'm not clever enough to work out what most of those sentences mean, it's interesting to note that the word cunt certainly isn't new. Look at those dates - 1325! 1552! If the word is that old, how has it not lost it's impact by now? Has it always been considered as vulgar, or is this a relatively recent criticism?

I'm asking all these questions because, quite simply, I don't know. On one hand, it bemuses me slightly that a word, a simple 4 letter word, carries so much weight and controversy with it. On the other hand, I'm certainly not advocating that a person should think "Okay, it's only a word" and go round shouting it from the rooftops.

Seriously, what do you guys think? Is it a word you would use in public? If not, why do you think it carries all that weight after all these years? Who decides whether a word is vulgar or not?

Over to you...