I’m a big fan of swearing. You can of course over do it and on occasion it can sound unnecessary and coarse but generally, the use of swearing is an integral part of any language. You might try and cover up and say things like, ‘shoot’ or ‘oh fiddlesticks’ but what you really want to say is, ‘shit’ or ‘oh for fucks sake’. And funnily enough I think this comes down massively to the British streak of the puritanical religious or even Victorian eras.
But the big word is still taboo. By the big word, you know what I mean. The ‘C’ word. The word that makes ladies swoon and baby Jesus cry. Yeah, I’ll just say it: Cunt.
I was reading an article the other day by an American woman who was complaining that the word cunt demeans women and should be treated like the ‘N’ word – ie; completely off limits to anyone as it is symbolic of oppression. And this I must say is a very American viewpoint on it and in fact I think misses the point massively.
Cunt is an old word used historically to refer crudely to a woman’s sexual organs but recently has come be applied to someone who is, to use the word in context, ‘a bit of a cunt’.
Nigger is a word derived from the slave trade in the southern United States and is a corruption of the Spanish word negro or the Latin nero. It originated by being used by slave masters to belittle black people who were under their rule and as such is a genuine word of oppression.
The two words are poles apart. The N word I would agree shouldn’t be used by anyone, but as it has been softened by daily use among black people and proliferated thanks mostly to hip hop and rap music, you’ll hear white kids in Germany calling each other ‘Nigga’ cos they heard Lil Wayne say it. But I digress…
The C word is part of the rich culture of swearing that we have in the English language and the impact that it still has is based mostly on where you come from and what you’re used to culturally. I’m going to go all out here and say that I don’t think the C word is anywhere near as bad as you think it is. It’s a great word though and once you get used to say it you can apply it to pretty much everything, much like the other ‘bad words’ – ‘Shit’ and ‘Fuck’.
So why is it not as bad as you think it is? Lets consider the scale of swearing which varies, for example in the States, but generally speaking in British from worst to least I would say goes thusly:
(*Bitch may be more offensive than bastard in most contexts but as they are sex dependent I’ve put them on the same footing)
There’s even words which I don’t think chart as offensive to most people any more like ‘git’, ‘sod’, ‘bloody’ or to a degree ‘bugger’. They’re slightly antiquated and young people don’t say them, therefore unless there’s some upturn in their usage I don’t think calling someone a ‘silly sod’ or ‘stupid bugger’ has any more impact than calling them an idiot or a fool.
Back to the scale though, which is based on British swearing (maybe also Australian/Kiwi/Irish). Call someone a cunt and it definitely has impact – wherever you are. Call someone a bastard or an asshole, yeah its rude and demeaning but doesn’t have the ‘get ready to get punched in the face’ impact of the C word.
A cursory glance at Wikipedia confirms the point I want to make which is that the word cunt wasn’t seen as overly offensive until the 18th century. In terms of being a cognate, it carries across many Germanic and Latin based languages where it is widely seen as a fairly mild swear word.
Consider the swear scale (based on my observations) in French for example, which is a bit more complicated than English:
- Putain (whore, used widely as fuck is in English)
- Chier (coarse word for shit)
- Merde (shit but not as coarse as chier)
- Foutre (vas te faire foutre – go fuck yourself, or je m’en foutre, I don’t give a fuck)
- Con/Connerie/Connasse (cunt but used as ‘jerk’ or ‘stupid’)
- Salaud/Salope (bastard/bitch)
- Cul (ass)
- Ficher (vas te faire fiche – less rude than go fuck yourself, kinda like ‘go to hell’)
Now the French are very expressive and you’ll hear people exclaim in the street, ‘Ahhh putain, j’ai oubliée mon portfeuille…’ (ah fuck I forgot my wallet) or, ‘Arret cette connerie, putain’ (stop cunting about, for fuck sake). Although the words they’re using are pretty coarse and rude they just don’t silence a room like telling some one, ‘stop being a cunt’.
Con, the word for cunt, isn’t even that offensive in French and I’ve heard people tell children to stop this ‘connerie’ (messing about, or literally ‘cunting’ about).
Spanish, another Latin based language uses coño which means cunt or pussy but equally doesn’t have the impact as it’s English equivalent. ‘Que coño es eso’ simply means ‘what the hell is this’ or ‘Que coño haciste?’ means ‘what the fuck have you done’ but you’re certainly not demeaning anyone by using con or coño. Incidentally, another phrase which I’ve picked up from watching Marginal on Netflix is ‘concha de tu madre’ which although it translates as ‘your mum’s shell’ (you can work it out) is used like ‘for fuck sake’ or ‘mother fucker’.
The extremely offensive nature of cunt then appears to be a uniquely English language feature and in America it is even more so. Americans also tend to use cunt to refer to women mostly although Chloe Grace Moretz’s entrance in Kick Ass used the word to great comic effect with a load of expendable bad guys (male). But whenever I read these great feminist rants it tends to be modern Americans. However famous feminist Germaine Greer is actually a champion of the word and raises some interesting points about the polite word, vagina which actually has worse connotations than the word cunt.
On a personal level most women that I know are happy to use the word cunt and some even use it more than me. My sister, my girlfriend, various female friends and even my mum and my girlfriends mum use the word freely to express, exclaim and even describe. If online feminists want to ban the word then they’re surely going to need to confront these liberal open minded women that I know and explain to them why the word cunt is such a terrible and oppressive word and why it will cure the worlds ills to stop using it.
Linguistically though, sex and sexual organs or bodily excretions and the actions that cause them are the offensive terms in most languages. Especially if adding a parent into the mix, such as ‘go fuck your mum’, ‘vete a la concha de tu madre’ etc etc. Jamaican English has some excellent swearing that refers to bodily functions, ‘bloodclart’ which is a woman’s menstrual cycle and ‘raasclart’ which is basically arse wipe but refers to shitty toilet paper, are both very offensive and on a par with cunt among Jamaicans.
Feminists may find it interesting to note that the word for whore rates pretty highly in Latin languages, ‘putain’ and ‘puta’ are the words that will most likely earn you a slap or worse in French and Spanish respectively. But with most foreign swearwords I find it’s the context that really makes it offensive. A pretty offensive term in Spanish is ‘me cago en la leche’ or literally, I shit in the milk to an English speaker. Not that offensive but say that around someones Spanish abuela (grandmother) and see what happens.
Some people would say, but why swear at all? It’s ugly, it’s un-necessary and it shows a lack of imagination or even lack of intelligence. I would counter by calling them a stupid cunt and then explaining that swearing is part of the rich tapestry of language and that used correctly it can enhance any expression, ‘It was a really long day’ versus ‘It was a really fucking long day’. You know the second one was really hard work. If someone is over using swear words, punctuating their sentences with ‘fucking’ for example then it definitely looks a bit lazy, but how often do you hear people say ‘like’ as if it’s a comma. To me that’s as lazy and annoying as someone using ‘fucking’ as a comma.
Sure you don’t need to swear but next time you hear someone say, ‘oh pooh’ when they actually want to say, ‘oh for fucks sake’ ask them whats the difference. It’s an exclamation of frustration. Just say ‘cunt’, it’s much more satisfying…