Before I make another post to this blog about anything that is anything I want to ask just a few things.
There is this word that I really don't care much for and if said around me I get a little up set.
So take a few and think about this word what it really means to you and if and how you would ever use it.
Most times this word has been use to my knowledge is out of anger. But when someone has been given no reason for this word then please explain why this word was use towards that person.
I guess what I am trying to figure out is this little four letter word that is so bad why does it even exist. What is the definition of it.
Well let me start by saying what is written in the dictionary.....
Cunt (IPA:/kʌnt/) is an English language vulgarism referring generally to the female genitalia. The earliest citation of this usage in the Oxford English Dictionary, circa 1230, refers to the London street known as "Gropecunt Lane".
"Cunt" is also used informally as a derogatory epithet in referring to either sex, but this usage is relatively recent, dating back only as far as the late nineteenth century. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines "cunt" as "an unpleasant or stupid person", whereas Merriam-Webster defines the term as "a disparaging term for a woman" and "a woman regarded as a sexual object"; the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English defines it as "a despicable man".
The word appears to have been in common usage from the Middle Ages until the eighteenth century. After a period of disuse, usage became more frequent in the twentieth century and, in particular, in parallel with the rise of popular literature and pervasive media. The term also has various other derived uses and, like "fuck" and its derivatives, has been used mutatis mutandis as noun, pronoun, adjective, participle and other parts of speech.
****Then I searched a little further on this C word as I should say. I came across this web site that kind of looked like maybe it could explain how something so small could become something so big and hurtful to others. Fill free to check it out I only have gave two of their things for this word. The introduction and the etymology. But there is more. Thanks to Matthew Hunt for shedding some light of such a dark word.
IF THIS WORD OR WHAT I HAVE POSTED HAS OFFENDED ANYONE PLEASE LET ME SAY I AM SORRY.
However the light shared on this word from knowledge should never be taken in and use as something out of anger or hate or anything in the order to make a person feel bad.
I was told this word not to long ago and wanted to explore the meaning and how it was looked on.
So bear with me and read it as with everything else I have wrote, shared and said it too will pass and not remembered any more....
Special thanks to a dear friend that brought this word to my attention in away where it did however offend me and I have yet got to figure out why it was said....Thanks very much.......*******
THE HISTORY OF THE C WORD
Very little has been written about the word 'cunt'. The longest account so far published is an entry in Hugh Rawson's Dictionary Of Invective, in which he calls 'cunt' "The most heavily tabooed of all English words" (1989). Rawson's article is five pages long, though I feel that 'cunt' deserves a more extensive analysis. Therefore, what follows is intended as a definitive study of this ancient and powerful word.
Pentti Olli succintly defines 'cunt' as "the bottom half of a woman or a very despicable person" (1999). According to Francis Grose's scurrilous definition in his Classical Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue, it is "a nasty name for a nasty thing" (1796). While essentially a gynaecological term, is now more often uttered as a swearword; it is rarely employed in its literal, anatomical sense, and is instead found in abusive ('fucking cunt'), misogynist ('you cunt!'), and pornographic (cunt.com) contexts.
In his definitive Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang (2005), Jonathon Green itemises the various definitions of 'cunt'. As a noun, it has sixteen distinct meanings: "the vagina", "a derog[atory] term for a woman", "a woman considered purely as a sex object", "copulation with a woman", "a joc[ular] 'bitchy' term of address", "the mouth [...] as a sexual receptacle", "the [...] rectum as a sexual receptacle", "the buttocks", "prostitution", "a sexually attractive woman", "any thing, object, or place", "an unpleasant person", "an infuriating object", "something very difficult to do", "the area of a vein into which one injects narcotics; the crease inside the elbow", and "a syn[onym] for FUCK or DAMN". Green also lists 'cunt' as an adjective ("a general term of abuse"), a verb ("to destory, to defeat"), and as an exclamation ("a general excl[amation] of annoyance").
'Cunt' is a short, monosyllabic word, though its brevity is deceptive. Like many swearwords, it has been incorrectly dismissed as merely Anglo-Saxon slang, as the anonymous Ode To Those Four-Letter Words cautions:
"friend, heed this warning, beware the affront
Of aping a Saxon: don't call it a cunt!" (----).
The prefix 'cu' is one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language. It is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and is the basis of 'cow' ('female animal'), 'queen' ('female monarch'), and, of course, 'cunt' ('female genital'). The word's second most significant influence is the Latin term 'cuneus', meaning 'wedge', from which comes 'cunnus' ('vagina').
The Oxford English Dictionary, the foremost authority on the English lexicon, clarifies the word's commonest contexts as the two-fold "female external genital organs" and "term of vulgar abuse" (RW Burchfield, 1972). At the heart of this incongruity is our culture's negative attitude towards femininity. 'Cunt' is a primary example of the multitude of tabooed words and phrases relating to female sexuality, and of the misogyny inherent in sexual discourse. Kate Millett sums up the word's uniquely despised status: "Somehow every indignity the female suffers ultimately comes to be symbolized in a sexuality that is held to be her responsibility, her shame [...] It can be summarized in one four-letter word. And the word is not fuck, it's cunt. Our self-contempt originates in this: in knowing we are cunt" (1973).
When used in a reductive, abusive context, female genital terms such as 'cunt' and 'twat' are notably more offensive than male equivalents such as 'prick' and 'cock'. This linguistic inequality is mirrored by a cultural imbalance that sees images of the vagina obliterated from contemporary visual culture: "The vagina, according to many feminist writers, is so taboo as to be virtually invisible in Western culture" (Lynn Holden, 2000). Censorship of both the word 'cunt' and the organ to which it refers is symptomatic of a general fear of - and disgust for - the vagina itself. The most literal manifestation of this fear is the myth of the 'vagina dentata', symbolising the male fear that the vagina is a tool of castration (the femme castratrice, a more specific manifestation of the Film Noir femme fatale).
There have been attempts, however, to reappropriate 'cunt', investing it with a positive meaning and removing it from the lexicon of offence, similar in effect to the transvaluation of 'bad', 'sick', and 'wicked', whose colloquial meanings have also been changed from negative to positive - what Jonathon Green calls "the bad equals good model" of oppositional slang (Jennifer Higgie, 1998). The Cunt-Art movement used traditional 'feminine' arenas such as sewing and cheerleading as artistic contexts in which to relocate the word. A parallel 'cunt-power' ideology, seeking to reclaim the word more forcefully, was instigated by Germaine Greer, a spirit later recalled by Zoe Williams, who encouraged "Cunt Warriors" to reclaim the word (2006).
What 'cunt' has in common with most other contemporary swearwords is its connection to bodily functions. Genital, scatological, and sexual terms (such as, respectively, 'cunt', 'shit', and 'fuck') are our most powerful taboos, though this was not always the case. Social taboos originally related to religion and ritual, and Philip Thody contrasts our contemporary bodily taboos with the ritual taboos of tribal cultures: "In our society, that of the industrialised West, the word 'taboo' has lost almost all its magical and religious associations" (1997). In Totem Und Tabu, Sigmund Freud's classic two-fold definition of 'taboo' encompasses both the sacred and the profane, both religion and defilement: "The meaning of 'taboo', as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions. To us it means, on the one hand, 'sacred', 'consecrated', and on the other 'uncanny', 'dangerous', 'forbidden', 'unclean'" (1912).
Taboos relating to language are most readily associated with the transgressive lexicon of swearing. William Shakespeare, writing at the cusp of the Reformation, demonstrated the reduced potency of blasphemy and, with his thinly veiled 'cunt' puns, slyly circumvented the newfound intolerance towards sexual language. Later, John Wilmot would remove the veil altogether, writing "some of the filthiest verses composed in English" (David Ward, 2003) with an astonishingly uninhibited sexual frankness and a blatant disregard for the prevailing Puritanism. Establishment "prudery [...] in the sphere of sex", as documented by Peter Fryer (1963), continued until after the Victorian period, when sexually explicit language was prosecuted as obscene.
It was not until the latter half of the twentieth century, after the sensational acquittal of Lady Chatterley's Lover, that the tide finally turned, and sexual taboos - including that of 'cunt' - were challenged by the 'permissive society'. During the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial, the word 'cunt' became part of the national news agenda, and indeed the eventual publication of Lady Chatterley can be seen as something of a watershed for the word, marking the first widespread cultural dissemination of "arguably the most emotionally laden taboo term" (Ruth Wajnryb, 2004).
The word has since become increasingly prolific in the media, and its appearances can broadly be divided into two types: euphemism and repetition. Humorous, euphemistic references to 'cunt', punning on the word without actually using it in full, represent an attempt to undermine our taboo against it: by laughing at our inability to utter the word, we recognise the arcane nature of the taboo and begin to challenge it. By contrast, the parallel trend towards repetitive usage of 'cunt' seeks to undermine the taboo through desensitisation. If 'cunt' is repeated ad infinitum, our sense of shock at initially encountering the word is rapidly dispelled. With other swearwords (notably 'fuck') gradually losing their potency, 'cunt' is left as the last linguistic taboo, though even the c-word can now be found adorning badges, t-shirts, and book covers. Its normalisation is now only a matter of time.
'Cunt' is probably the most offensive and censored swearword in the English language: "Of all the four-letter words, CUNT is easily the most offensive" (Ruth Wajnryb, 2004). Martin Samuel calls it "one of the best words" (2007). Our taboo surrounding the word ensures that it is rarely discussed, though, when it is, the superlatives come thick and fast. Accordingly, Zoe Williams writes: "It's the rudest word we've got, in the entire language" (2006). Jacqueline Z Wilson also piles on the superlatives: "'Cunt' is the most confronting word [...] probably in every major variety of English spoken anywhere [and is] the most offensive word in the English language" (2008).
Sara Gwin (2008) calls it "the most offensive word for women" and "one of the most offensive words in the English language, if not the worst". Specifically, she problematises the word's reductivism: "It objectifies women by reducing them down to their body part that has been defined by male usage [...] there is a whole history of misogyny packed in to that one-syllable word". She cautiously acknowledges the potential for feminist reclamation: "Women have every right to reclaim the word for themselves or for a particular group. However, there has to be the acknowledgement that this word is still incredibly insulting to many and we have to respect that".
'Cunt' is "one of the most foul and insulting [words] in the English language" (Megan Goudey and Ashley Newton, 2004) and "a word so hateful it can scarcely be uttered" (Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, 2000). M Hunt [no relation] calls it "the most taboo word in the English language" (2006). Libby Brooks views it as "the most shocking word in the English language [...] the grossest insult you can use" (2008). Andrew Goldman calls 'cunt' "the mother of all nasty words" and "the most controversial word of all" (1999). Victoria Coren calls it "the word which is still considered the most offensive in the language" (Deborah Lee, 2006). Alex Games sees it as "still the ultimate taboo utterance" (2006). Geoffrey Hughes calls it "the most seriously taboo word in English" (2006). For Tom Aldridge, it is "unarguably the most obscene [and] most forbidden word in English", "the ultimate obscenity", and "the nastiest four-letter word" (2001). Jack Holland notes that "the word 'cunt' expresse[s] the worst form of contempt one person could feel for another" (2006). John Doran describes it as "The most offensive word in the world", "the worst word that anyone has ever been able to think of", and "[the] most terrible of terrible words" (2002). It is, according to Sue Clark, "far and away the most offensive word for the British public. [...] If it is used aggressively towards women it is absolutely the last word in swearing" (Anthony Barnes, 2006). Beatrix Campbell calls it "a radioactive word [...] impregnated with hostility". It is Michael Madsen's favourite word: "I just lke it because it's really mean and at the same time it's really lyrical and colourful and imaginative" (Chris Hewitt, 2008).
Deborah Orr provides a neat summary of the word's central functions, invective and empowerment: "Attitudes to this powerful expression, especially among women, are changing. For many centuries now, the word has been elaborately veiled under the weird and heavy drapes of a disapproval so strong that it has become pre-eminent among forbidden words. "Cunt" remains, for the vast majority of people, pretty much the worst, the ugliest, the most barbaric, crude and filthy English word there is. For others, though, its use is a mark of worldly and liberal sophistication" (2006). Further attitudes towards 'cunt' were included in the BBC3 television documentary The C-Word: How We Came To Swear By It, broadcast on 30th July 2007.
The Etymology Of Cunt
The etymology of 'cunt' is actually considerably more complex than is generally supposed. The word's etymology is highly contentious, as Alex Games explains: "Language scholars have been speculating for years about the etymological origins of the 'c-word'" (2006). A consensus has not yet been reached, as Ruth Wajnryb admits in A Cunt Of A Word (a chapter in Language Most Foul): "Etymologists are unlikely to come to an agreement about the origins of CUNT any time soon" (2004), and Mark Morton is even more despairing: "no-one really knows the ulterior origin of cunt" (2003). Greek Macedonian terms for 'woman' - 'guda', 'gune', and 'gyne' - have been suggested as the word's sources, as have the Anglo-Saxon 'cynd' and the Latin 'cutis' ('skin'), though these theories are not widely supported.
The Origins Of Cunt
Perhaps the clearest method of structuring the complex etymology of 'cunt' is to approach it letter by letter, and this is the approach I have taken here. I have examined the Indo-European, Latin, Greek, Celtic, and Dutch linguistic influences on 'cunt', and also discussed the wide variety of the word's contemporary manifestations.
The prefix 'cu' is an expression of "quintessential femineity" (Eric Partridge, 1961), confirming 'cunt' as a truly feminine term. The synonymy between 'cu' and femininity was in place even before the development of written language: "in the unwritten prehistoric Indo-European [...] languages 'cu' or 'koo' was a word base expressing 'feminine', 'fecund' and associated notions" (Tony Thorne, 1990). The proto-Indo-European 'cu' is also cognate with other feminine/vaginal terms, such as the Hebrew 'cus'; the Arabic 'cush', 'kush', and 'khunt'; the Nostratic 'kuni' ('woman'); the Irish 'cuint' ('cunt'). Mark Morton suggests that the Indo-European 'skeu' ('to conceal') is also related.
Thus, 'cu' and 'koo', both pronounced 'coo', were ancient monosyllabic sounds implying femininity. 'Coo' and 'cou' are modern slang terms for vagina, based on these ancient sounds. Other vaginal slang words, such as 'cooch', 'coot', 'cooter', 'cooz', 'cooze', 'coozie', 'coozy', 'cookie', 'choochy', 'chocha', 'cootch', and 'coochie snorcher' are extensions of them. 'Coochie snorcher', as in The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could from The Vagina Monologues, is a childish euphemism for 'cunt' that has generated the following (often elaborate) variants:
The phrase also inspired the song titles Itchycoo Park (The Small Faces, 1967), Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo (Rick Derringer, 1974), and (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (Muddy Waters, 1954). Hoochie Coochie Men was also the name of Long John Baldry's backing band during the 1960s. Also, heterosexual pornographic films are known as 'cooch reels'.
The feminine 'cu' word-base is also the source of the modern 'cow', applied to female animals, one of the earliest recorded forms of which is the Old Frisian 'ku', indicating the link with 'cu'. Other early forms include the Old Saxon 'ko', the Dutch 'koe', the Old Higher German 'kuo' and 'chuo', the German 'kuhe' and 'kuh', the Old Norse 'kyr', the Germanic 'kouz', the Old English 'cy' (also 'cua' and 'cyna'), and the Middle English 'kine' and 'kye'.
The prefix has also been linked to elliptical (thus, perhaps, symbolically vaginal) terms such as 'gud' (Indo-European, 'enclosure'), 'cucuteni' ('womb-shaped Roman vase'), 'cod' ('bag'), 'cubby-hole' ('snug place'), 'cove' ('concave chamber'), and 'keel' ('convex ridge'). The Italian 'guanto' ('glove') and the Irish 'cuan' ('harbour') may also be related, as they share with 'vagina' the literal meaning 'receptacle'. Even 'cudgel' has been suggested as another link, though a cudgel seems more like a cock than a cunt, and indeed none of these terms have the demonstrably feminine associations of 'cunt' or 'cow'.
'Cu' also has associations with knowledge: 'can' and 'ken' (both 'to know') evolved from the 'cu'/'ku' prefix. RF Rattray highlights the connection between femininity and knowledge: "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: Cynthia and [...] cunt, on the one hand, and cunning, on the other" (1961).
Indeed, there is a significant linguistic connection between sex and knowledge: one can 'conceive' both an idea and a baby, and 'ken' means both 'know' and 'give birth'. 'Ken' shares a genealogical meaning with 'kin' and 'kind', from the Old English 'cyn' and the Gothic 'kuni'. It also has vaginal connotations: "['kin'] meant not only matrilineal blood relations but also a cleft or crevice, the Goddess's genital opening" (Barbara G Walker, 1983).
The Latin 'cognoscere', related to 'cognate', may indeed be cognate with the sexual organ 'cunt'. Knowledge-related words such as 'connote', 'canny', and 'cunning' may also be etymologically related to it, though such a connection is admittedly tenuous. Less debatable is the connection between 'cunctipotent' and 'cunt': both are derived from the Latin 'cunnus'. Geoffrey Chaucer's 'cunt'-inspired term 'queynte' is yet another link between sex and knowledge, as he uses it to mean both 'vagina' and 'cunning'.
In Celtic and modern Welsh, 'cu' is rendered as 'cw', a similarly feminine prefix influencing the Old English 'cwithe' ('womb'), from the Welsh 'cwtch'. Interestingly, 'cwtch' (also 'cwtch', with modern forms 'cwts' and 'cwtsh') means 'hollow place' as a noun (and is thus another vaginal metaphor) and 'hide' as a verb. The 'cw' prefix can be traced back to the Indo-European 'gwen', which also influenced the Greek 'gune' and 'gunaikos', the Sumerian 'gagu', and the feminine/vaginal prefix 'gyn'.
Feminine 'gyn' terms include:
The form is also used, in a negative sense, to describe the hatred of women: 'gynography', 'gynephobia'/'gynophobia', 'misogyny', 'misogynist', 'misogyne', 'misogynic', 'misogynous', 'misogynistic', 'misogynistical', and 'misogynism'. The female sex androids in Inosensu: Kokaku Kidotai (Mamoru Oshii, 2004) are called "Gynoids". Mary Daly, in Gyn/Ecology (1978), coined the new terms "gynaesthesia", "gynocentric", "gynography", and "gynomorphic".
Sharing the 'cw' prefix is 'cwe', meaning 'woman', influencing the Old English 'cuman' and 'cwene'. Anglicised phonetically, 'cwene' became 'quean', and is related to the Oromotic term 'qena', the Lowland Scottish 'quin', the Dutch 'kween', the Old Higher German 'quena' and 'quina', the Gothic 'quens' and 'qino', the Germanic 'kwenon' and 'kwaeniz', the Old Norse 'kvaen' (also 'kvan', 'kvenna', and 'kvinna'), the Middle English 'queene' and 'quene', and the modern English 'quean' and 'queen'.
'Cwm' also shares the 'cw' prefix, however its feminine origins seem initially perplexing, as it means 'valley'. In fact, this topographical definition is clearly a vaginal metaphor, as valleys are as furrowed and fertile as vaginas (although the Welsh slang words for 'vagina' are 'cont' and 'chuint' rather than 'cwm'). Viz magazine (William H Bollocks, 1997) punned on the sound of the Welsh phrase 'pobol y cwm' ('people of the valley') with 'pobolycwm', defined as "people who like quim".
'Cwm' is pronounced 'come', though 'quim', an English slang term for 'vagina', is a mispronounced Anglicisation of it. Alternative etymologies for 'quim' include possibilities such as 'cweman' (Old English, 'to please') and 'qemar' (Spanish, 'to burn'). Variants of 'quim' include 'qwim', 'quiff', 'quin', and 'quem', and it has been combined with 'mince' to form 'quince' ('effeminate'). 'Quimbledon', a combination of 'quim' and 'Wimbledon', is a slang word describing male spectatorship of all-female sports. 'Quimbecile' ('idiot'), is a combination of 'quim' and 'imbecile'. Other extended forms of 'quim' include: 'quim-trim' ('pubic haircut'), 'quimle' ('cunnilingus'), 'quimble' ('male sexual excitement'), 'quimby' ('middle person in a threesome'), 'quimsby' ('vagina'), 'quimstake'/'quim-stick'/'quim-wedge' ('penis'), 'quimwedge' ('sexual intercourse'), 'quim-sticker' ('womaniser'), 'quimfill' ('penis fully inserted into the vagina'), 'quimling' ('stimulating a woman to orgasm'), 'grimquims' ('group of unattractive vaginas'), 'stretched quimosine' ('elongated vagina', a pun on 'stretch limousine'), 'quimple' ('vagina-shaped dimple'), 'quimper' ('sexual whimper'), and 'quimpotent' ('unable to reach orgasm'). The film Dr Loo And The Phaleks includes a character called Quimberly Dickmore.
'Quim' has been extended to form 'quimwedge' (literally 'vaginal wedge', thus 'penis'), which is especially interesting as it utilises 'wedge' to mean 'penis' when, in fact, 'cunt' itself derives from the Latin for 'wedge' ('cuneus'). Dorion Burt's Decunta (197-) provides a further oxymoronic 'cunt'/'penis' connection: a large sculpture filled with whiskey, it blatantly phallic in shape yet vaginal in name. There is a lesbian magazine titled Quim, and related to the term are the portmanteau words 'queef', 'kweef', 'quiff', and 'queefage', all meaning 'vaginal fart' and derived from 'quim' in combination with 'whiff'.
In addition to the clumsily Anglicised 'quim', 'cwm' was also adopted into English with the more accurate phonetic spelling 'coombe', from the Old English 'cumb'. 'Coombe' and its variants 'combe', 'comb', and 'coomb' remain common components of surnames and placenames. Indeed, so common is the word in English placenames that Morecambe Bay is often mis-spelt Morecombe: as Ian Mayes is at pains to point out, "It is not Morcombe Bay [...] it is Morcambe Bay" (2001). In England, there are nineteen places called Coombe (one each in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kingston-upon-Thames, and Kent; two each in Somerset and Wiltshire; three in Devon; six in Cornwall) and eight called Combe (one each in East Sussex, Herefordshire, West Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Somerset; three in Devon). There is also a song titled Biddy Mulligan: The Pride Of The Coombe (The Clancy Brothers, 196-):
"I'm a buxom fine widow, I live in a spot
In Dublin, they call it the Coombe.
Me shops and me stalls are laid out on the street,
And me palace consists of one room".
In America, 'combe' appears in the name of Buncombe County, from which the slang term 'bunkum' is derived. Congressional representative Felix Walker, ending a long-winded House of Representatives speech in 1821, insisted that he was "bound to make a speech for Buncombe" (Jonathon Green, 1998). Thus, 'buncombe' became synonymous with nonsensical speech, and was later simplified to 'bunkum'.
We have seen how 'cu' originated as an ancient feminine term. In the Romance languages, the 'cu' prefix became 'co', as in 'coynte', the Italian 'conno' and 'cunno', the Portugese 'cona', and the Catalan 'cony'. This 'co' prefix may also suggest a possible link with the Old English 'cot', forerunner of 'cottage', and with the modern English 'codpiece', 'cobweb', 'coop', 'cog', 'cock', 'chicken', 'cudgel', and 'kobold', though this is not proven.
The 'co' prefix is found most abundantly in Spanish, which provides 'concha' ('vagina'), 'chocha' ('lagoon', a vaginal metaphor), and 'cono' ('vagina'). Suzi Feay finds 'cono' preferable to the coarser-sounding 'cunt': "I must say, 'cono' is a much nicer word than its English equivalent" (2003). There is also a Castilian Spanish variant ('conacho'), and a milder euphemistic form: 'cona' and 'conazo'. 'Cono' and its derivatives are practically ubiquitous in the Spanish language, as Stephen Burgen explains: "People are often shocked at the shear quantity of conos in Spanish discourse" (1996). In Mexico, Spaniards are known colloquially as 'los conos', indicating Mexican surprise at the word's prevalence in Spain.
'Cono' is significantly milder than its English equivalent, 'cunt', and therefore closely mirrors the similarly mild and omnipresent French term 'con' (of which more later). The transition from 'cu' to 'co' can be seen most clearly in the progression from the Old French 'cun' and 'cunne', to the Middle French 'com' and 'coun', and the modern French 'con'. These terms contain the letter 'n', and this is a clue that their evolution from 'cu' was indirect. The missing link is the Latin term 'cuneus', meaning 'wedge'.
'Wedge' and 'cunt', however, seem unlikely associates, as Jane Mills explains: "I know what a cunt looks like, and the word 'wedge' doesn't sort of spring to mind!" (Kerry Richardson, 1994). The 'wedge'/'cunt' link actually rests on their shared cuneiform shape: 'cuneus' led to both 'cuneiform' and 'cunt', with both words describing wedge-shaped triangular formations. The Latin 'cuneat'/'cuneate' and 'cuneare' also derive from 'cuneus', and are the sources of the modern 'coin'. Euphemistically, 'coin' means 'conceive', and 'coiner' can refer to a man who impregnates a woman, thus the word has a demonstrably sexual, if not explicitly genital, connection.
Thus, 'cuneiform', 'coin', and 'cunt' share the same etymological origin: 'cuneus'. The connection between 'cuneus' and 'cunt' is 'cunnus' (Latin for 'vagina'), and this connection is most clearly demonstrated by the term 'cunnilingus' ('oral stimulation of the vagina'). In this combination of 'cunnus' and 'lingere' ('to lick'), we can see that 'cunnus' is used in direct reference to the vagina, demonstrating that the 'cun' prefix it shares with 'cunt' is more than coincidental.
Euphemistic variants of 'cunnilingus' include 'cunnilinctus', 'cumulonimbus', 'cunning lingus', 'Colonel Lingus' (t-shirt slogan), and "Canni langi" (Michelle Hanson, 2003). It is often comically confused with 'cunning linguist', as in the Sluts song Cunning Linguist (1982), and was evoked by the Not The Nine O'Clock News song and album (The Memory) Kinda Lingers (1982). Viz has created the convoluted euphemisms "cumulously nimbate" and "cumulonimbulate" (Roger Mellie, 2005). 'Cunnus' also occurs in the phrase 'cunnus diaboli', mediaeval "cunt-shrine[s]" known as 'devilish cunts' and defined by Barbara G Walker as "Sacred places associated with the world-cunt [that] sometimes embarrassed Victorian scholars who failed to understand their earlier meaning" (1983).
There are many terms derived from 'cunnus' that have either literal or metaphorical vaginal or maternal connotations: the Roman goddess Cunina, the pagan goddess Cundrie, the Welsh 'cunnog', 'cuniculus' ('passageway'), 'cununa', and 'cunabula' ('cradle'). 'Cunctipotent', meaning 'all-knowing' or "having cunt-magic" (Barbara G Walker, 1983), is also derived from 'cunnus', and links sex to knowledge in the manner discussed earlier. Also from 'cunnus' is 'cundy', which means 'underground water channel' and is slang for 'vaginal fluid', a vaginal metaphor in the manner of 'cwm'. The slang term 'cunnifungus' ('diseased vagina') also derives its prefix from 'cunnus'.
The Greek 'kusos', 'kusthos', 'konnos' ('tuft of hair'), and 'konnus' (perhaps related to the Egyptian 'ka-t'), all emerged in parallel with 'cunnus'. Along with the Hebrew 'kus' and 'keus', they share an initial 'k' in place of the Latin 'c'. In modern Czech, 'kunda' ('vagina') is an invective equivalent to 'cunt', and is also found in the diminutive form 'kundicka' (the closest English equivalent being 'cuntkin'). In the Volga region of Russia, 'kunka' is a dialect term for 'cunt' related to 'kunat'sja' ('fuck') and 'okunat' ('plunge').
The Norwegian 'kone' ('wife') provides a further variant form, related to the 'ku' and 'cu' feminine prefixes already discussed. Modern Norwegian includes a broad lexicon of related terms, including 'torgkone' ('market-woman'), 'vaskekone' ('washer-woman'), 'gratekone' ('female mourner'), and 'kvinne' ('woman', also spelt 'kvinner' and 'kvinnelig'). Like Norway's 'kone' and its variants, there are are many other words with similar meanings, also belonging to Scandinavian languages: 'kunton', the Old Swedish 'kona', 'kundalini' ('feminine energy'), 'khan' ('Eurasian matriarch'), the Hittite 'kun' and 'kusa' ('bride'), the Basque 'kuna' (also 'cuna'), the Danish 'kusse', the Old Norse and Old Frisian 'kunta' and 'kunte', the Middle Lower German 'kutte', the Middle Higher German 'kotze' ('prostitute'), and the Icelandic 'kunta' (or 'kunt').
The Old Dutch 'kunte' later developed into the more Latinate Middle Dutch 'cunte' and 'conte', and the modern Swedish 'kuntte', though the modern Dutch term is 'kutt'. Also spelt 'kut', and extended to 'kutwijf' ('cuntwife'), 'kutt' has been used as the title of the porn magazine Kutt (2002), leading to Lee Carter's 'uncut' pun "live and unKutt" (2002). It is interesting that these Dutch examples include the suffixes 'te' and 'tt', as the final 't' of "the most notable of all vulgarisms" has always been "difficult to explain" (1961), according to Eric Partridge, who included 'cunt' in his Dictionary Of Slang And Unconventional English. The complex etymological jigsaw of this "most notorious term of all" (1947) can now be broadly pieced together: the 'cu' is Proto-Indo-European, the 'n' is Latin, and the 't' is Dutch. The Middle English 'kunte', 'cuntt', 'cunte', 'count', and 'counte' bear the marks of each of these three influences.
Case Study: Cunt As A Proper Noun
We have seen how the Celtic 'cwm' was influenced by the feminine prefix 'cu', a topographical vagina metaphor comparing the shape and fertility of valleys and vaginas. Other water-related terms also have similarly vaginal connotations, such as 'cundy' ('underground water channel'), which is a hydrographical vaginal metaphor derived from 'cunnus'. Similarly, 'cuniculus', also from 'cunnus', means 'passageway', and was applied to Roman drainage systems. 'Konnos', the Greek for 'vagina', is derived from 'cunnus' and the Sanskrit 'cushi'/'kunthi', meaning 'ditch', as both vaginas and ditches are channels for water. The Spanish 'chocha' ('lagoon') is another vaginal metaphor. The Russian 'kunka' describes two hands cupped together carrying water. 'Cut', a further term meaning 'water channel', is a recognised euphemism for 'cunt', though is not etymologically related to it.
The vaginal water channel allusion is replicated by the River Kennet in Wiltshire, as Kennet was originally Cunnit: "At Silbury Hill [the river] joins the Swallowhead or true fountain of the Kennet, which the country people call by the old name of Cunnit and it is not a little famous amongst them" (William Stukeley, 1743). Adjacent to the river is the Roman settlement Cunetio, also spelt Cunetione, Cunetzone, Cunetzione, and Cunetiu (though now known as Mildenhall). "The name ['Cunetio'] must be left unresolved", insist ALF Rivet and Colin Smith (1979), though its origin, like Kennet's, is the Celtic 'kuno'.
The rivers Kent (formerly Kenet) and Cynwyd share Kennet's etymology, and, as Michael Dames explains, Kennet's link to 'cunt' is readily apparent: "we may yet rediscover the Kennet as Cunnit, and the Swallowhead as Cunt. The name of that orifice is carried downstream in the name of the river. Cunnit is Cunnt with an extra i. As late as 1740, the peasants of the district had not abandoned the name [...] The antiquity of the form is clearly shown by the Roman riverside settlement called Cunetio - their principal town in the entire Kennet valley" (1976).
The earliest 'cunt' citation in the Oxford English Dictionary features the word as a component of a London streetname: circa 1230 in Southwark, there was a street called Gropecuntelane (though variants of the name include Groppecountelane, Gropecontelane, and Gropecunt Lane). The street was part of the 'stews', the Southwark red-light district, though its name was not confined only to London. There was also a Gropecuntelane in Oxford (later renamed Magpie Lane), a Grapcunt Lane in York, a Cunte Street in Bristol (later renamed Host Street), and a Rue Grattecon in Paris.
London's Gropecuntelane was later shortened to Grope Lane, subsequently became Grub Street, and is now Milton Street. Martin Wainwright cites a Grope Lane in York, perhaps a sanitised form of Grapcunt Lane, which was further sanitised to Grape Lane "by staid Victorians who found the original Grope - historically related to prostitution - too blatant" (2000). Other 'cunt'-related placenames include Coombe and Kennet, discussed earlier, the evocative Ticklecunt Creek, and the fictitious "Cunt Hill" (Robert Coover, 1983). In Barcelona there is a restaurant called Bar Cuntis, there is a town in China called Cuntan, and there is a town in northern England called Scunthorpe (Who Put The *@!+ In Scunthorpe?, asked Empire in 1993). There are places called Cunt in Spain and Turkey, and Spain also has a town called Cunter.
There is a cocktail called a Cunt Pump, and Graeme Donald cites another form of 'cunt' used as a proper noun, this time in mediaeval surnames, two of which predate the OED's earliest citation: "Early records mention such female names as Gunoka Cuntles (1219), Bele Wydecunthe (1328) and presumably promiscuous male sporting names such as Godwin Clawecunte (1066), John Fillecunt (1246) and Robert Clevecunt (1302)" (1994). Explaining that "Any part of the body which was unusual [or] remarkable was likely to provide a convenient nickname or surname for its owner" (1988), James McDonald cites the further example of Simon Sitbithecunte (1167, again predating the OED). Russell Ash provides more recent examples, in a book chapter titled The C-word (2007): "despite its super-taboo status, 'cunt' and its variants crop up as both a first name and surname in Britain". Ash cites Mary Allcunt (born 1815), Cunt Berger (born 1878), Cuntin Churles (born 1861), Cuntha Cronch (born 1834), A Cunt (baptised 1684), Fanny Cunt (born 1839; also her son, Richard Cunt; her daughters, Ella Cunt and Violet Cunt; her brother, Alfred Cunt), Harry Cunt (born 1874), Richard Harry Cunter (born 1880), Worthy Cuntilla (born 1825), Lancelot S Cuntin (born 1899), Mary Cunting (born 1837), Emma Scunt (born 1845), Cuntliffe Fanny Vidal (born 1887), Joseph Cuntingdon (born 1823), Ellen Cuntly (born 1877), James Cunts (baptised 1757), Margaret Cunty (married 1798), Cunty Hoel (born 1849), Cunt Pepper (born 1828), and Mary Ann Cunt Hunt (born 1829; also her husband, George F Cunt Hunt). He also cites names with 'cunt' homophones: Mike Hunt (born 1842), Phil Mike Hunt, Temperance Kunt (born 1824), and Kunt Zonar (born 1828).
Other 'cunt' names include those of the male witch Johannes Cuntius, the make-up artist Gabreil DeCunto, the actress Lilia Cuntapay, the producer Loredana Cunti, the director Sol Cuntin, the actor John Dacunto, the actor Richard Acunto, the director Luciana Rodrigues Dacunto, the drag-queens Miss Cunty and Maxine DeLaCunt, the singer Dave Cunt, Vaginal Necrosis band-member Mike the Cunt, The Wildhearts band-member Howling Willie Cunt, the writer Maren Hancunt, and the pseudonymous director Ima Cunt ('I'm a cunt', similar to Craig Brown's "amacunt" from 1999). 'Cunt' also appears in the Indian surname Cuntararajan, and the Romanian surnames Cuntan and Cuntanu. A Bit Of Fry And Laurie created the fictional author "Ted Cunterblast" (Roger Ordish, 1989).
The surname Kuntz has a tantalising phonetic similarity to 'Cunts', and is especially notable in the case of WD Kuntz, whose 'cunt' connection is compounded by his position as a gynaecologist. In a similar vein, Matthew Norman quotes a letter from Archibald Clerk Kerr: "[I have] a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that his name is Mustapha Kunt ['Must have a Cunt']. We all feel like that [...] but few of us would care to put it on our cards" (2003). Tom Conti has received the same treatment: Gareth McLean wrote that "Conti should probably enter the vernacular as a term of abuse" (2003), owing to its similarity to 'cunt'. The surname Kant is commonly confused with 'cunt', as Mark Lawson discovered to his cost on a live television programme: "My error was not to have known that the Philosopher Immanuel Kant's surname is habitually pronounced by academics to rhyme with "punt"" (2003). Furthermore, the name of a character in the film I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name, Quint, has been interpreted as a reference to 'cunt'.
Terence Meaden suggests that legal suppression of 'cunt' constituted "a series of vicious witch hunts encouraged by an evil establishment wishing to suppress what amounted to apparent signs of Goddess beliefs" (1992), and, indeed, there was a Japanese goddess Cunda, a Korean Goddess Quani (the Tasmanian 'quani' means 'woman'), a Phoenician priestess Qudshu, a Sumerian priestess Quadasha, and, in India, a goddess known variously as Cunti-Devi, Cunti, Kun, Cunda, Kunda, Kundah, and Kunti, worshipped by the Kundas or Kuntahs. These names all indicate that 'cunt' and its ancient equivalents were used as titles of respect rather than as insults (as does the Egyptian term, 'quefen-t', used by Ptah-Hotep when addressing a goddess). 'Kunti', the name of an Indian goddess, is also an Indonesian term used to describe a mythical female vampire, abbreviated from 'kuntilanak'.
My own surname, Hunt, also has associations with 'cunt'. I have lost count of the number of times I have been called Mike Hunt ('My Cunt') or Isaac Hunt ('I's a Cunt'). The Mike Hunt pun can be traced back as early as the nineteenth century: "The dance was followed up by an out-and-out song by Mike Hunt, whose name was called out in a way that must not be mentioned to ears polite" (FLG, 1841). Designers Morag Myerscough and Charlotte Rawlins turned 'Mike Hunt' into a neon sculpture titled Has Anyone Seen Mike Hunt? (2004), when they were asked to illustrate the letter 'c' for a British Library exhibition. Maev Kennedy reviewed the sculpture in an article headlined Library Show For Word Rhyming With Hunt: "C, after all, is almost unique in having its own word. The C-word. The hardest word of them all" (2004). Mike Hunt is also the name of an American publishing house. An Australian magazine feature on the c-word was subtitled An Article About Mike Hunt (Rhonda Pietin, 2001).
In Australian slang, Mike Hunt is extended to Michael Hunt, which explains why Michael is Aussie slang for 'cunt'. The phrase is found in the Australian drinking toast Mich Hunt's Health (1731):
"Here's a Health to Mich. Hunt,
And to Mich. Hunt's Breeches;
And why may not I scratch Mich. Hunt,
When Mich. Hunt itches".
'Hunt'/'cunt' comparisons are many and varied: I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has been introduced as "the show that is to panel games what James Hunt is to rhyming slang!" (John Naismith, 1998); in Head On Comedy a joke was made about "William Hunt" (Pati Marr, 2000); the "rhyming slang potential" (Gareth McLean, 2001[a]) of 'Mr Hunt' has been commented upon. 'Colin Hunt' is another rhyming 'cunt' euphemism: "Colin Hunt, the perpetual office joker in The Fast Show, is evoked. That's all they are, really. A bunch of Colin Hunts" (Charlie Catchpole, 2001). Smut has a comic strip called Kevin Hunt, with the slogan "YOU GET THE GIST" (2001) implying the pun in the name. Stupid Hunts, a pun on 'stupid cunts', was used as a headline by Total Film magazine in 2006. Kirsty Allsopp demonstrates how easy a 'Hunt'/'cunt' slip-up can be: "I had to stand outside a house and say, "Welcome to The Great House Hunt!" [though instead] I said, "Welcome to The Great House C[unt]!" I was so embarrassed!" (Polly Hudson, 2003).
The Viking invader King Canute's name was originally spelt Cnut, an anagram of 'cunt' in the manner of French Connection's FCUK. FCUK and Cnut are both tabooed words with their respective middle letters reversed, the difference being that FCUK was a deliberate reference to 'fuck' whereas Cnut was an accidental reference to 'cunt'. This accidental reference may explain why Canute has now replaced Cnut, in an attempt to Anglicise and elongate the word and thus disguise its similarity to 'cunt'. French Connection initially insisted that the similarity between FCUK and 'fuck' was merely coincidental, though they soon dropped their false modesty by pressing charges against the rival Cnut Attitude clothing brand.
Cnut Attitude later rebranded themselves as King Cnut, selling an extensive range of 'cnut'-themed clothing (as worn by characters in Monkey Dust, Chewin' The Fat, and The Baby Juice Express): t-shirts ('CNUT', 'cnut', and 'Cnut'), hoodies ('CNUT'), and thongs ('cnut', 'brazilian cnut', and 'hollywood cnut'). Their t-shirt slogans are: 'SAFFA CNUT', 'AUSSIE CNUT', 'BRAZILIAN CNUT', 'U R A CNUT', 'BRITONS NEED CNUT', 'UNIVERSITY OF CNUT', 'SPRINGBOK CNUT', 'STONED CNUT', 'CHARLIE NOVEMBER UNIFORM TANGO', 'BRITISH CNUT', 'ARMY CNUT', '24 CARAT CNUT', 'sexy cnut', 'posh cnut', 'lazy cnut', 'ginger cnut', 'cheeky cnut', 'pissed cnut', '20th CENTURY CNUT', 'it's spelt fuck you stupid cnut', 'Your boyfriend is a cnut', 'king cnut', 'kiwi cnut', 'miserable cnut', 'tory cnut', 'labour cnut', 'fat cnut', 'run like a cnut', 'bald cnut', 'you cnut be serious?', 'pommie cnut', and 'thick cnut'.
King Cnut, known as Cnut the Great, was one of several Danish Cnuts, including St Cnut. His name now prompts predictable double-entendres, such as this from Simon Carr: "John Prescott made King Canute gestures with his hands. Or, more accurately, King Cnut gestures (I'm glad I'm not dyslexic)" (2003). Two Private Eye cartoons have drawn upon the humorous potential of Cnut: one by McLachlan (2002) depicts a man in a French Connection t-shirt looking at a historical waxwork labelled "cnut", and another by Mike Barfield (2003) includes "CNUT" in a collection of offensive anagrams. It has also been used in a cartoon by Arthur Mathews for The Observer called The Chairman. A split-second reference occurred in an advertisement for Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, when the final frame read "C NUT" (2002). In Believe Nothing, Rik Mayall played a character called Adonis Cnut, leading another character to ask him: "may I call you A Cnut?" ('may I call you a cunt?'; Claire Hinson, 2002). A Daily Star feature on the programme somewhat missed the point with the headline You Cnut Be Serious, using Cnut as a pun on 'cannot'.
The euphemistic Spoonerism 'cunning stunts' ('stunning cunts') relies not on rhyme but on a reversal of the initial letters, a trick later imitated by Kenny Everett's "dangerously named" (Mark Lewisohn, 1998) comedy character Cupid Stunt, a Spoonerism of 'Stupid Cunt'. Metallica released a DVD titled Cunning Stunts in 1997. A 'Cunning Stunts' t-shirt is also available, and a 'Cupid Stunt' t-shirt has been produced by SmellYourMum (2007). Furthermore, 'Cunning Stunts' is also the name of an advertising agency and a female theatre group. (There are also theatre groups called House Of Cunt and Theatre De Cunt.)
Another 'cunt' Spoonerism is Cunny Funt ('Funny Cunt'), the title of a Smut comic strip. Richard Christopher cites two further 'cunt' Spoonerisms (both of which are rather sexist): "What's the difference between a magician and a chorus line? - The magician has a cunning array of stunts [thus the chorus line has a stunning array of cunts]" and "What's the difference between pigmies and female track stars? - Pigmies are cunning runts [thus female track stars are running cunts]" (199-). In a final Spoonerism, Courtney Gibson (2001) recalls a conversation between the Mayor of Newcastle and the Queen Mother; the Mayor attempted to point out the 'punts and canoes' on the river, though this became "the colourful c[u]nts and panoes cruising the river", to which the Queen Mother replied: "what exactly is a panoe?".
'Cunt' is known euphemistically as 'the monosyllable', 'the bawdy monosyllable', 'the divine monosyllable', and 'the venerable monosyllable', though, paradoxically, its earliest forms (such as 'cunte', 'cunnus', and 'kunta') were all disyllabic. Germaine Greer's Cuntpower Oz lists a page of 'cunt' synonyms under the heading The Divine Monosyllable and Jonathon Green's Slang Down The Ages features a similar selection of vaginal slang terms headed The Monosyllable. Artist Jason Rhoades created a deluxe lambskin-bound book/sculpture titled Birth Of The Cunt (2004), in which he listed various 'cunt' synonyms.
'Constable' (pronounced 'cuntstable') is a further 'cunt' euphemism, due to the phonetic similarity of its first syllable. William Shakespeare uses it in All's Well That Ends Well (1601[a]): "From below your duke to beneath your constable, it will fit any question", and, more recently, 'thingstable' has become a recognised euphemism for 'constable', acknowledging the 'cunt' link. The bawdy comedy film Carry On Constable is a pun on the c-word, with its phrase "silly constable" further emphasising the joke (Gerald Thomas, 1960). Ned Ward has reversed the syllables of 'constable' to create "stablecunt" (1924), and 'constable' has also been rendered as 'cunt stubble' and 'cony-fumble'.
Another euphemism for 'cunt' is 'the big C': "the big "C". No, I'm not talking Cancer. I'm talking Cunt" (Anthony Petkovich, 199-). The phrase was used as the headline for an article about 'cunt' by Joan Smith (The Big C, 1998), however it is also the name of a shopping centre and garage in Thailand. Similar terms are 'red c' ('red cunt', a pun on 'Red Sea') and 'open C' ('open cunt'). Other words termed 'big C' include 'cancer' and 'cocaine', and 'cirrhosis'. Even 'C' in isolation has also been used as a substitute for 'cunt', as in "the Cs of Manchester United" (Paul Wheeler, 2004) - a phrase which is seemingly innocuous yet also readily understood as an insult.
A handy two-birds-with-one-stone euphemism for both 'fuck' and 'cunt' is the phrase 'effing and ceeing' (thus, 'Woking FC' officially stands for 'Woking Football Club' though has also been extended to 'Woking Fucking Cunts'). 'Cunt' has also been combined with 'cock' to produce the portmanteau word 'cuntock' ('labia'), with 'men' to produce 'munts', with 'gut' to produce 'gunt', with 'twat' to produce 'twunt', with 'twat' and 'wanker' to produce 'twankunt', with 'arse' to produce 'carse', with 'bastard' to produce "custard" (Roger Thomas, 1994), with 'penis' to produce "Cunis" (Walter Cairns, 2003), with 'prick' to produce "prant" (ACJ Scott, 2003), and with 'fuck' to produce Peter Sotos's Cuntfuck (in Total Abuse, 1999). Eva Mendes combined it with 'motherfucker', 'whore', and 'bitch', to create the extraordinary "motherfuckingcuntwhorebitch" (Chris Hewitt, 2007).
'Cunt', in print, is often censored as 'c***', though 'c...', 'cxxt', 'c---', '___t', 'c__t', 'c--t', 'c nt', 'c_nt', 'c-nt', 'c*!@!', 'c**t', 'c*nt', '*unt', '*@!+', 'c#@t', "c - " (Oliver Maitland, 2000), "#@*!" (Iain Burchell and Paul Malley, 2006), "@%!*" (Daily Star Sunday, 2007), and '****' have also been used. Ruth Wajnryb notes the print media's coy treatment of the word: "CUNT has retained its shock-and-horror capacity. A good test of this is how a word is treated in the media. Most print media still baulk at printing CUNT, resorting to the rather quaint convention of asterisk substitution" (2004). Using other characters, especially asterisks, to replace letters (often vowels), serves to accentuate a word's obscenity, drawing attention to its unprintability.
Though the word 'cunt' is printed by some newspapers, it never appears in a large font size, and is therefore never used in headlines. Thus, while articles about 'cunt' may include the word itself in the body-text, their headlines rely on asterisks or euphemisms instead, as in Last Taboo Broken By Sex And The C*** (1999). Other examples include I Heard Maureen Lipman Say The C Word! by Catherine Bennett ("to urge an audience to shout "Cunt" seems like a real treat", 2001), C-Word Flak Leads Hoffman To Tears (John C Ensslin, 2004), and CU President Says C-Word Is Used As Term Of Endearment by Kevin Vaughan (2004).
American newspapers are much more cautious about references to swearwords in general, and 'cunt' in particular (practically the only exception being The Village Voice, which used the headline Cunt Candy Factory for an article by Tristan Taormino about "disembodied replicas of porn stars' famous bits [moulded into] plaster cunts" in 2005). As we shall see later, not only is 'cunt' a taboo in America, but discussion of this taboo is also a taboo in itself. Thus, while a few British newspapers print 'cunt' in full, and all British newspapers gleefully use the phrase 'the c-word' to describe any word starting with that letter, American newspapers often refuse even to print 'the c-word', let alone printing 'cunt' itself.
A significant example of this is Lisa Bertagnoli's article headlined You C_nt Say That (Or Can You?), written for the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 2004. Bertagnoli's article identified a phenomenon she termed "linguistic bleaching", suggesting that 'cunt' is changing its linguistic value through cultural repetition. She argues that, with the word's creeping presence on cable television and in general conversation, it is becoming an increasingly neutral term in casual speech. However, her article, and its (by British standards, quite mild) headline, were considered too strong by the Chicago Tribune editors, who decided at the last minute to remove it while the newspaper was actually being distributed. The article had already been printed, so the section in which it appeared was physically removed from the newspaper, though some early copies could not be recalled and the newspaper's censorship of itself was viewed with both scorn and humour by American media commentators. The scandal was inevitably dubbed "C_nt-gate" [sic.] (Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson, 2004).
However, none of the commentators who criticised the Tribune actually used the word 'cunt' themselves. In a radio report about the scandal, for example, Bob Garfield referred to "a word beginning with 'c' and rhyming with 'shunt' [...] the dirtiest [word] in the English language" (Brooke Gladstone, 2004). Lisa Bertagnoli herself, the author of the suppressed article, sees the word as "something vile and hurtful, to be reclaimed", and maintains that women of her generation are not offended by the word: "I say that to my friends; I refer to a part of my body by that word. No big deal". By contrast, she admits that the typical response from older women is somewhat less accepting: "oh, my God. Shocking. Never use that word. Vile, repulsive. I would faint if somebody said it to me".
An affectionately disguised variant of 'cunt' is 'cunny', whose variants include 'cunnie', 'cunni', 'cunnyng', 'cunicle', 'conny', 'coney', 'conney', 'conie', and 'cunnikin'. Extensions include 'cunny-burrow' ('vagina'), 'cunny-catcher' ('penis'), 'cunny-fingered' ('butter-fingered'), 'cunny-haunted' ('sex-obsessed'), 'cunny-thumbed' ('feminine thumb gesture'), 'cunnyskin' or 'cunny-skin' ('pubic hair'), 'cunny-warren' ('brothel'/'vagina'), 'cunny-thumper' ('villain'), and 'cunny-hunter' ('womaniser'). 'Cunny' is derived from 'cony' (also spelt 'coney'), which meant 'young rabbit' and was also a slang term for 'vagina' (hence 'cony-hall'). William Shakespeare hinted at this second meaning in Love's Labour's Lost (1588), juxtaposing 'incony' with 'prick' ('penis'): "Let the mark have a prick in't [...] most incony vulgar wit!".
'Cony' can be traced back to the Middle English 'cunin' and 'cuning', the African 'coning', and the Old French 'conin'. Related are 'conyger' (meaning 'warren' and also spelt 'conynger', from the Middle English 'conygere'), the Anglo-Latin 'coningera' and 'conigera', and the Latin 'cunicularium'. The word also appears in Old French, as 'conniniere', 'coniniere', 'coniliere', and 'connilliere'.
In an effort to minimise the scurrilous impact of 'cunny', 'cony' was phased out and the meaning of 'rabbit' was extended to animals both young and old. To retain the influence of 'cunny', the rhyming alternative 'bunny' was substituted. Spanish and French provide strikingly similar examples: the French 'connil' ('rabbit') was phased out due to its proximity to 'con' ('cunt'), and replaced with the alternative 'lapin'. The Spanish 'conejo' means both 'rabbit' and 'cunt', and the similar Spanish term 'conejita' ('bunny girl') provides another link between the two elements.
The similarity of 'cony' to 'cunny' is echoed by the relationship between 'count' and 'cunt': "It is a likely speculation that the Norman French title 'Count' was abandoned in England in favour of the Germanic 'Earl' [...] precisely because of the uncomfortable phonetic proximity to cunt" (Geoffrey Hughes, 1991). Indeed, as early as 1572 a direct and bawdy comparison between 'Earl' and 'Count' was made by Stephen Valenger:
"Well ay thie wyfe a Countes be yf thou wilt be an Earle;
[...] All Countesses in honour her surmount,
They haue, she had, an honourable Count".
The phonetic similarity of 'Count' to 'cunt' is so striking that accidental obscenities abound: Gordon Williams notes that, "[during] a Restoration performance of Romeo and Juliet [an actress] enter'd in a Hurry, Crying, O my Dear Count! She Inadvertently left out, O, in the pronuntiation of the Word Count [...] which reduced the audience to hysterics" [sic., throughout] (1996).
An election edition of Have I Got News For You once ended with the words: "So, for our winners: the chance to go to Michael Portillo's constituency and see the count. For our losers: the chance to retype that sentence without the spelling mistake" (Paul Wheeler, 1997). An identical instance occurred when the first 'O' of a fake cinema sign was lower than the rest of the text: "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" (Marquee Meltdown!, 1998). Linacre Lane cites 'Count Of Monte Cristo' as a Scouse insult, adding dryly: "The first word is often intentionally mispronounced" (1966). In the 1990s, a sign in a Japanese railway station advertised 'Discunt Tickets', a misprint of 'Discount Tickets'. Bangkok University's School of Accounting has, in its logo, replaced the 'o' of 'Accounting' with a graphic representing a ship, rendering it as 'Acc unting'. Like 'count', 'countdown' also has comic potential if its 'o' is removed, as we shall see later.
In Cockney rhyming slang, 'John Hunt', 'James Hunt', 'Billy Hunt', 'Ethan Hunt', 'Roger Hunt', 'Treasure Hunt', 'Joe Hunt' (abbreviated to 'Joey'), 'Flingel Blunt' (abbreviated to 'flingel'), 'back to front' (abbreviated to 'backter'), 'Bargain Hunt' (abbreviated to 'bargain'), and 'Charlie Hunt' (abbreviated to 'Charlie') are all euphemisms for 'cunt'. This last example, 'Charlie Hunt', is especially significant, as its abbreviated form 'Charlie' has entered the common vernacular as merely a term of mild reproach. The expression 'proper Charlie', for example, is used frequently without causing offence, as its connection to 'cunt' has been forgotten. A good example of this is the BBC Radio 2 sitcom A Proper Charlie. Although 'Charlie Hunt' is the most often cited origin of the abbreviation 'Charlie', another possible source is 'Charlie Ronce', which is rhyming slang for 'ponce'.
'Sir Anthony Blunt' (abbreviated to 'Anthony Blunt' and 'Sir Anthony') is a further rhyming slang 'cunt' euphemism, leading to James Blunt being known as "Cunty Blunty" (Q, 2005) and the t-shirt slogan 'WHAT A JAMES BLUNT...' (Shot Dead In The Head, 2006). In another reference to James Blunt, Stephanie Merritt's article There Once Was A Singer Called Blunt (2006) provides the first line of a limerick implying a "missing rhyme" with 'cunt'.
'Grumble and grunt' is another Cockney rhyming slang phrase meaning 'cunt'. It has been abbreviated to 'grumble', though this abbreviation is frequently a reference to pornography, so-called because heterosexual porn includes images of vaginas ('grumble and grunts'). In this pornographic sense, 'grumble' has been extended to form 'grumbled' ('caught in the act of masturbation', a pun on 'rumbled'), 'grumblehound' ('constant seeker of porn'), 'grummer' ('porn magazines'), 'jumble grumble' ('cheap pornography'), 'grumbleweed' ('weak from excessive masturbation'), 'grumbelows' ('sex shop'), and 'grumbilical chord' ('connecting lead for porn TV channels', a pun on 'umbilical chord').
'Sir Berkeley' and 'Lady Berkeley' are also Cockney rhyming slang for 'cunt', albeit rather more tangentially. The 'Berkeley'/'cunt' connection stems from the rhyming slang term 'Berkeley Hunt', abbreviated to 'Berkeley' and also known as 'Berkley Hunt', 'Berkshire Hunt', 'Burlington Hunt', and 'Birchington Hunt'. It is from this that the mild insult 'berk' (also 'birk', 'burk', and the Australian 'burke') is abbreviated, thus, "when [people] say 'You're a right berk', what they're actually saying is 'You're a right cunt', which is much more obscene" (Kerry Richardson, 1994). In this sense, 'berk' is similar to 'Charlie', as both are common, mild insults whose origins as rhyming slang for 'cunt' have been forgotten. Total Film created the derogatory portmanteau word "Craftberk" (Hollywords, 2003); in a spoof article supposedly written by Boris Johnson, Private Eye (2007) defined "Berkely Hunt" (a mis-spelling of either 'Berkeley' or 'Berkley') as "Darius Guppy", in a reference to Johnson's association with Guppy tarnishing his public image.
Other Cockney rhyming slang 'cunt' euphemisms are 'all quiet' (from All Quiet On The Western Front), 'eyes front', 'Grannie Grunt', 'groan and grunt', 'gasp and grunt', 'growl and grunt', 'sharp and blunt', and 'National Front'. The Cockney pronunciation of 'cunt' was evocatively captured by Clark Collis ("You cahnt!", 2001) and Irvine Welsh ("CAHHNNTTT", 2002), and by the headline Facking Cants ("You like the word cunt, huh?"; Anita Crapper, 2005).
Like rhyming slang, limericks also rely on rhyme for their effect:
'There was a young squaw of Chokdunt
Who had a collapsible cunt'.
In backslang, 'cunt' is 'tenuc' and 'teenuc' (the extra letters being added to facilitate pronunciation), and 'cunt' in pig Latin is 'untcay'. Anagrams of 'cunt' include the Latin term 'tunc', the Viking King Cnut, and Jake and Dinos Chapman's Ucnt (2003). A feminist pressure-group called 'Cunst', an anagram of 'cunts' and a pun on 'kunst' (German for 'art') campaigned in 1996 against male domination of the Turner Prize.
The euphemism 'see you next Tuesday' utilises each letter of 'cunt' individually, with 'see you' sounding like 'c u', and 'n t' being the respective initial letters of 'next' and 'Tuesday'. The online group PrideTShirts sells 'See You Next Tuesday' t-shirts, and See You Next Tuesday (2005) is also the title of an album by Fannypack. See You Next Tuesday is also the title of a play adapted from the film Le Diner De Cons, thus both the play and the film have 'cunt'-related titles. Ruth Wajnryb's book Language Most Foul was retitled C U Next Tuesday when it was published in the UK in 2005. Similar to 'see you next Tuesday' is "see you in Toledo" (Brooke Gladstone, 2004), though in this case the letter 'n' is provided by a contraction of 'in'. Other variants are "catch you next Tuesday" (Brent Woods, 2005) and "See you, Auntie" (Tool, 1996).
'Cunt' acronyms include:
"Carlton United Network Television" (British Comedy Awards, 1999)
CharlieUncleNorfolkTango (Tony White, 1999)
"Completely Unbearable Neo-Trash" (Sharon O'Connell, 2000)
"Cuddly Uncle Ned's Trio" (John Spencer, 2001)
"Combined Unified Now Team" (Trailervision, 2001)
Claire's Un-Natural Twin (band name)
'Civilian Under Naval Training' (military)
"can't understand new technology" (Profanisaurus, 2007)
'Can't Understand Normal Thinking' (Foul Mouth Shirts (200-), Dog Bless You (200-), and A Hole Apparel (2006) t-shirts slogan)
"Can't Use Normal Thinking" (Anthony Barnes, 2006)
"Chicks United for Non-noxious Transportation" (Kathy Catrib, 1995)
Catholic University News And Times (University College, Dublin; 1978)
"Conducts Underground Nuclear Test" (The World According To Kim Jong-Il, 2006)
"Campaign for the Uses of the Night Train" (Private Eye, 2006)
"Clean Up National Television" (Geoffrey Robertson, 2008)
"Creeps Unveiling New Trends" (Stephen Fry, 199-[b])
"Creating Unnecessary New Terminology" (Paul Wheeler, 2003)
Consciousness Understanding 'N' Trust (Oriana Fox, 2004)
"Concentration, Understanding, Nous, and Tenacity" (Mark Mylod, 1997)
In a 2007 journal paper about nanotechnology, the chemical symbol for copper ('Cu') was combined with the initial letters of 'nano tube' to create "CuNT" (Dachi Yang, Guowen Meng, Shuyuan Zhang, Yufeng Hao, Xiaohong An, Qing Wei, Min Ye, and Lide Zhang).
Almost a 'cunt' acronym is the "Kuwait Union for New Teachers", abbreviated to 'KUNT'. This spoof organisation placed a classified advertisement in the Kuwait Times: "Teacher? New to Kuwait? Then you need the Kuwait Union for New Teachers. Become a KUNT, your friends can be KUNTs too" (2001). They have also printed the text onto a t-shirt.
'KUNT' can perhaps be regarded as a sly joke by an English-speaking writer in Kuwait. (Madonna made a similar joke in 2006 by creating a fake radio station, with a DJ announcing: "You're listening to KUNT".) Similarly, embedded within an article by Sally Vincent is the line "Point A moved to point B to point C until" (2003), which is arguably an intentional reference. There is no ambiguity whatsoever surrounding "-cunthorpe", a deliberate truncation of the Humberside town Scunthorpe on the back cover of a book by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (1995).
Likewise, when a knight in Thomas Heywood's Wisewomen Of Hogsdon (16--) declares, in Latin, "Nobis ut carmine dicunt", he is described as "a beastly man" to highlight the embedded obscenity. 'Cunt' also appears surreptitiously in 'cuntur', the original Peruvian term for 'condor', and in the Latin terms 'producunt' and 'nascuntur'. Phonetically, it is contained within otherwise innocent words such as 'country', 'significant', 'replicant' (Sadie Plant's From Viruses To Replicunts in On The Matrix, 1996), and 'applicant' (Dominic Brigstocke, 2007):
As John Hamilton explains in an 1899 letter quoted by Linda Mugglestone (2000), 'cunt' has "the same syllable as a contraction of Contra".
Matthew Parris once called 'cunt' "a word beginning with 'c', which I couldn't possibly repeat" (Rod Liddle, 2001), and in keeping with this is the commonest 'cunt' euphemism: 'the c-word' (not to be confused with 'crossword', which is sometimes abbreviated to 'c-word'). Simon Carr reports that his children confuse 'the c-word' with "the K-word" (2001). He also quotes their confusion over 'cunt' itself: "Mummy, clint! That's a rude word, isn't it? Clint!". Ruth Wajnryb writes "the 'SEE'-word" (2004), to distinguish it from the hard 'c' sound of 'cunt'.
If 'cunt' can be a 'c-word', can 'cock' be one, too? Sex And The City seems to think it can (Nicole Holofcener, 2000):
"his big, beautiful cock."
"We're using the c-word now?".
'Cunt' may be the most notorious c-word, though there are, of course, many more: "There are 46,904 c-words as well as the c-word" (Deborah Lee, 2006). A surprisingly large number of these other words beginning with 'c' have also occasionally been called 'the c-word', usually for comic effect. The following is a representative selection. "Ah, the c-word: context" (Tom Shone, 1994); "the c-word - class" (Dea Birkett, 2001 [also Dominic Cooke's Why My Theatre Will Always Use The C-Word in The Observer, 16/9/2007]); "the 'C' is for 'Campbell', but we're a bit wary of using the c-word on air" (Abiola Awojobi, 2001); "they said the C word. Cut" (The Sun, 2003); "try to avoid mentioning the crowd [because] they hate the C-word here" (Charlie Wyett, 2002); "he was anxious to avoid the c-word: 'corporate'" (Annie Dunkinson, 2003); 'creativity': "you may recognise the real creators by the fact they seldom use the c-word" (Susannah Herbert, 2003); "the real unknown is the 'C' word, corruption" (Tim Butcher, 2003); "whether the c-word crossed his vivid lips. [...] What [Alex] Ferguson cannot be allowed to do is call a referee's assistant a "cheat" as he apparently did" (Henry Winter, 2003); 'comprehensive': "their party is still in thrall to the c-word" (Daily Telegraph, 2003); 'Christian': "President [George] Bush may slip the C-word into his press conferences" (John Adamson, 2003); 'climate change': "President George Bush [...] has acknowledged climate change in his annual State of the Union address" (Bush Utters The 'C' Word, 2007); 'clay': "A devotee of the C-word" (Grace Glueck, 1996); 'capitalism': "Capita [...] reckons the C-word could double the size of its business" (Andrew Cave, 2003); "the C word is never far away [...] the collonial past lives on" (Michael Henderson, 2000); "Smiths is looking distinctly like a conglomerate. [...] The dreaded C word is enough to smash any company's rating" (Neil Bennett, 2000); 'civil war': "All because of the use of the C-word?" (Howard Kurtz's The C-Word, 2006); 'caravan': "What annoys park-home owners about the "C" word is [the implicit] rootlessness that it carries" (Christopher Middleton, 1999); "the dreaded "c" word: avoid [...] consolidation" (Edmond Jackson, 2001); "Don't mention the C word. These are not conservatories" (Jon Stock, 2001); "the dreaded c-word, complacency" (Rob Steen, 2001); "never ever using the c-word: child" (Allison Pearson, 2001); "The labour party conference was abuzz with the C word. [...] Compulsion is back on the agenda" (Liz Dolan, 2003); "they wouldn't even allow the c-word - chainsaw" (Jamie Graham, 2001); 'chips': "People come in and ask for [fries] and we have to tell them that we use the 'C' word not the 'F' word here" (Simon Brooke, 2004); 'challenging': "Blue Circle slipped the "c" word into yesterday's trading statement" (Ben Potter, 1999[a]); "conglomerate. [...] the much-unloved "c" word" (Ben Potter, 1999[b]); "thrown the c-word back into the mix - convergence" (Greg Howson, 2004); "the C-word so often fallaciously slung at him: caricature" (Peter Bradshaw, 2002); "I'm gonna say the c-word [...] Clarkson!" (Katie Tyrll, 2003); "Predicting the effects of London's upcoming C-word (Congestion Zone)" (John Hind, 2003); "avoid the c-word [...] and rule out compensation" (Neil Collins, 2004); "I'm reclaiming the c-word [...] I deliberately use the word conspiracy" (Rose George, 2003); 'constitution': "we won't be hearing too much about the c-word" (Kevin Marsh, 2004); 'compulsion: "it seems he is not going to shun the "C" word" (Patience Wheatcroft, 2004); "craft, the dreaded C word of the art world" (Chuck Close, 2006); "Like "culture," another high-profile C-word these days, "community" is admittedly a catchall" (Doreen B Townsend Center for the Humanities, 1999); 'cocaine': "[Ed Giddins] is always going to be [the] player who was done for the big 'C' word" (Marcus Armytage, 1999); 'championship': "Stevie Craigan is running scared of an ear-bashing from John Lambie for mentioning the 'C' word" (Andy Devlin, 2001); 'crash': "We don't mention the C-word" (Tim Ross and David Gordois, 2001); "uttering the C word - as in "choke"" (George Kimball, 2004); "isn't that Italian "champagne"? No, no, please don't mention the C-word" (Johnny Morris, 2003); 'Curle': "Carlton Palmer banned the C-word" (The Sun, 2004); "censorship [...] talk of the C-word" (Rachel Donadio, 2004); 'condom': "The 'C' word has come out of the closet" (Dick Thompson, 1988); "Cellulite. The "C" word" (Fiona Phillips, 2004); 'comradely': "an exceedingly rare [Tony] Blair use of the c-word" (Andrew Rawnsley and Gaby Hinsliff, 2004); "conservation [...] I saw the "c" word" (Alistair McGowan, 2003); "choice [...] both parties were obsessed with the same c-word" (Peter Barron, 2004); "it was the "C" word that was on everyone's lips. Mr Clinton had charisma" (Patrick Barkham, 2004); "the dreaded "C" word is doing the Washington rounds again. [...] people are saying it out loud. Carter" (Mark Hosenball, 1989); "[He] looked like someone who didn't even know what the C-word might be. Confidential? Cocoa?" (Simon Hoggart, 2003). The revue show The C Word (2005) revolved around three c-words: 'comedy', 'clits', and 'cake'. Kelly A Fryer's book Reclaiming The "C" Word (2006) is subtitled Daring To Be Church Again. Mark Mason's novel The C Words (2005) discusses 'commitment', 'coupledom', and 'children'. Lastly, T-ShirtHumor sells a range of 'the C word' shirts, mugs, mouse mats, aprons, caps, and posters featuring the slogan 'Cranky Covert Controlling Crusading Christian Corporate Compassionate'.
The most frequent word, other than 'cunt', to be termed 'the c-word', is 'cancer': "The C-words Cancer and Comedy" (Allen Klein, 1998) and "students talk about the Big C word. They don't mean Cancer. They mean Commitment" (John Allen Lee, 1998). There have been several books about cancer whose titles include references to 'the c-word': The C Word Cancer The C Word Christ by Mabel Olson (2004), The C-Word by Elena Dorfman (1993), The C-Word by Jean Taylor (2000), and A Lighter Look At The "C" Word by Steve Gould (1997).
Newspaper headlines often use the phrase 'the c-word' to pun on other contentious terms beginning with that letter: "the phrase 'the c-word' is sometimes deliberately used to mean something else, while exploiting the intertextuality of the original meaning" (Ruth Wajnryb, 2004). The most common example of this is 'Christmas', which, like 'cancer', can be seen as an alternative 'c-word'. The 2001 headline Don't Mention The C-Word, for example, is about the removal of the word 'Christmas' from secular greetings cards. In the article, Richard Littlejohn asks, rhetorically: "Who, exactly, is offended by the C-word?". He has fun inventing phrases such as "Father C-word", "C-word Eve", and "C-word Day", all attempts to highlight the absurdity of banning the word 'Christmas'. Less festively, he also bemoans the culture of liberalism, 'political correctness', and 'Guardianistas' (in other words, his usual targets), asking: "How on earth do you describe these New Scrooges? Difficult, I know. But try the other C-word". As if that wasn't enough, Littlejohn went on to essentially repeat himself two Christmases later, in another article also headlined Don't Mention The C Word ("the dreaded C Word [...] Christmas", 2003). Catherine Bennett, in an article also headlined Don't Mention The C-Word, also criticised the censorship of "Christmas" (2003). Tim Rider's article C-Word Ban (2004) was also about the contentiousness of 'Christmas': "They do not want any mention of what they call the C-Word because they are worried it will offend followers of other faiths" (2004), as was the article Merry C-Word (2004) which urged readers to say 'Christmas' despite its controversy: "darn the consequences and don't mince words". Yet another article, headlined Just Don't Mention The C-Word (2004) also concerned the festive season: "Ditch the dreams of a white Christmas", as did Jay Nordlinger's article December's C-Word ("people could not bring themselves to utter the C-word", 2003).
Other headlines punning on 'the c-word' include The C Word ("celebrity") by Stephen Fry (199-[a]), The C Word ("Competition - the sisterhood's final hurdle", 2003) in The Sydney Morning Herald, Just Don't Mention The C Word ("crowd") by Charlie Wyett (2002), The C Word ("cellulite") by Diane Taylor (2002), Calling The C-Word The C-Word ('censorship': "You've got to admire a man who's willing to call the c-word the c-word") by James Poniewozik (2002), The Other C-Word ("cunnilingus") by Susanna Forrest (2005), Confidence Is Growing As Cookson Banishes 'C' Word ("eliminating the hated "c" word [...] conglomerate") by Andrew Clark (1999), Like It Or Not You Are Going To Hear The C-Word A Lot ("Choice") by Peter Riddell (2004), Salmond Dares To Use The C-Word ("coalition") by Kenny Farquharson (1999), My Shame At Falling Victim To The Dreaded C-Word ("choking") by Matthew Syed (2002), The C Word ("colleagues") by Martin Waller (1998), and Conservative Candidates Told To Avoid The C Word ("Conservative") by Andrew Grice (2001).
A To Z: The Cunt Lexicon
The sheer extent of the 'cunt' lexicon supports Scott Capurro's assertion that it is "plainly the most versatile word in the English language" (2000). Its versatility is demonstrated by the following 'cunt'-related slang words and phrases, listed in slang dictionaries such as The Cassell Dictionary Of Slang (and its second edition, Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang), A Dictionary Of Slang And Unconventional English, and Profanisaurus Rex:
'Army Service Cunts' ('Army Service Corps')
'beat the cunt out of' ('beat up', a variation of 'beat the crap out of')
'big cunt' ('large vagina')
'bucket cunt' ('large vagina')
'bunt' ('fat female stomach'; a combination of 'belly' and 'cunt')
'bushel cunt'/'bushel-cunted' ('large vagina')
'c and c' ('clips and cunts' television programmes)
'CGI' ('Cunt Gap Index', 'measurement-scale for vagina sizes')
'CHODA' ('Cunt Hair On Da Ass')
'cooint' ('vagina', Yorkshire variant of 'cunt')
'cow-cunt' ('large vagina')
'cunch' ('cunnilingus', 'combination of 'cunt' and lunch')
'cunnimingus' (combination of 'cunnilingus' and 'minger')
'cunnylicious' (combination of 'cunnilingus' and 'delicious')
'cunshine' ('pornographic images printed on highly glossy paper')
'Cunt Act' ('Deserted Wives and Children's Act')
'cunt and a half' ('very idiotic')
"cunt-arse" ('idiot'; Verne Graham, 2005)
'cuntbitten' (infected with venereal disease')
'cunt book' ('in the bad books'/'pornography')
'cunt bread' ('vaginal yeast infection')
'cunt bubble' ('vaginal fart')
'cunt buster'/'cunt-buster' ('erection')
'cunt butter' ('vaginal fluid')
'cunt candle' ('outstanding idiot')
'cunt cap' ('military hat')
'cunt carpet' ('pubic hair')
'cunt-collar' ('pussy whip')
'cunt cock' ('clitoris')
'cunt cork' ('tampon')
'cunt-curtain' ('pubic hair')
'cunt down' ('pubic hair')
'Cunt Dracula' ('idiot')
'cunted' ('drunk'/'vaginal penetration')
'cunteen' ('unpleasant quantity between thirteen and nineteen')
'cunt face'/'cuntface'/'cunt-faced' ('ugly')
'cunt fart' ('vaginal fart')
'cunt for hire' ('prostitute')
'cunt-fringe' ('pubic hair')
"cunt-fucked" ('vaginal sex'; Jim Goad, 1994[d])
'cunt grunt' ('vaginal fart')
'cunt guff' ('vaginal fart')
'cunt-hair'/'cunt hair' ('tiny amount')
'cunt-hat' ('felt hat')
"cunthood" ('femininity'; Jim Goad, 1994[c])
'cunt hook' ('car used to attract women')
'cunt-hooks' ('fingers', a pun on 'cant-hook'/'person')
'cunt-house' ('venue populated largely by women')
'cunt hunt' ('on the pull')
"c[u]ntie" ('little cunt'; Robert Burns, 1786)
'cuntikin' ('little cunt')
'cuntinental' ('patron of an outdoor British cafe')
"cuntiness" ('the state of being a cunt'; Britain's Biggest C**ts, 2008)
'cunting' (intensifier, a variant of 'fucking'/'knickers', a pun on 'bunting')
'cuntino filet with white sauce' ('cunnilingus')
"cunt-ist" ('heterosexual man'; Jeffrey Merrick and Bryant T Ragan, 1996)
'cunt-itch' ('sexually aroused')
'cuntitude' ('bad attitude')
"cunt-jugal" (a pun on 'conjugal'; Nick Gomez, 1997)
'cunt juice' ('vaginal fluid')
'cuntkin' ('little cunt')
'cunker' ('vagina', euphemism for 'cunt')
'cuntlashed' ('very drunk')
'cuntlery' ('utensil used to dilate the vagina')
'cuntlet' ('little cunt', a pun on 'cutlet')
'cunt-lick'/'give cunt licks' ('cunnilingus')
'cuntlifters' ('old ladies' knickers')
'cunt light'/'C-light' ('pornographic film lighting')
'cunt like a Grimsby welly' ('large vagina')
'cuntlines' ('seams between the strands of a rope'; variant of 'contlines')
'cunt man'/'C man' ('sexual athlete')
"C[u]nt-mending" ('gynaecology'; John Wilmot, 1680)
'cunt mumps' ('woman's excuse to deflect chat-up lines')
"cunt-mutilation" ('vaginal mutilation'; Jim Goad, 1994[e])
'cuntock' ('idiot'; abbreviated to 'ock')
'cuntocks' ('labia'; abbreviated to 'ocks')
'cunt of all cunts' ('incredibly stupid person')
"cunt-palaces" ('attractive vaginas'; Raymond Stephanson, 2004)
'cunt-pensioner' ('pimp'; abbreviated to 'cp')
'cunt pie' ('vagina')
'cunt plugger' (penis')
'cunt plugging' ('sexual intercouse')
'cunt positive' ('liberal feminist')
"cunt-pounding" ('sexual intercourse'; Media News, 2005)
'cunt-power' ('female energy')
'cunt-rag' ('sanitary towel')
'cunt-rammer' ('penis', an extension of 'rammer')
'cuntrified' ('public houses converted into wine bars')
'cunt ruffler' ('provoker of women')
'cunt rug' ('pubic hair')
'cuntryside' ('large vagina')
'cunt's blood' ('idiot')
'cunt smoke' ('no problem')
'cunt scratchers' ('hands')
'cunt-screen' ('pubic hair')
'cunt-shop' ('knocking shop')
'Cunts In Velvet' ('City Imperial Volunteers')
'cunt splice' ('partially spliced rope'; variant of 'cont splice'/'cut splice')
'cunt-stand' ('sexually aroused')
'cunt-starver' ('errant ex-husband')
'cunt-stretcher'/'cunt stretcher' ('penis')
'cunt stubble' ('constable')
'cunt swab' ('knickers')
'cunt-teaser' ('a man who sexually excites a woman')
'cunt-tickler'/'cunt tickler' ('moustache')
'cunt torture' ('sadomasochistic sex')
'cunt trumpet' ('cunnilingus')
'cunt tug' ('pubic wig')
'cunt-up'/'cunt up' ('mistake', variation of 'belly up')
'cuntuppance' ('punishment for male infedility', a pun on 'come-uppance')
'cunt wagon' ('passion wagon')
'cuntwank' ('meaningless sex')
'cunt warren' ('brothel')
'cuntweep' ('vaginal fluid')
'cunt-wig' ('pubic hair')
'cunty booby' ('confusion')
'cunty chops' ('beard')
'cunty Italian' ('Italian-American woman')
'Cunty McCuntlips' ('idiot')
'decunt' ('withdraw the penis from the vagina')
'dirty cunt' ('unclean vagina')
'doss cunt' ('stupid idiot')
'double-cunted' ('large vagina')
'dumb cunt' ('stupid idiot')
"encunten" ('to call someone a cunt'; Britain's Biggest C**ts, 2008)
'eyes like sheep's cunts' ('hangover')
'full cuntal lobotomy' ('male sexual arousal', a pun on 'full-frontal lobotomy')
'get some cunt' ('male sexual gratification')
'go cunt up' ('go wrong')
'gunt' ('fat female stomach'; a combination of 'gut' and 'cunt')
'ICBM' ("Inter Cuntinental Ballistic Missile": 'penis'; Roger Mellie, 2005)
'KFC' ('Knob Filled Cunt')
'kipper's cunt' ('very smelly')
'LC' ("LOW CUNT" and "LAP CUNT"; James VanCleve, 19--)
'mouth like a cow's cunt' ('talkative')
'petit-cunt' ('petit-bourgeois idiot')
'pox-ridden cunt' ('diseased vagina')
'RCH' ('Red Cunt Hair', 'hair's breadth')
'scabby cunt' ('diseased vagina')
'siffed-up cunt-hole' ('diseased vagina')
'silly cunt!' ('stupid idiot')
'sluice-cunted' ('large vagina')
'smelly cunt' ('malodorous vagina')
'stinky cunt' ('malodorous vagina')
'sweet cunt' ('lovely vagina')
"three cocks to the cunt" ('with gusto'; Profanisaurus, 2007)
"Treecunts" ('tree branches resembling female genitals', in Just Sluts And Cunts photographs; Jan Willem Verkerk, 2007)
"Two C's in a K" ('two cunts in a kitchen': two housewives in an advertisement; Stephen King, 1981 [also "2CK"; Sam Delaney, 2007])
'WRAC' ('Weekly Ration of Army Cunt')
'Cunt' may be the most offensive word in the English language, though there have been many attempts to reappropriate it. This ideology, which was originally termed cunt-power, sought to invert the word's injurious potential: to prevent men using it as a misogynist insult, women assertively employed it themselves. The feminist Cunt-Art movement incorporated the word into paintings and performances, and several female writers have campaigned for its transvaluation. In my evaluation of the ideology of cunt-power, I discuss the extent of its practicality, popularity, and longevity.
Words As Weapons
Children are taught this traditional mantra:
'Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words can never hurt me'.
However, words do hurt us, and they can be used as weapons. Walter Kirn has called 'cunt' "the A-bomb of the English language [...] my verbal fragmentation bomb" (2005), Lucas M McWilliams calls it "the c-bomb" (2006), and Germaine Greer sees it as a word that "men throw at one another [...] you can use it like a torpedo" (Deborah Lee, 2006). Verbal weapons cause intense emotional pain. GQ has noted that "No word is more hurtful or destructive than the C-word" (2005). Catherine MacKinnon cites numerous examples of abusive language provoking distress and resulting in litigation. Asserting that "A woman worker who was referred to by a [presumed male] co-worker as a 'cunt' could present a strong case for sexual harassment" (1994), she quotes "Cavern Cunt", "stupid cunt", "fucking cunt", and "repeated use of the word 'cunt'" as phrases resulting in convictions for sexual harassment. Just as 'cunt' can be a violent word, its use can also have violent repercussions: it is "a word so offensive that it would earn you a slap if you called someone it in a bar" (Adam Renton, 2008).
By contrast, however, a more recent case was dismissed when it was ruled that the word 'cunt' did not constitute sexual harassment: the court concluded that the word, while being "one of the most derogatory terms for a woman", could also be regarded as complementary (Kevin Vaughan, 2004). A female student at Colorado University had alleged that another student called her a 'cunt'. Meanwhile, the University's President, Betsy Hoffman, citing Geoffrey Chaucer, defended the word as "a term of endearment" (John C Ensslin, 2004). Hoffman was ridiculed by the press, not least because the name of her university is commonly abbreviated to 'CU': "In CU President Betsy Hoffman's world [...] CU is halfway to CU**, which is just so CUte" (Mike Littwin, 2004; the article was headlined To Hoffman CU Halfway To A New Meaning).
When men use the word 'cunt' to insult women, courts have deemed the act to be unlawful. When men use it to insult other men, as Julia Penelope demonstrates, their usage is still inherently insulting to women: "[words] used by men to insult other men, motherfucker, son-of-a-bitch, bastard, sissy, and cunt insult men because they're female words" (1990). 'Cunt' insults men because it acts as a verbal castration, removing their masculinity by denying them their penis, implying that having a cunt is inferior to having a cock: Signe Hammer explained that to call a man a 'cunt' "is to call him a woman: castrated" (1977).
The other male insults cited by Penelope are also tangential insults to women: to call a man a 'motherfucker' implicates both him and his mother, 'bastard' implies a man's mother is a slut, 'sissy' insults a man by likening him to a woman, and 'son-of-a-bitch' can be seen as an indirect insult to a man though a direct insult to his mother.
Walter Kirn wrote The Forbidden Word (2005), a lengthy article for GQ exploring the emotional impact of 'cunt'. He calls it "the four-letter word a man can use to destroy everything with a woman [...] and possibly the last word in the English language that keeps on hurting even after it's spoken". Kirn explains the offensiveness of 'cunt' with reference to its plosive phonetics and its semantic reductionism: "The word is an ugly sonic package, as compact as a stone [...] The word obliterates individuality. It strips away any aura of uniqueness". (A character in the Hungarian film Taxidermia also notes the ugliness of the word, or rather its Hungarian equivalent.)
Somewhat insensitively, Kirn feels that women over-react to the word when it is used against them: "It doesn't bruise. It doesn't leave a mark. Yet women treat its deployment as tantamount to an act of nonphysical domestic violence". He also ignores the word's feminist reclamation, stating incorrectly: "you'll never hear someone call herself a cunt, let alone call another woman one. [...] The only time it's acceptable for a woman to speak such vileness is when she's quoting a man and seeking empathy for the wounds he has caused her". Essentially, Kirn's article is a macho defence of what he sees as the male privilege to call women cunts: "I'm grateful for the C-bomb, and thankful that women have nothing with which to match it. When a man has already lost the argument and his girl is headed out the door [we] have one last, lethal grenade to throw".
Unsurprisingly, women wrote to GQ to take issue with Kirn's article. Kim Andrew stressed that Kirn's definition of 'cunt' as "the A-bomb of the English language" does not apply to the UK, where it is used more freely than in America: "The word cunt is only an "A-bomb" in American English. [...] My many British friends and I toss the word around so frequently that our American friends have begun to use it in the same silly fashion" (2005). M Restrepo's reaction was that, provided 'cunt' is not used insultingly (as Kirn employs it), it should not be tabooed: "What era is Walter Kirn living in? Cunt is no longer taboo. [...] Perhaps his woman is insulted not at being called a cunt but at the thought that he would deem it such an insult" (2005).
In welcome contrast to Kirn's article, Jonathon Green criticises the inherent patriarchy of the slang lexicon: "Slang is the essence of 'man-made language', created by men and largely spoken by him too" (1993). This is a trend which has noticeably increased over time, as Germaine Greer explains: "The more body-hatred grows, so that the sexual function is hated and feared by those unable to renounce it, the more abusive terms we find in the language" (1970[a]).
Specifically, the status and deployment of 'cunt' as "The worst name anyone can be called [and] the most degrading epithet" (Germaine Greer, 1970[a]), and especially as the worst name a woman can be called, serves to reinforce the tradition of cultural patriarchy, as Jane Mills points out: "the use of 'cunt' as the worst swearword that anyone can think of says a great deal about misogyny in our society, and I think it reveals fear, disgust, and also [a] denial of female sexuality" (Kerry Richardson, 1994). Joan Smith agrees: "It is impossible not to make a link, as lexicographers and feminist writers have done, between the [...] decline [of 'cunt'] into obscenity and illegality, and fearful attitudes towards women and their sexuality" (1998).
Smith calls 'cunt' "the worst possible thing - much worse than ['prick'] - one human being can say to another" (1998) and Simon Carr calls it "the worst thing you can say about anyone" (2001). As Deborah Cameron notes, "taboo words tend to refer to women's bodies rather than men's. Thus for example cunt is a more strongly tabooed word than prick, and has more tabooed synonyms" (1985). Jonathon Green concurs that "the slang terms for the vagina outstrip any rivals, and certainly those for the penis [...] They encompass what is generally acknowledged as the most injurious of monosyllabic epithets [and] that ultimate in four-letter words" (1993), by which, of course, he means 'cunt'. William Leith notes that "We may have equality of the sexes but we do not have equality of sexual organs [...] Female sexual organs carry a powerful taboo. I can print the words prick, cock and dick as much as I like", adding coyly: "but I know I have to be careful with the c-word" (2000). Ed Vulliamy makes the same point: "the c-word is different. 'Cock', 'dick' and 'prick', and elaborations thereof, are fine - but not the female equivalent" (1999).
The inequality of 'prick' and 'cunt' is also explored in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm (David Steinberg, 2001), after the central character uses 'cunt' as an insult towards another man:
"They think you're a misogynist."
"Why, cos I called the guy a cunt? So what!
"Cos you called the guy a cunt."
"Big deal, I call men pricks all the time" [...]
"Well, cunt's worse."
"Cunt's not worse. Pricks and cunts, they're equal." [...]
"No, cunt is worse. Cunt's much heavier."
According to Brigid McConville and John Shearlaw, 'cunt' "reflects the deep fear and hatred of the female by the male in our culture. It is a far nastier and more violent insult than 'prick' which tends to mean foolish rather than evil. This violent usage is a constant and disturbing reminder to women of the hatred associated with female sexuality and leaves women with few positive words to name their own organs" (1984). The 'cunt' taboo is but the most extreme example of a general taboo surrounding the lexicon of the female genitals: "Mild, non-specific [...] euphemisms are employed to not name that part of women's bodies" (Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson, 2001).
The word 'vagina' is also subject to this taboo: "Even the word vagina has not easily entered public space". Braun and Wilkinson cite examples of the term being banned from billboards ("the London Underground banned a birth control advertisement - deeming it 'offensive' for including the word 'vagina'") and theatrical posters ("Promotional material for theatrical pieces whose titles contained the word vagina has been censored [...] so that the word vagina need not be on public display"). In such example, The Vagina Monologues was renamed "The Hoohaa Monologues" in Florida (No Vaginas Please We're Floridian, 2007), following a complaint from a female resident. Indeed, after surveying women's own attitudes, Sophie Laws discovered that they even felt obligated to self-censor their own discourse: "[women do not] refer to their sexual and reproductive organs in any way except in the most private of interactions" (1990). Virginia Braun and Celia Kitzinger published a 'survey of surveys', revealing the extent to which 'vagina' is a tabooed word: "Many people appear to consider women's genitalia to be unmentionable. In one study, only 7% of respondents (10% of men, 5% of women) considered the vagina a body part that is freely mentionable [...] A more recent survey found that 53% of women "felt some discomfort using the word vagina" [...] Women and gynecologists have been shown to rarely mention the word vagina (or even a synonym) during gynecological consultations [...] Female participants in focus groups looking at sexually explicit magazines "avoided referring to the genitals of the models" [...] Despite public debate and discussion about sex and sexuality, the vagina remains a taboo or private topic" (2001[a]).
'Cunt' has a long history of abuse, though the standard terms 'vagina' and 'pudendum' themselves are far from neutral. 'Pudendum' is derived from the Latin 'pudere', meaning 'to be ashamed', thus 'pudendum' describes the vagina as a shameful organ. 'Vagina' is Latin for 'sheath', 'scabbard', and 'quiver', protective coverings into which one slides swords or arrows, and is thus closely linked to pejorative conceptions of sex as a violent, male stabbing act: "In fact, "vagina" is the nastiest kind of name for the female genitalia [...] There is more to the female sex than accommodation of a male weapon" (Germaine Greer, 2002). The German equivalent is even more demeaning: 'Schamscheide' ('vagina') translates literally as 'sheath of shame'.
Eve Ensler has said that 'vagina' "sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument [...] Doesn't matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say" (2001). Similarly, in Cunt: A Declaration Of Independence, Inga Muscio begins by denouncing the word 'vagina': "etymolog[ically] "vagina" originates from a word meaning sheath for a sword. Ain't got no vagina" (1998), and Jayne Air calls 'vagina' "too darn clinical" (199-). Joan Larkin's Vagina Sonnet encapsulates her dislike of the word:
"Is 'vagina' suitable for use
in a sonnet? I don't suppose so.
A famous poet told me, 'Vagina's ugly.'
Meaning, of course, the sound of it [...]
This whole thing is unfortunate, but petty [...]
a waste of brains - to be concerned about
this minor issue of my cunt's good name" (1975).
Word-meanings are dictated by consensus and contemporary usage, thus negative meanings can be reversed when pejorative terms are systematically reappropriated: "There have been several recent instances of a particular group explicitly reclaiming a taboo word previously used against them" (Susie Dent, 2004). Melinda Yuen-Ching Chen and Robin Brontsema have both described the specific reappropriation of 'queer', though they also discuss the concept of reappropriation in general. Brontsema provides a succinct definition of the terminology: "Linguistic reclamation, also known as linguistic resignification or reappropriation, refers to the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s)" (2004). He views the process as a harnessing and reversal of the original invective: "[the] injurious power is the same fuel that feeds the fire of its counter-appropriation. Laying claim to the forbidden, the word as weapon is taken up and taken back by those it seeks to shackle - a self-emancipation that defies hegemonic linguistic ownership and the (a)buse of power". Chen defines reclamation as "an array of theoretical and conventional interpretations of both linguistic and non-linguistic collective acts in which a derogatory sign or signifier is consciously employed by the 'original' target of the derogation, often in a positive or oppositional sense" (1998).
The focus here is primarily on feminist reappropriations, specifically on feminist attempts to reclaim 'cunt' and other abusive terms: "Girls and women can thus reclaim the words in our language that have been used against us" (Gloria Bertonis, 2003). The mainstream success of reappropriations, however, depend upon the consensus of the population as a whole: "you cannot demand the word ['cunt'] be used only as a hallelujah to the flower of your womanhood; like all words, its meaning had been decided through collective use" (Andrew Billen, 2007). The commonest derogative term for a woman - 'bitch' - is on the road to reclamation. The BITCH Manifesto (written by Jo Freeman under the pseudonym Joreen) prompted a positive reassessment of the word: "BITCH does not use this word in the negative sense. A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful. It should be an act of affirmation by self and not negation by others" (1968). Casey Miller and Kate Smith discuss this transvaluation of 'bitch' and also cite "Groups of feminists who choose to call themselves witches [...] to rehabilitate that word in the same way" (1976). 'Bitch' has also been converted into positive acronyms: 'Babe In Total Control of Herself' and 'Being In Total Control of Him', as seen on badges, t-shirts, and other items; in this way, not only the meaning of the term has been changed but even its constituent letters are appropriated to positive effect.
Other formerly derogatory terms for women have also been reclaimed: "The feminist spirit has reclaimed some words with defiance and humor. Witch, bitch, dyke, and other formerly pejorative epithets turned up in the brave names of small feminist groups" (Gloria Steinem, 1979). Mary Daly has attempted to reverse the negative associations of words such as 'spinster', 'witch', 'harpy', 'hag', and 'crone'. Where she is able to demonstrate non-pejorative etymological origins of these terms, she advocates a reversal of their current definitions. Daly does readily admit that not every modern negative term was originally positive ('crone', for example, has always implied old age), though in these cases she assert that negative connotations are a patriarchal perception: "ageism is a feature of phallic society. For women who have transvalued this, a Crone is one who should be an example of strength, courage and wisdom" (1978).
'Dyke' was used in the title of the New York lesbian newspaper Big Apple Dyke News, demonstrating that a word can be reclaimed when it is used consciously by the group to which its vehemence was previously directed. Later, 'lesbian' was also reappropriated: "radical feminist groups reclaimed the word 'lesbian'. Regularly used as a pejorative term [...] the word was rehabilitated as both an accurate descriptive term and as a source of pride" (Will Barton and Andrew Beck, 2005). As Roz Wobarsht wrote in a letter to the feminist magazine Ms: "I think a female's use of words abusive to females defuses them. Our use takes away the power of the words to damage us" (1977). Jane Mills adds that "crumpet has recently been appropriated by women to refer to men [and] women today are making a conscious attempt to reform the English language [including] the reclamation and rehabilitation of words and meanings" (1989). Maureen Dowd (2006) notes the "different coloration" of 'pimp' and charts the transition of 'girl' "from an insult in early feminist days to a word embraced by young women".
A less likely pioneer of reclamation is the self-styled 'battle-axe' Christine Hamilton, though her celebratory Book Of British Battle-Axes nevertheless marked a re-evaluation of the term. Julie Bindel cites 'bird' and 'ho' as "blatant insults [...] co-opted by the recipients of those insults and turned into ironic terms of endearment and empowerment" (2006). Patrick Strudwick praises Bint Magazine for "reclaiming the term "bint" from the huge slag heap of misogynist smears and turning it into something fabulous" (2004). The offensive term 'slut' has also been reclaimed as an epithet of empowerment: Kate Spicer suggests that 'slut' is "a term of abuse that has been redefined by fashion to mean something cool [...] A fashionable woman can take those phallocentric terms of abuse like slut and slag and nasty girl and turn them into labels of postfeminist fabulousness" (2003).
Here, the principal is the same as that pioneered by Madonna: sexual aggression, feared by men and characterised by them in disrespectful terms such as 'slut', can be redefined as an assertive and positive attribute. It is not simply the word 'slut' that is being redefined, it is the lifestyle that the word represents - the meaning of the term 'slut' has stayed the same, though the cultural acceptance of its characteristics has increased.
It is important to note the distinction between changing a word's definition and changing its connotation. Women have sought not to change the definitions of (for example) 'cunt' or 'slut', but instead to alter the cultural connotations of the terms. Thus, the reclaimed word 'cunt' is still defined as 'vagina' and the reclaimed 'slut' still means 'sexual predator'. What have been reclaimed are the social attitudes towards the concepts of vaginas and sexual predators: whereas these once attracted negative connotations, they have been transvalued into positive concepts. In a sense, this is true of a large number of terms which are regarded as positive by some yet as negative by others: for example, 'liberal' is used as an insult by conservatives, and 'conservative' is used as an insult by liberals. Salman Rushdie gives examples of older political terms which have also been reclaimed: "To turn insults into strengths, Whigs [and] Tories [both] chose to wear with pride the names they were given in scorn" (1988).
Richard Herring notes the paradox that, while the vagina should be celebrated, 'cunt' is an inexplicably offensive term: "it describes quite a nice thing. If you give words the power then they are nasty. But you can turn things around and use them in a different way" (Anthony Barnes, 2006). Thus, reclaiming abusive language requires a change not in meaning but in attitude. Whereas Madonna is perhaps the most significant embodiment of this transvaluation - female sexual empowerment being asserted as liberating and subversive - the theory behind it has been articulated most dramatically by Germaine Greer in her essay for Suck on the word 'whore'.
Germaine Greer - who instigated the cunt-power movement, of which more later - wrote I Am A Whore, in which she consciously identified herself with the word 'whore', attempting to show that it can be positive rather than negative: "Whore is a dirty word - so we'll call everybody whore and get people uptight; whereas really you've got to come out the other way around and make whore a sacred word like it used to be and it still can be" (1971[b]). (In the same issue as I Am A Whore, on the opposite page, was an article titled Dry Cunt.)
Greer's biographer fundamentally misjudged her suggestion, calling it "a direct betrayal of what feminism was supposed to be about [...] it takes a truly eccentric and bizarre kind of feminism for one to identify as a prostitute" (Christine Wallace, 1997). In fact, far from identifying as a prostitute, Greer was implying that the word 'whore' could be removed from its pejorative associations. More recently, Karen Savage produced t-shirts with the slogans 'WHORE' and 'BITCH', encouraging women to make an instant visual statement of reclamation.
A term with similar status is the racially abusive 'nigger', which has been reclaimed (or 'flipped') by African-Americans (such as Richard Pryor's Supernigger), and is used in this context as a term of endearment. 'Nigger' has been reclaimed by the group against which it was used as a means of subjugation and oppression, and its reappropriation serves to dilute its potential to offend. Jonathon Green suggests that this use "as a binding, unifying, positive word" dates from as early as the 1940s (Jennifer Higgie, 1998). Its reappropriation is not universally accepted, however: Spike Lee has criticised what he perceives as Samuel L Jackson's insensitivity towards the word's history. Similar attempts to reclaim other racially abusive terms such as 'paki' (notably the PAK1 clothing brand) have been equally contentious: "even now this "flipping", as it is called, has not been totally successful" (Sarfraz Manzoor, 2004). In his article A Bad Word Made Good (2005), Andrew Clark notes the reappropriation of 'wog', formerly a term of racist abuse though later used self-referentially amongst Australia's Greek community: "the term has metamorphosed in the Antipodes. Greek[s] happily refer to themselves as wogs [...] Some time during the 80s, the word was adopted as a badge of pride by the people to whom it referred". Furthermore, Todd Anten cites the increasing transvaluation of 'chink', noting that "Virtually any word that is or has been a slur can be reappropriated by the target group" (2006).
Lenny Bruce made the point that the social suppression of taboo words such as 'cunt' and 'nigger' serves to perpetuate and increase their power: "the word's suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness" (1970). He argued that only through repetition can we remove the abusive powers of taboo words: "If [you said] niggerniggerniggernigger [...] till nigger lost its meaning - you'd never make any four-year-old nigger cry when [they] came home from school".
In Monty Python's Life Of Brian, the eponymous character reclaims a whole host of anti-Semitic epithets: "I'm a kike, a Yid, a hebe, a hooknose [...] and proud of it!" (Terry Jones, 1979). The film's director later explained that he was consciously attempting to "take everything that's negative in the language and turn it into a positive thing" (Criterion, 1997). The editor of the Jewish magazine Heeb intended its title as a transvaluation of the term, a variant of 'hebe': "We're reappropriating it, but with a twist of pride" (Peg Tyre, 2002). Annie Goldflam self-identified as both a 'kike' and a 'dyke', in Queerer Than Queer: Reflections Of A Kike Dyke: "I am both a kike and a dyke, derogatory terms for Jews and lesbians, respectively, but which I here reclaim as proud markers of my identity" (1999)
The homophobic term 'queer' has also been positively - yet contentiously - reappropriated, for example by Queer Nation: "In recent years 'queer' has come to be used differently [and this] once pejorative term [is] a positive self-description [...] Proponents of the new terminology argue that to redeploy the term queer as a figure of pride is a powerful act of cultural reclamation" (Annamarie Jagose, 1996). Ratna Kapur and Tayyab Mahmud cite 'fruit' amongst other terms "appropriated by the gay community as words denoting pride, self-awareness, and self-acceptance" (2000). The gay-oriented cosmetics brand FAG: Fabulous And Gay has helped to reclaim 'fag', and Todd Anten cites the company's mission statement: "to abolish the negative connotation of the word fag and reposition it [...] We all have the power to change the perspective of this word and transform it into a positive vision" (2006). Larry Kramer's book Faggots began the transvaluation of another homophobic term. (Another book title, Christopher Frayling's Spaghetti Westerns, was also intended as a positive reappropriation of a negative term: "The book's title was deliberately polemical, seeking to turn what had initially been a put-down into a badge of honour" (Edward Buscombe, 2005). The similar film term 'chop-socky' has also been "repurposed" (David Kamp and Lawrence Levi, 2006).)
The various epithets used to insult mentally handicapped people represent a further lexicon of reclaimed pejoratives. Mark Radcliffe profiles "people with mental health problems tak[ing] the sting out of stigma by reclaiming pejoratives" (2003), citing 'Crazy Folks' and 'Mad Pride' as groups whose names "reclaim some of the stigmatising language". This consciously humorous appropriation of 'crazy' and 'mad' must, however, avoid being misinterpreted as a trivialisation of those whom it seeks to empower.
The term 'punk' has become associated with a musical genre, though it also has an insulting definition, as it is used to describe men who are raped by fellow prisoners in jail. Robert Martin, who was repeatedly gang-raped in prison, has now spoken out against jail-rape while also celebrating the term 'punk': "He has taken the word "punk," which in its nonmusical context has always been a term of derision, and turned it into an emblem of honor. He has performed the same etymological magic trick that others have done with [...] "white trash." [He] even wears a "PUNK" belt buckle" (Jim Goad, 1994[f]).
Finally, we should consider 'otaku', 'geek', and 'nerd', all of which are negative terms implying anti-social obsessive behaviour. Increasingly, people are self-identifying as geeks, otakus, and nerds, using the terms proudly: a computing magazine called Otaku was launched in 2005, David Bell cites 'geek' as "Originally a term of abuse for people overly-obsessed with computers - though now reappropriated as a badge of pride" (2001), and 'nerd' t-shirts are on sale.
It is clear that "The conversion of a derogatory term into a battle cry by radicals is not uncommon" (Hugh Rawson, 1989), though 'cunt' itself has yet to emerge as a fully reclaimed term. Presently, the initial stages of its reappropriation are more contentious and complex than those of the epithets dicussed above.
Todd Anten (2006) categorises slurs into two types, to distinguish between words in different positions along the road to reclamation: 'close' words "which are at the end stages of reappropriation", and 'clear' words "which are at the beginning stages". He also notes that it is not only words that can be reclaimed: "The power of reappropriation is not limited to textual slurs; visual slurs may also be reappropriated". He cites as an example the pink triangle used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals: "[it] evolved from a mark of Nazi hatred into a symbol of gay pride".
An especially intriguing aspect of reappropriation is that of trademark applications. Aware that potentially disparaging words are denied trademark status, Todd Anten argues that such restrictions should be lifted for "self-disparaging" terms: "The reappropriation of former slurs is an integral part of the fostering of individual and group identity [...] it not only removes a slur, but it also cultivates self-definition in the target group - the recipients of the label actively choose to incorporate it into their identities rather than having it passively thrust upon them". He also cites Joe Garofoli's comment that "[S]elf-labeling defuses the impact of derisive terms by making them more commonplace". Anten notes trademark applications for various contentious terms, all intended to be reappropriated as positive acronyms: 'spic' ("SPANISH PEOPLE IN CONTROL"), 'nigga' ("NATURALLY INTELLIGENT GOD GIFTED AFRICAN"), and 'jap' ("JEWISH AMERICAN PRINCESS"). In the latter case, 'jap', Anten notes that the term "may disparage multiple groups": it was intended as a reclaimed term in a Jewish context, though it may still offend Japanese people. Reappropriation is indeed a minefield.
Linguistic And Cultural Genital Inequality
The marginalisation of the feminine is apparent not only in relation to language but also in cultural attitudes towards the sexual organs themselves. A large penis is equated with potency and sexual prowess: 'size matters' has become a cliche, though it is still perceived as an index of masculinity by men. Phrases such as 'well hung' maintain the male obsession with penis size, and John Holmes became one of the world's most famous porn stars thanks to his fourteen-inch erection.
Size and the female reproductive organs, however, have a reversed relationship: "while men want their pivotal organ to be as big as possible, women want theirs to be small" (Arusa Pisuthipan, 2005). A large vagina is seen as indicative of copious copulation, prompting accusations of prostitution or nymphomania. Or, as Germaine Greer puts it: "The best thing a cunt can be is small and unobtrusive: the anxiety about the bigness of the penis is only equalled by the anxiety about the smallness of the cunt. No woman wants to find out that she has a twat like a horse-collar" (1970[a]). Corrective surgery - namely a laser vaginal rejuvenation operation - is available in such circumstances, to make "the vaginal canal smaller and the opening of the vagina smaller" (Nicola Black, 2002), whereas male genital surgery serves to enlarge the organ rather than reduce it.
Crude terms such as 'big cunt', 'bushel cunt', 'bucket cunt', 'bucket fanny', 'butcher's dustbin', 'spunk dustbin', 'bargain bucket', 'billposter's bucket', 'Big Daddy's sleeping bag', 'ragman's trumpet', 'ragman's coat', 'turkey's wattle', 'raggy blart', 'pound of liver', 'club sandwich', 'ripped sofa', 'badly-packed kebab', 'stamped bat', 'wizard's sleeve', 'clown's pocket', 'Yaris fanny', 'fanny like a easyjet seat pocket', 'a fanny like Sunderland's trophy cabinet', 'cow-cunt', 'double-cunted', 'sluice-cunted', and "canyon-cunted" (Jim Goad, 1994[b]), equate dilation with repulsion: "Here, the rule is to imply the owner of the vulva is unhygienic; that it has sustained so much sex it has lost its shape" (Matthew DeAbaitua, 1998). Thus, alongside the linguistic suppression of 'cunt', the vagina is also physically suppressed: "The importance of [vaginal] size is evident in contexts as diverse as slang, comedy, and surgical practices to tighten the vagina" (Virginia Braun and Celia Kitzinger, 2001[b]). The penis is an external organ whereas the vagina is an internal one, therefore the penis is naturally the more visible of the two; there is, however, a cultural emphasis placed upon this difference that acts to reinforce and extend it.
The bulging male groin ('lunchbox') is identified as sexually attractive, whereas women are encouraged not to emphasise their groins but to camouflage them: "the vagina is a culturally obscure little organ. Phallic references and penis jokes litter daily discourse, whereas vulval imagery is seemingly limited to pornography" (Joanna Briscoe, 2003). The (venerated) male 'lunchbox' can be directly contrasted with the (condemned) female equivalent, the 'cameltoe'. The female group Fannypack released a single called Cameltoe in which they criticised women for "grossin' people out with your cameltoe[s]" (2003):
"Take these words of advice
'Cos it's not very nice [...]
Watch out for the cameltoe".
Similarly, the male codpiece's exaggeration of penile protrusion can be contrasted with female chastity belts that lock away the vagina. Also, excessive female pubic hair (the 'bikini line') is shaved to render the area indistinguishable from any other part of the body: "If we do receive any information about the triangle between our legs, it is almost entirely negative; the [...] beauty industry encourages us to remove it for aesthetic reasons [because] it draws attention to the unremarkable-looking female genital area, making it stand out [...] Almost all sexualised images of women show them totally shaved, from pornography to paintings of Venus in high art" (Dea Birkett, 2003). Oliver Maitland contrasts artistic representations of the vagina with those of the penis: "For thousands of years, the vulva in art was sculpturally, graphically and pictorially erased [whereas] the male member [...] is well proportioned, if not downright outsized" (2000).
The physical differences between the male and female sexual organs are central to Sigmund Freud's theory of penis envy. This is the notion that a girl perceives her clitoris to be the result of her castration, and, faced with what Freud terms an "inferiority" (1924), develops a desire for the visible, external symbols of virility possessed by men. Joan Smith answers this with the proposition that "it's time to start talking, pace Freud, about the terrible problems men have in overcoming their cunt envy" (1998), a timely riposte to Freudian phallocentricity.
Germaine Greer's key feminist text is titled The Female Eunuch, though accusations of penis envy serve merely to trivialise the feminist feeling of physical and linguistic marginalisation. The 'female eunuch' is symbolic of the desexed representation of the female sexual experience, rather than representing a literal desire for a male organ. Patriarchal marginalisation is not, therefore, a literal neutering of women, though it does generate this metaphorical effect; while the penis is exaggerated, the vagina is rendered subordinate. This is graphically illustrated by Tom Cruise's character in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, whose mantra is: "Respect the cock and tame the cunt" (1999).
Male attempts to marginalise the vagina (lexically, physically, and pictorially) can be seen as symbolic attempts to suppress female sexuality. The myth of the vagina dentata (discussed in more detail later) is appropriate in this regard, as there are many mythological instances of toothed vaginas being blunted by male weapons: "Gruesomely, it is the removal of vaginal teeth (symbolising the devouring aspect of female sexuality) by brave male heroes that is a core component of many dentata stories. [...] rocks and rods that are as thick or long as a penis, are all used as excision tools in a bid to tame the toothed vagina and create a compliant woman. [...] In this sense, pulling vaginal teeth is a metaphor for how some men would like to make women meek and biddable, remoulded in a shape defined by them" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003). A Mimbres bowl drawn by Pat Carr from a Zuni Pueblo original depicts a man's club-like penis inside a vagina dentata to illustrate a myth involving two men who meet eight women with vagina dentatas: "their grandmother warned them specifically to stay away [...] saying, "Don't go there. They have teeth in their vaginas. They will cut you and you will die." Of course, the twins decide to visit the girls despite the warning, and in preparation make themselves false penises of oak and hickory. [...] They broke the teeth from the women's vaginas. The blood ran. When the oak members were worn out, they put them aside and took the hickory ones. By daylight the teeth of these women were all worn out" (Pat Carr and Willard Gingerich, 1983). Symbolically, this male domination over female sexuality - using a tool to cut vaginal teeth - clearly represents the power of the phallus and the weakness of the vagina, or, in other words, the Magnolia mantra quoted above. According to Pueblo mythology, the Ahaiyute would "break girls' toothed vaginas with false wooden penises" (Marta Weigle, 1992). A Jicarilla Apache Indian myth describes four 'vagina girls' who swallow men with their vaginas, until a medicine administered by the male 'Killer-of-Enemies' neutralises their power: "When Killer-of-Enemies had come to them, they had had strong teeth with which they had eaten their victims. But this medicine destroyed their teeth entirely" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003). In a similar example, "There was a Rakshasa's [demon's] daughter who had teeth in her vagina. When she saw a man, she would turn into a pretty girl, seduce him, [and] cut off his penis" - the only way to neuter her was to "make an iron tube, put it into her vagina and break her teeth". Pueblo Indian artwork depicts "efforts to remove a woman's vaginal teeth with a false penis made out of oak and hickory", and this ceremony is now symbolically re-enacted: "Re-enactments of vagina tooth smashing can be found in some culture's rituals. [...] the Pueblo and other native North Americans use a carved wooden phallus to symbolically break a vagina woman's teeth".
Our environment is becoming increasingly saturated with sexual images, justified by the maxim 'sex sells'. This situation, which Brian McNair terms "The sexualization of the public sphere" (2002), predominantly involves images of women, appealing to heterosexual male desires at the expense of heterosexual female ones. Significantly, however, they represent a "tit-and-arse landscape" (Barbara Ellen, 2001), with the breasts and buttocks over-exposed and the genital area airbrushed away.
As Germaine Greer notes, these images are "poses which minimize the genital area" and "The vagina is obliterated from the imagery of femininity" (1970[a]): the imagery may be sexualised yet it de-emphasises the vagina as an erogenous zone. Greer returned to the subject in The Whole Woman, her sequel to The Female Eunuch: "Male genitals are drawn on every wall, female genitals only on doctor's blotters [...] Though Freud makes much of the fact that boys' genitalia are visible and little girls' are not, mere invisibility cannot account for the absence of any imagery of the womb from our general culture [...] wombs are out of sight and out of mind" (1999). Catherine Blackledge ascribes this prejudice to Christian misogyny: "the emphasis in the western world post the advent of Christianity has mainly been on hiding or veiling the vagina, rather than revealing or celebrating it" (2003).
Albert Ellis explains that our culture's obsessive interest in breasts and buttocks and disinterest in the vagina is the result of subconscious displacement: "Males in our culture are so afraid of direct contact with female genitalia, and are even afraid of referring to these genitalia themselves; they largely displace their feelings to the accessory sex organs - the hips, legs, breasts, buttocks, etc. - and they give these accessory organs an exaggerated interest and desirability" (1951). Germaine Greer's explanation is more direct: she blames the linguistic and cultural marginalisation of the vagina on "centuries of womb-fear" (1970[a]). She has actually incorporated a drawing of female ovaries into her signature, in a personal attempt to increase their visual representation.
Cunt-Hatred: Fear And Loathing
Germaine Greer's term 'womb-fear' highlights the underlying reason for both the cultural suppression of the vagina and the linguistic suppression of 'cunt'. At the heart of the abusive impact of 'cunt', and the paranoid marginalisation of the vagina, is the implication that the female genitals are disgusting and fearsome: Mark Morton describes the vagina as "a part of the female body that has traditionally been considered shameful or menacing" (2003). Andrea Dworkin writes despairingly of the "repulsion for women [...] directed especially against her genitals [...] It is a goose-stepping hatred of cunt. [...] For the male, the repulsion is sexually intense, genitally focused" (1987). Indeed, such is the level of disgust with the "monstrous female genitals" that, as Eric Partridge notes, the abusive term 'cunt face' is "even more insulting than the synonymous shit face" (1961) - the vagina is regarded as even more disgusting than excrement. The clinical sterility of tampon advertising, for example, paradoxically demonstrates a profound disgust for the vagina: "The conception of women's genitals as dirty - indeed untouchable - is reinforced by tampon advertisements which advocate an 'applicator' on the basis that fingers do not need to touch the vagina" (Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson, 2001).
In their paper Socio-Cultural Representations Of The Vagina (2001), Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson identify several "persistent negative representations of the vagina", dividing them into categories such as The Vagina As Disgusting ("The vagina is often represented as part of the female body that is shameful, unclean, disgusting") and The Vagina As Dangerous ("The (Western) construction of women's bodies as a source of horror, fear, and danger [...] is manifested in the (mythological) concept of the dangerous vagina"). After many conversations with women, Betty Dodson reported that a great number of them viewed their own genitals in negative terms: "[women] feel that their genitals are ugly, funny looking, disgusting, smelly, and not at all desirable" (1974). This attitude is instilled during childhood, as David Delvin notes: "many women are brought up to believe that the vagina is "nasty", "dirty" or "not nice"" (1983). Jane Ussher describes the cyclical process whereby childhood confusion leads to cultural phobia: "girls mainly develop a sense of shame, disgust and humiliation about [their vaginas]. In this way, social stereotypes which define women's genitals as unpleasant, [mal]odorous and unattractive, are internalized by the female child" (1989). Judith Seifer suggests that the prejudice is actively instilled at a very early age: "girl babies are given a constant message of contamination, that what you have down there is dark, it's dirty" (Nancy Friday, 1996). Even a scientific programme on the Discovery Channel demonstrates cultural womb-fear: their Human Mutants series included an episode about foetal cyclopia titled The Dangerous Womb, though cyclopia is a genetic condition unrelated to the womb itself.
The reductive usage of 'cunt' as a term of unparalleled abuse reflects both a fear of the vagina and a misogynist hatred of it. This hatred manifests itself in ingrained cultural representations of the vagina as an abject organ: "Given representations of the vagina as smelly, dirty, and potentially diseased, it is not surprising that women's genitals are a source of shame or embarrassment [and are] a part of their bodies many women can't bear to even look at" (Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson, 2001). Slang terms such as 'dirtbox', 'claptrap'/'clap-trap', 'siffed-up cunt-hole', 'pox-ridden cunt', 'burning bower', 'burning passage', 'dirty lolly', 'firelock', 'fireplace', and 'cemetary gates' also reflect this, equating the vagina with disease (as 'clap', 'siff', and 'fire' refer to venereal infections), as does this example of underground pornographic prose: "I kept licking and sucking on her cunt even though I knew it was riddled with the deadly curse of syphilis [as] I buried myself in Ilena's stinky snatch" (Ramona, 1998). The t-shirt slogan 'salty yoni sweet dick' unfavourably contrasts the tastes of the vagina and penis. [Screw challenged male perceptions of cunnilingus, and promoted it as a form of non-procreative sex, with the headline Is Cunt-Lapping Better Than The Pill? (22/3/1970).] Thomas Strohm has written Stinky Coochie, a song about a girl with a dirty vagina: "Girl, you got a stinky coochie" (2004). Stanley Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket (1987) uses "Mary-Jane Rottencrotch" as a typical girl's name. The film Souffrances D'Un Oeuf Meutri depicts "[a] girl's pudenda seething with maggots" (Mike Wallington, 1970). The slang terms 'site box', 'fanny like a rabid dog', 'gorilla's armpit' and, especially, 'gorilla autopsy', present the vagina as an abject organ. The slang phrase 'smells like a pile of dead fannies' is used as a similie for something malodorous, and the barrack-room ballad The Ballad Of Lupe (also known as Down In Cunt Valley) is equally unpleasant in its imagery:
"Down in Cunt Valley where the Red Rivers flow, [...]
maggots crawl out of [the] decomposed womb" (19--).
Also, compare this monologue by Jim Goad, from his morally ambiguous and provocative zine Answer Me! (1994[a]):
Cunt, fucking cunt.
Filthy fucking cunt, rotten diseased fucking cunt".
The issue of Answer Me! quoted here, the Rape issue, was seized as obscene in the UK, a rare example of contemporary literature being legally suppressed. It was felt that many of the articles in Goad's zine condoned and even encouraged the rape of women. More poetic than Answer Me!, though no less misogynist, is this monologue from King Lear, described by Pauline Kiernan as "one of the most shocking and harrowing invectives against the female vulva in all literature" (2006):
"Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the Gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends':
There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding" (William Shakespeare, 1605).
John Weir divides attitudes towards the vagina into two opposing viewpoints: "It's smelly, it's bottomless, it's devouring; or it's mystic, it's divine, it's nirvana" (1997). It is the former of Weir's two categories that is reflected in slang terms such as 'nasty', 'stink', 'stinkhole', 'stench trench', 'smelly cunt', 'smelly pussy', 'slime hole', 'smell-hole', 'stinky cunt', 'stink-pit', 'something crawled in and died', 'dirty cunt', 'rotten crotch', and 'scabby cunt'. Similarly, a traditional Chinese insult has been translated as "I WILL FUCK YOUR MOTHER'S BROKEN-DOWN STINKING CUNT" (Guerrilla Girls, 2003). These words and phrases all equate the vagina with filth and dirt: "Inescapably, a woman's body incarnates shame, her genitals especially signifying dirt and death" (Andrea Dworkin, 1987). One of the interviewees in Shere Hite's sex survey described how her male partner "thinks the vulva area smells ghastly", and Oliver Maitland even cites a female comment that vaginas are "Dirty, smelly things" (2000). Boyd Rice (1994) cites a quotation (usually attributed to the Latin writer Tertullian) which defines 'woman' as "a temple... built over a sewer". A scene in the film The Shawshank Redemption, in which a man emerges from a sewage pipe, has been interpreted as a metaphorical rebirth, with the sewage pipe symbolising a birth canal: "going through the sewage pipe [represents] a new birth" (Andrew Abbott, 2001). In On Mrs Willis, John Wilmot wrote of the eponymous prostitute that "her cunt [is] a common shore" (1680). It is this viewpoint that seemingly inspired many traditional limericks, drawing their imagery from "[the] filth down there, between the legs, in the hole" (Boyd Rice, 1994):
'There was an old hooker from Grotten
Who plugged her diseased cunt with cotton';
'A scrofulous woman from Chester,
Said [her] front is beginning to fester';
'There was a young girl called Dolores,
Whose cunt was all covered in sores';
'There was a young novice called Bell
Who didn't like cunt all that well [...]
He just couldn't get used to the smell';
'An unwashed girl from the Klondike
[has] never been had,
'Cos her cunt has a smell very cod-like'.
Comic strips such as It's Jemima And Her Smelly Vagina (in Gutter, 199-) and Dirty Annie And Her Smelly Fanny (in The Trout, 199-) position the vagina as an organ of abjection, an attitude exemplified by the slang phrase 'Billingsgate box', which compares the vagina's odour with that of a fishmarket. This long-standing belief, that the vagina smells of fish, is the commonest example of what was described in 1996 as the "historical cultural connection between women's genitals and filth and disease" (Celia Roberts, Susan Kippax, Mary Spongberg, and June Crawford). The connection is evoked in these song lyrics:
"ass gin and cunt juice
How about a fishy drink?
Ughhhhhhh" (XXX Maniak, 2005).
In a slight variation, Jim Goad smeared a dead squid over his magazine Chocolate Impulse: "we "stink-wrapped" each copy, allegedly with Faith Impulse's acrid vaginal juices. We used a [...] squid instead, smearing malodorous sea creatures onto the editorial page, making our zine smell like a CUNT" (1994[g]).
Criticising these attitudes, Alix Olson (2001) reminds us how advertising distorts reality, creating 'feminine intimate hygiene' products that are completely un-necessary:
"We'd carry passports made from a giant Cunt Mold
In all pubic colors: Gray, Auburn, Ebony, Gold.
We'd ban commercials of:
Are you not so fresh?
Is your vag repulsive? Do you stink of fish?
And instead, we'd conduct a Cunt Taste-Testing Session,
Get used to the smells of Blood, Yeast, and the Ocean".
Not only are vaginas "continually denigrated" (Laura Kipnis, 2006) as dirty and diseased, they are also literally demonised, regarded as a 'chamber of horrors', as "the deadly genitals of woman" (Barbara Creed, 1993), and as hellish 'cunnus diaboli': "the womb is still represented in cultural discourses as an object of horror". "The myth about woman as castrator", explains Barbara Creed, "clearly points to male fears and phantasies [sic.] about the female genitals as a trap, a black hole which threatens to swallow them up and cut them into pieces. The vagina dentata is the mouth of hell - a terrifying symbol of woman as the 'devil's gateway'". Indeed, Jonathan Prown and Richard Miller cite "Gate of Hell" and "Mouth of Hell" as two "widely understood allegories for female genitalia" (1996). The title of Catherine Breillat's film Anatomy Of Hell is a reference to the vagina, and Breillat's objective in making the film was to confront viewers with vaginal images: "if hell has an anatomy, it is surely a woman's genitalia. [...] genitalia shot in close-up provokes a kind of horror in all of society, though society can't explain why. In the end, who is horrified by women's genitalia? Traditionally, men. Yet they slowly get used to this horrific vision" (Lisa Ades, 2007). (Breillat's observations are confirmed anecdotally by Stephanie Zacharek: "a lot of people that I've talked to just can't deal with it. Particularly a friend of mine, a critic, wrote: "Ew!". He just, like, didn't wanna look at that".) Furthermore, the vagina is also known as the 'devil's kitchen', the clitoris as the 'devil's doorbell', and the cervix as the 'seal of Hades'. Pauline Kiernan writes that "Hell is a term frequently used [...] for female genitals" (2006). Barbara G Walker's feminist interpretation of classical mythology - The Woman's Encyclopedia Of Myths And Secrets - gives a detailed account of this: "women's genitals [were likened] to the "yawning" mouth of hell, though this was hardly original; the underworld gate had always been the yoni of Mother Hel [...] To Christian ascetics, Hell-mouth and the vagina drew upon the same ancient symbolism[,] as if [one] was being drawn into the womb and destroyed there" (1983). Andre Schwarz-Bart cites the expression "Wash your devil" ('wash your cunt') and young Ifaluk women at puberty are traditionally told of "the "devil" beneath [the] skirt" (Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, 1978). An illustration by Eugene LePoitevin (Les Diableries Erotiques, 1832) depicts a group of (seductive) female devils, with skulls on their chests, inside a vagina. Slang terms for 'vagina' such as 'mark-of-the-beast' perpetuate this association, as in the drama Witchcraze: "you have the devil's mark on your cunt!" (James Kent, 2003). Barbara Creed, in a chapter titled Woman As Monstrous Womb, asserts that "From classical to Renaissance times the uterus was frequently drawn with horns to demonstrate its supposed association with the devil" (1993). Ruth Wajnryb links this association of femininity with monstrosity directly to 'cunt' itself: "CUNT remains the closest synonym for evil in the modern world. It is part of [...] 'the feminisation of the monstrous'" (2004).
Medusa, the female demon, is also evoked in vagina mythology, leading Orlan to display images of her vagina "[alongside Sigmund] Freud's text on the head of Medusa [which] read: 'At the sight of the vulva the devil himself flees[']" (1995). Barbara Creed's book The Monstrous-Feminine includes a chapter titled Medusa's Head: The Vagina Dentata And Freudian Theory (which itself features a section called The Castrating Female Genitals). Elaine Showalter also cites Freud's equation of Medusa with a deadly vagina: "According to Freud, the decapitated head of Medusa with its snaky locks is a "genitalized head," an upward displacement of the sexual organs, so that the mouth stands for the vagina dentata, and the snakes for pubic hair. For men to unveil the Medusa is to confront the dread of looking at the female sexual organs" (1992). Freud's equation of Medusa with the vagina is significant as it presents the vagina as an organ capable of castrating the male penis: "in its horrifying aspect [Medusa] would resemble [...] the castrating genitals, the terrifying vagina dentata" (Barbara Creed, 1993).
Thus, the "fearsome female genitals" (Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, 1978) are repeatedly associated with diseases and foul smells, regarded as abject, disgusting organs, stinking and pox-ridden - "that disgusting sick hole down there", as Jim Goad puts it (1994[a]). Furthermore, they are also equated with demonic and Satanic figures such as Medusa and the devil, damned as a "daemonic womb" (Camille Paglia, 1990). Such imagery can be found in contemporary popular culture, for instance The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring includes the fiery Eye of Sauron, which has been interpreted as a vaginal symbol representing "ultimate evil" (Duncan Tucker, 2005). Another film with an evil entity interpreted as vaginal is Kiss Me Deadly; its apocalyptic atom bomb, a reference to Pandora's Box, can be seen as "an atomic female orgasm" (Graham Fuller, 2006), a reading initially proposed by Carol Flinn: "women's sexuality (her own 'hot box') is constructed as the film's final object of inquiry and ultimate source of terror" (1986).
These misguided male associations perpetuate male anxiety about women's genitals, and thus also perpetuate the avoidance of them in male-dominated language and culture: "Men desire access to the vagina, but also fear it and are disgusted by it. They see it as a gaping maw, at times toothed, frighteningly insatiable. [...] It is when vaginas are accessible that they evoke disgust and horror in their own right. It is then that male fears make them monstrous, hellish, and vile, disgust-evoking places" (William Ian Miller, 1997).
We have seen how the word 'cunt' and the vagina itself - the signifier and the signified - are both suppressed in language and culture. They are associated with uncleanness ('cunt' as a 'dirty word' and the vagina as 'smelly'), and this false projection of abject qualities is rooted in a fear of "the demonic bodies of women" (Edward Shorter, 1982). Fundamentally, fear of the vagina leads to its symbolic and linguistic representations being suppressed and its physical characteristics being demonised. Censorship of 'cunt', obliteration of vaginal imagery, and association of vaginas with disease all stem from a primal fear of the vagina itself.
It Won't Bite: The Vagina Dentata
Central to the discussion of male cunt-hatred and womb-fear is the myth of the vagina dentata, "a motif occurring in certain primitive mythologies, as well as in modern surrealist painting and neurotic dream, which is known to folklore as 'the toothed vagina' - the vagina that castrates" (Joseph Campbell, 1976). The vagina dentata evokes the male castration complex, which in this instance is the fear that, once it has entered the vagina, the penis will be bitten off and consumed - the fear of "witches stealing men's penises with their vaginal teeth", as Catherine Blackledge puts it (2003). The vagina dentata myth is the most potent symbol of male "dread of the female genital" (HR Hays, 1964).
There are several possible explanations for the persistence of the vagina dentata myth, all of which relate to male fears of (symbolic) post-coital death: "man's fear of sexual intercourse with woman is based on irrational fears about the deadly powers of the vagina" (Barbara Creed, 1993). An illustration by Alfred Kubin is a clear example of this fear, depicting a man with an erection diving into an oversized vagina as if it were a swimming pool. Kubin's title, Todessprung (1902), suggests that the male figure is leaping to his death. Semen can be said to symbolise life, thus the release of semen into the vagina may represent the transference of life from the penis to the vagina. Likewise, when the penis has ejaculated and withdrawn from the vagina, its flaccid state is perhaps symbolic of death when contrasted with its pre-penetration tumescence. The connection between sex and death is a well-established one: 'die' was an Elizabethan synonym for 'orgasm', 'go' was a Victorian colloquialism meaning 'orgasm' and 'die', and an orgasm is known as 'la petite mort' in France. Also relevant here is the previously discussed notion of the vagina as a harbinger of disease: perceived infections contracted from the vagina are perhaps symbolic of death. The central fear, however, is that of castration, that the vagina will bite off the penis during intercourse: "In the sexual act, the phallus is 'endangered' by the vagina. [...] The amorous act is the castration of the man" (Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, 1995). Stephen King (1988) admitted that his greatest sexual fear was "making love to a woman and it just slammed shut and cut your penis off". Exploiting the vaginal slang term 'beaver', Stewart Ferris notes that both beavers and vaginas can "bite your fingers off" (2004), with the finger here being a clear substitution for the penis. Basic Instinct, Body Of Evidence, and GoldenEye all exploit these fears, depicting women (played respectively by Sharon Stone, Madonna, and Famke Janssen) who either murder their partners during sex or literally fuck them to death. Such behaviour amongst widow and redback spiders, praying mantises, midges, horned nudibranchs, and Photuris fireflies, is well-documented, and male honey bees are prone to sudden death shortly after ejaculation. (Such coital cannibalism actually has evolutionary advantages, as the body of the male, if eaten, provides nutrition for the gestating offspring.)
The fact that the vagina extracts semen, induces penile flaccidity, and is perceived as a source of disease, contributes to the vagina dentata myth, the fear of the vagina as a murderous, violent demon. More potent than any of these explanations, however, is the male castration complex, the fear that the penis will be removed during intercourse: "The boy discovers the fear of castration [...] through the disappearance of his penis in coition" (Juliet Mitchell, 1974). Closely related is the penis captivus complex, the fear that the penis cannot be withdrawn from the vagina after penetration: "the penis captivus myth [...] reflects the fear that, during coitus, the penis will get lost or captured, and removal will be impossible" (Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson, 2001). There are documented cases of penis captivus, though these all result from men suffering a cardiac arrest during intercourse, with rigor mortis preventing the extrication of the penis. During redback spider reproduction, the male is willingly consumed by the female, as his death ensures that he remains stuck inside her, thus preventing impregnation by other males: "In death, its sexual organ becomes stuck in the female's receptacle. Even if she feeds on the rest of his body, the organ remains, preventing her from receiving more sperm" (Carl Zimmer, 2006).
The reason men feel threatened inside the vagina is that they regard the vagina as a displaced mouth, poised to eat their penis: "myths and cults attest to the fact that the vagina has and retains (for both sexes) connotations of a devouring mouth" (Erik H Erikson, 1968). Jonathan Prown and Richard Miller (1996) note that "female genitalia [are] associated with death or consumption", citing the mythological Greek lamiae, who were "lustful she-demons whose name meant both mouth and vagina". There is an undated mediaeval French tale of a talking vagina, Du Chevalier Qui Fist Parler Les Cons, which also equates the functions of the two organs. Vaginas and mouths are both denoted by lips, thus, by extension, men fear that they also share teeth: "Vulvas have labiae, "lips," and many men believed that behind the lips lie teeth" (Barbara G Walker, 1983). As the vagina is considered a displaced mouth, fears of the penis being bitten, eaten, or swallowed manifest themselves. Susan Lurie cites the male perception of vagina as a "devouring mouth", into which the penis disappears (1981). Indeed, as Barbara Creed notes, the connection is so entrenched in the male psyche that even without references to teeth or consumption, the castration fear is still evoked: "Reference to other teeth is not necessary in order to construct the vagina as a place of castration. The image of a mouth - the gaping maw of nightmares and horror scenarios - is probably enough on its own to instil[l] dread" (1993). There are many illustrations which visually link mouths and vaginas, such as the many "vaginal mouths" in Pablo Picasso's paintings (Hilary Spurling, 2007); the most famous example is Rene Magritte's 1934 Surrealist painting Le Viol, in which a woman's body becomes her face. The effect is most readily achieved by rotating the female mouth into a vertical position - this motif has been used as the cover image of Barbara Creed's book The Monstrous-Feminine and a reprint of Louis Aragon's Irene's Cunt. In the animated series Family Guy (the Stewie Loves Lois episode, 2006), a character feels his son's mouth and assumes it to be his wife's vagina.
Barbara G Walker calls the vagina dentata "the classic symbol of men's fear of sex, expressing the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse" (1983) and HR Hays explains that "the cleft between a woman's thigh is felt to be a castrating scissors" (1964). Andrea Dworkin evocatively encapsulates male apprehensions: "the death connected with sex is held to be the death of the penis, trapped in the castrating cave, the vagina" (1987).
There are several journal articles and papers exploring the concept of the vagina dentata. Pat Carr and Willard Gingerich conducted an illustrated (though limited) study of vagina dentata mythology: The Vagina Dentata Motif In Nahuatl And Pubelo Mythic Narratives: A Comparative Study (in Smoothing The Ground, 1983). Jill Rait has anaylsed The Vagina Dentata And The Immaculatus Uretus Divini Fontis (Journal Of The American Academy Of Religion, 1980). Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi discusses the Dangers Of The Vagina (British Journal Of Medical Psychology, 1985). Solimar Otero's Fearing Our Mothers provides An Overview Of Psychoanalytic Theories Concerning The Vagina Dentata Motif (American Journal Of Psychoanalysis, 1996). An article in the Journal Of Reproductive And Infant Psychology (Sue Wilkinson and Virginia Braun, 2001) explores the various positive and negative Socio-Cultural Representations Of The Vagina.
The vagina dentata is an all-pervasive image of terror, occurring throughout ancient mythology: "Vagina dentata - the vagina with teeth - is an ancient anxious image that flows through folklore, mythology, literature, art and humankind's dreamworld. [...] Snapping and snarling, emasculating and mutilating men, the myth of the vagina dentata is to be found from North to South America, across Africa, and in India and Europe too. The omnipotence of this motif of the devouring vagina has also survived millennia, with many cultures' creation mythology imbued with castrating and deadly images" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003).
In New Zealand Mauri mythology, Hine Nui Te Po, the goddess of death, is a clear manifestation of the vagina dentata: "in the place where men enter her she has sharp teeth of obsidian and greenstone" (Antony Alpers, 1964). The Witchita Indians of North America described witches who "had teeth in their vaginas which would cut off [the] penis. [...] You will hear the gritting of the teeth in their vaginas" (Elaine Showalter, 1992). The Toba Indians spoke of an equally fearsome woman who "cut off [a] penis and testicles with her vagina". The Yanomamo equivalent of Eve was a woman whose vagina "became a toothed mouth and bit off her consort's penis" (Barbara G Walker, 1983). Early Christians believed that witches used magic spells to "grow fangs in their vaginas". A sultan of Damascus was struck blind by "the dread powers [of] a vulva". There was a Malekula yonic spirit that "[drew others] near to it so that it may devour [them]" (Erich Neumann, 1963). According to Hindu mythology, "the demon Adi assumes the form of Parvati and attempts to kill Shiva with the teeth inside "her" vagina", and Shiva in turn "created a horrible woman with a mouth like a great cavern, with teeth and eyes in her vagina" (Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, 1980). The Navajo Indian monster Heaped Vagina, created by Snapping Vagina, would "throw her vagina over [her victims] and kill them" (Marta Weigle, 1992). Philip Rawson cites the ancient Chinese belief that vaginas were "executioners of men" (1968). An Indian myth describes "a young man trying to seduce a faithful wife. However, to his dismay, the man discovers that the woman has a saw above her vagina, with which she cuts off his penis" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003). The Polynesian goddess Hine-Nui-Te-Po "uses her vagina to slay Maui, the Polynesian hero. [...] he is bitten in two by her vagina's snapping, lightning-generating flint edges". A Mehinaku tale describes "a woman [who] took many shells - they looked just like teeth - and put them in her inner labia. Later, when it got dark, [a] man wanted to have sex. [...] The vagina cut his penis right off, and he died right there". In Navajo and Apache folk takes, vaginas "are describes as detached organs, walking around independently and biting as they go". Elaine Showalter (1992) quotes the diary of Edmund DeGoncourt, in which he describes his surreal fantasy/nightmare: "I dreamt last night that I [...] saw a woman [who] was completely naked [...] Then she started to dance, and while she was dancing took steps that showed her private parts armed with the most terrible jaws one could imagine, opening and closing, exposing a set of teeth".
The mythology of the fatal vagina is not only limited to castrating teeth, however: "teeth are not the only terrifying object to be found in woman's extra orifice". Symbolically, a Muslim belief attests that "the vagina can 'bite off' a man's eye-beam, resulting in blindness for the man who is brave enough to look deep into its depths" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003). Deadly vaginal snakes, eels, and dragons have also been described: "vagina snakes, so these stories relate, can bite off a man's penis, poison it, or kill the man. [...] In Polynesia, where there are no snakes, voracious vagina eels come into play. In one tale from the Tuamotos Islands, the eels in a woman called Faumea's vagina kill all men. [...] Men of Malekula talk mysteriously of a vagina spirit, called 'that which draws us to it so that it may devour us'. Hungry dragons too are often to be found inside the vagina of folklore and myth". In William Shakespeare's description of a woman "whose tongue more poisons than the adders" (1592), "tongue" has been interpreted as 'clitoris', translating as: "whose clitoris is more poisonous than the adder's tooth" (Pauline Kiernan, 2006). The goddess Scylla is represented as a beautiful woman above the waist though "[her] lower parts consist of three snapping hellhounds" (Barbara Creed, 1993). A North American Indian myth describes "a meat-eating fish inhabit[ing] the vagina of the Terrible Mother", Salvador Dali has depicted the vagina as a lobster with sharp claws, a cartoon by Michael Leunig shows the vagina as a dog's head with sharp teeth, and the Angmagsalik Inuits feared "a dangerous woman who carries a dog's head between her legs which bites off male organs" (Elaine Showalter, 1992).
Catherine Blackledge discusses the vagina dentata at length in her book The Story Of V: "For many the most powerful of all vaginal myths and superstitions, the vagina dentata is also, perhaps, the most common. Its prevalence around the globe is stunning. [...] sexual folklore seethes with stories of snapping vaginal teeth" (2003). She defines the vagina dentata as "an emasculating, castrating fearsome toothed organ [...] A hungry maw. A gluttonous gullet. A toothed, varoacious, ravenous, greedy chasm". She refers to 'cunt' both directly ("The catalytic cunt") and indirectly ("A cunning stunt") in subtitles, though ignores significant cultural landmarks such as Cuntpower Oz and The Vagina Monologues thus her book cannot be viewed as quite the definitive study it was proclaimed to be by some initial reviews. The most extensive study of the vagina dentata is the German book Die Vagina Dentata In Mythos Und Erzaehlung by Sonja Brigitte Ross. The Dangerous Sex, by HR Hays, is a fascinating study of the negative attitudes towards women embodied in ancient mythology, and Barabara Creed wrote a similar study concerning modern visual culture titled The Monstrous-Feminine.
The vagina dentata myth has been appropriated in contemporary cinema by the film Teeth, in which the central character discovers teeth in her vagina. Yoju Toshi includes a female character "with a chomping, teeth-filled vagina" (Matt Coyte, 2004) who is capable of "spin[ning] webs out of her fanged vagina" (Todd Tjersland, 1995). Gokudo Sengokushi: Fudoh features "a high-school girl shooting poison darts from her vagina" (Howard Hampton, 2005). Rabid features "a porn star with a man-eating vagina in her armpit" (Duncan Bell, 2005[a]). Zuma features "[a] horrible creature that has a vagina dentata instead of a face" (Pete Tombs, 1997). In Blue Velvet, a carved sculpture of a vagina dentata was used as a set decoration. There is a "vagina monster" in the film Schramm (David Kerekes, 1994). Kekko Kamen III features "Nude lady superheroes [who] fly through the air with kung-fu glowing vaginas! They land on your face and kill you!" (Todd Tjersland, 1995). A tooth is placed inside a vagina during a scene in Novo.
There are also vagina dentatas throughout contemporary popular culture. There is a band, for example, called VaggieMonsters. In the animated television series Drawn Together, Princess Clara has "a monster for a vagina" (Dwayne Carey-Hill, 2004). The novel Riddley Walker features a character with "teef be twean her legs" [sic.] (Russell Hoban, 1980). The Blue Noses Group's video Sex Art II includes an image of a woman wearing knickers featuring an image of a tiger's mouth. To promote safe sex, SuperSom magazine photographed a naked woman holding a mousetrap in front of her vagina. The Illustrated Book Of 'Country Matters' includes a Photoshopped image of a vagina with teeth. The sexist comic Smut has a strip titled Guillo Tina, the name equating the female character with a deadly blade, as in the figure of Mme Guillotine during the French Revolution: "SHE HAD A GUILLOTINE FOR A VAG" (200-). Colette Thurlow's zine Taxidermy includes the ode Vaginas Don't Bite (in issue #2, Bitches With Brains, 2007). Photographer Andres Serrano (who specialises in provocative and taboo-breaking images) has photographed a vagina with teeth (from a shark) stuck inside it, in a literal interpretation of the photograph's title Vagina Dentata: Vagina With Teeth: "The fears of the Other from a male perspective have been crystallised in Serrano's staged photograph of a vagina with teeth, the vagina that bites off and swallows the (erect and penetrating) penis. The vagina is the hidden orifice that castrates 'post-coitus' [...] female sexuality is constructed as an untamed and uncanny site of danger and horror not least as it is hidden from sight [...] it drastically shouts out 'cunt-hate' and 'womb-fear'" (Kerstin Mey, 2007).
In Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (1992), a character wears "a very small hypodermic needle" in her vagina as an anti-rape device. By affixing a spike to a tampon, Leif Lindell created a prototype model she called Femdefence (2003). Ira D Sherman's Impenetrable Devices series includes several similar rape-prevention mechanisms, including Intimate Electric Fence (capable of giving an electric shock to a rapist's penis), and the self-explanatory Saber Tooth Speculum and Bear Trap Corset. Sonette Ehlers actually mass-produced a similar product, called Rapex (2005), which was a female condom containing fish-hooks "that embed themselves in the penis in the event of penetration" (Duncan Bell, 2005[b]).
The motif has also been represented in more abstract manifestations. It is indirectly personified by the Etruscan demoness Culsu (who carries scissors) and the Alawan goddess Kunapipi (who swallows men with her womb), both of whom have names etymologically related to 'cunt'. Pablo Picasso painted a woman holding a tray of sea urchins, with the creatures as representations of the vagina dentata. A sea urchin in Un Chien Andalou has also been interpreted as a vagina dentata symbol. In L'Etoile De Mer, a vagina dentata is represented by a starfish which wraps itself around a sea urchin. Barbara Creed (1986) identifies the "monstrous vagina" in a diversity of film images: "the gaping, cannibalistic bird's mouth in The Giant Claw; the terrifying spider of The Invisible Man; the toothed vagina/womb of Jaws; and the fleshy, pulsating womb of The Thing and the [sic.] Poltergeist. What is common to all of these images of horror is the voracious maw, the mysterious black hole which signifies female genitalia as a monstrous sign which threatens to give birth to equally horrific offspring as well as threatening to incorporate everything in its path". Creed also notes the "malevolent womb" and "the all-devouring vagina, the toothed vagina, the vagina as Pandora's box" symbolised in Alien, and the "evil womb" suggested by witches' grottoes in Inferno and Suspiria.
Just as the iconography of the vagina dentata is still present in contemporary culture, the myth itself also survives. During the Vietnam War, for example, Vietcong prostitutes were rumoured to construct their own vagina dentatas: "American servicemen in Vietnam recounted hearing tales of prostitutes with razors, sharp glass, or even grenades in the vagina" (Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson, 2001). A fictional short story by Emily Prager, The Lincoln-Pruitt Anti-Rape Device, reverses this military urban myth, describing "an American servicewoman in Vietnam who engaged the 'enemy' in coitus and killed them with an intra-vaginal spike".
There have also been several positive appropriations of vagina dentata mythology by women, such as that of the Dragon Ladies performance group. The Dragon Ladies wear costumes with gaping, fanged mouths over their crotches, "exaggerat[ing] and mutat[ing] the ordinary into something fantastic and mythological" (David Kerekes, 1998). One of the most direct, and most positive, appropriations of the myth is that of the post-feminist Riot Grrrl zine titled Vaginal Teeth. There is also a feminist group in Denmark called Vagina Dentata.
The spectre of the vagina dentata is also evident in much of our contemporary slang vocabulary. Tim Healey cites 'fool's trap', 'venus fly trap', 'pencil sharpener', 'suck and swallow', 'fly cage', 'mousetrap', and 'cat' "that catches the mouse" (1980), a lexicon of metaphors which presents the vagina as a place of no escape. Similarly, James McDonald cites 'dumb glutton', 'biter', and 'vicious circle' as "expressions which humorously disguise an element of male apprehension about the vagina" (1988). Jonathon Green writes that "male fear and even hatred of the vagina persists unabated: emotions that are faithfully reflected in slang" (1993), citing examples such as 'snatch', 'snatch-blatch', 'snatch box'/'snatch-box', 'vacuum', 'sperm-sucker', 'wastepipe', 'fool trap', 'fly-catcher', 'bite', 'snapper', 'snapping turtle', 'carnal-trap', 'mangle', 'manhole', 'man-trap', 'prick-skinner', 'eel-skinner', 'eel-trap', 'mouse-trap', and 'skin-the-pizzle'. The perception here is of the vagina as an organ with "hidden dangers lurking within" (Erica Jong, 1973), ready to trap, snap, swallow, skin, or otherwise incapacitate the penis. Other examples include 'bite', 'pig's bite', 'Bermuda Triangle', 'beaver-trap', 'bear trap', 'paper cut', 'serpent socket', 'shark's nose', 'predator's face', and 'man-entrapment'. Jane Mills cites 'snatch' as "at first meaning bite [thus associating] the vagina with a snapping jaw" (1989), and Mark Morton notes that it "implies that a woman's genitals will grab hold of a man and devour him" (2003). The slang word 'clacker' compares to the vagina to a children's snapping toy. Barbara Creed (1993) finds the influence of the vagina dentata in the language used to describe women in general: "The vagina dentata also points to the duplicitous nature of woman, who promises paradise in order to ensnare her victims. The notion of the devouring female genitals continues to exist in the modern world; it is apparent in popular derogatory terms for women such as 'man-eater' and 'castrating bitch'" (however, she is perhaps too broad in her assessment, as she implies that any representation of women juxtaposed with teeth, - or, indeed, any representation of teeth at all - is also an allusion to the vagina dentata).