Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The "C" Word

 Cunt \kuhnt\ , noun;
1. The female genitals
2. Offensive slang: A woman considered sexually
3. Offensive slang: A mean or obnoxious person

I went to my first Vagina Monologues last week and was very impressed by the show. One monologue talked about reclaiming the word cunt, much like African Americans have done with the "n" word. The woman did a fantastic job, but I thought that I would just throw it out there that this word has not always had the nasty connotations that it does today. Don't get me wrong, it has been very taboo for a very long time, but not always. In fact, until the 1400's it was simply a common (though possibly somewhat crude) term for female genitalia.

The first known reference of this word in English dates to about 1230, and it was in the form of a street name in Oxford Gropecuntlane. The name stuck until the late 14th centuries and it was purportedly a place where prostitutes hung out. The Middle English form of the word was cunte, meaning "female genitalia" and its etymology is somewhat shaky. Some suggested forebears:
Latin cuneus ("wedge")
Proto-Indo-European base *geu- ("hollow place")
Proto-Indo-European *gwen- (the root of queen)
Greek gyne ("woman")
Latin cunnus ("female pudenda" or vulgarly "woman")
If it comes from cunnus, then the etymology there also uncertain. Cunnus may have literally meant "gash, slit", deriving from Proto-Indo-European *sker- ("to cut," literally "sheath") from Proto-Indo-European *kut-no, from the base *(s)keu- ("to conceal, hide").

This word has been avoided in public (a.k.a. polite) speech since the 15th century and has been considered obscene since the 17th century.

Apparently some 18th centuries referred to this word as "the monosyllable". In John S. Farmer and William E. Henley's Slang Dictionary, they list 552 English synonyms for "the monosyllable", plus 5 pages of French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese synonyms. Their entry for cunt, on the other hand, is quite short.

As a side note, Dutch slang for this piece of anatomy is quite poetic: Liefdesgrot is literally "cave of love" and vleesroos is literally "rose of flesh".

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