The word cunt is an extremely vulgar slang word for female genitals or a woman in general. Outside the U.S. and Canada, cunt is sometimes used as a slightly less taboo insult for a stupid or unpleasant person, including men.
For women who have reclaimed the word, cunt is a powerful statement of female power and sexuality. However, cunt remains one of the most offensive words in English because of the way it reduces a women to her sexual organs or treats female sexual organs with contempt.
First known reference in English apparently is in a compound, Oxford street name Gropecuntlane cited from c. 1230 (and attested through late 14c.) in "Place-Names of Oxfordshire" (Gelling & Stenton, 1953), presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Used in medical writing c. 1400, but avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c.
Do not study the original Cunt-Ups before beginning this process. Each instance of cunting is a new encounter, not a reinscription. Each person who cunts will impart her unique DNA. (All persons who cunt are female, regardless of the gender they present in ordinary reality.)
Print out prose block. Fold in half, top to bottom, so you have 15 lines on each half. Rip in two (ripping against a ruler expedites the process and results in a nice, clean edge). Fold these two pieces in half, left to right, rip again. You should end up with four quadrants of equally distributed text. Choose two quadrants for your cunt-up. Randomly choose two quadrants of porno-erotic source text. For the top half of your page, combine a quadrant of poem with a quadrant of porno-erotic text so they line up perfectly, then tape them together. Left or right positioning is up to you. Repeat for bottom half of page. Then tape together top and bottom halves of page. You should end up a prose block the same size and shape as your original prose block. Retype and rework until something interesting emerges.
When you cunt a text, both texts are devoured, both are spit back up stunned by their new undulations, their hybridity an act of endurance and of disappearance, meanings evaporating behind them like a trail of smoke. Monstrous, unashamed, the new text mobius-strips itself, sprouts long silvery corkscrews of hair, walks barefoot over gravel, gold lunula glinting about its throat. Its lips they are not one.
An ancient title of respect for women, the word "cunt" long ago veered off this noble path. Inga Muscio traces the road from honor to expletive, giving women the motivation and tools to claim "cunt" as a positive and powerful force in their lives.
In this fully revised edition, she explores, with candidness and humor, such traditional feminist issues as birth control, sexuality, jealousy between women, and prostitution with a fresh attitude for a new generation of women. Sending out a call for every woman to be the Cuntlovin' Ruler of Her Sexual Universe, Muscio stands convention on its head by embracing all things cunt-related. This edition is fully revised with updated resources, a new foreword from sexual pioneer Betty Dodson, and a new afterword by the author.
In your addendum you write "Our ancestors had little understanding of gender fluidity and understood cunt as being female" I respectfully put forth that "our" ancestors often had more complicated gender analyses, as many of the people who read this are not British or European and come from cultures that do not necessarily associate cunts with women.
I recall reading - years ago - that "cunt" might be derived from (IIRC) coney, meaning rabbit. The article pointed out that other small furry animals are used as names for women or female genitalia. The article may have been far less well researched than this one; but did you consider that derivation?
Love this essay Kate, just a bit of additional historical information - the use of "cunt" as a term of endearment was pretty commonplace in my East Midlands childhood and youth in the 50/60's and it was ubiquitous in the London factories where I worked int he late 60's "all right you old cunt" was a friendly morning greeting - what the hell happened!?
"Cunt" has always been my favorite word for the vulva because, for some reason, it manages to express all the beauty, mystery, and splendor of that lovely organ. (I actually remember where I was and what I was doing the very first time I heard it. I was in first grade and a classmate used it in reference to that part of the anatomy of a girl in our class with whom I was madly in love. I instantly formed an indelible association in my mind, therefore, with that specific word, with the body part to which it refers, and with the intense passion and amatory love that I felt for that girl.) I cannot agree with either of the two elements of Francis Grose's description of "cunt" as "a nasty name for a nasty thing." Neither the word nor that which it describes is "nasty" but the very opposite. The sentiment in which both the word and that which it describes are considered nasty is by no means universal. Personally, I have never understood the use of "cunt" as a pejorative because I have always associated it with something I adore - worship, even. And I particularly detest hearing women using that word as a pejorative for exactly the same reason that I detest hearing blacks using "nigger": it smacks of internalized self-hatred. When I was young, it was common to refer to a male who was an all-around jerk and anti-social person as a "prick." That has now been replaced by "dick." To me, the use of the terms for both female and male genitalia as pejoratives speaks to our species' collective discomfort with our genitalia, and yet the particular association of these terms with a particular sex or gender undoubtedly reinforces sexist stereotypes. To call someone a "cunt" is not the same as calling someone a dick. Similarly, when we compliment a man's (or even a woman's) courage, we say "he has balls." But we never say "he (or she) has ovaries," do we? That is yet another example of how sexism and patriarchal culture both shape and in turn are reinforced by language.I, for one, say it's time to reclaim "cunt" and I welcome this brilliant essay (and congratulate its author for her stunning scholarship) as a step in that direction. On the other hand, does it really matter what we call it? As Shakespeare (speaking through Juliet) said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." To which I say, Amen.
Excellent summary, much of which I've heard before as an amateur at linguistics (no pun intended) but with a great deal of piquant detail. I'm going to try to share this on Facebook, but as you may suspect, their algorithms are cunting awful.
There are loads of histories of cunt available and they all cover the same ground - etymology, gropecunte lane, Chaucer, Rochester, Shakespeare, Lawrence and the Exorcist. It's not like Rees is the first scholar to do this history.
As other comments have noted, this is very similar to the section of Emma Rees's 'Vagina: a Literary and Cultural History' which documents the use of the word cunt, it's history and various euphemisms.
why has the level of intercourse deteriorated to one upmanship and who said what first? you are all beginning to sound like boring fucking cunts.go out and get your cunt fucked or fuck a lovely cunt you fucking tight lipped wankers.jc
John Cassidy, "trolling" is agressive arguments played out in public online (e.g., on Twitter, Facebook, or indeed here). Typically, the aggression is unpleasant and intimidating. No idea how the word gained this meaning - perhaps that's the next word who's history is worth studying after "cunt"?
I couldn't get through a day without saying the word cunt. I have argued about the word with no less than Stephen Pinker, and I've been fired for suggesting to my supervisor that she was being a cunt. What a cunt!I want to make sure that you've listened to Derek and Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) whose use of the word is like heaven itself.
What a wonderful piece. I grew up sneaking black lace and nexus books into my parents house and reading them under the covers so to me the world cunt was never offensive. As an erotic writer now I sometimes use this word in my more fringe pieces. Sadly the mass market still prefers more flowery adjectives but I will slip a cunt in when I can. Thankyou so much for this wonderful piece of writing.
Incredible read! In my own research I am convinced that cunt is on of the oldest words in the human language. I have found it in every single language family, and almost every single language. The original usage did not include a t. That entered in as the word passed through the Middle East. Linguists cannot see this because they are trapped by the dogma that languages cannot show a common root and any words that old would be lost to time. But the word is clearly evident in every continent. I suspect that it originally referred to both genitals, And that early man had an understanding of equality-----2 halves to a whole. There are various languages where the root changes gender, or covers both genders. There is another word, puki, which is also scattered around the world.
Hi, I just reading your article. I've written a book for teens (I know, this is horrible self promotion) but I feel like you might be interested in it because part of it is about the word cunt. The book is called The Most Dangerous Thing.
Lovely article. The only paragraph I was unsure about was the one about the Marquis de Sade: he wrote in French, so how does that relate to the history of the English word? Unless you want to make a point about his translator/s using the term cunt to convey what he said in French.... in which case it would be good to say so. 781b155fdc