Why Steph Loves Cunt: An Adventure in Etymology
Executed For Sodomy, a play about a woman living (and loving) as a man, devotes a large part of its prose to describing the false phallus she uses to penetrate her wife. As a counterpoint to the description of male genitalia (albeit of the ersatz variety) I wanted to look at words used to describe female sex organs, and argue the case for my favourite misunderstood noun…
I love the word ‘Cunt’. It’s a word that still retains its shock-value long after the fucks got forgettable, the sluts ceased to surprise and the cocks cornered the market in ‘inoffensively risqué’ dramatic sensibilities. It may be the implicit bluntness of the monosyllable or the apparent masculinity in the sound it makes when shouted, but Cunt is still considered the most offensive curse in the English language and the only term that instantly catapults a ‘15’ certificate to a dead cert ‘X’. That’s not why I love it, though. I love it because it speaks to my sexuality in a way that feels more accurate than other, more flowery terminology. Sexually, I don’t feel like an incomplete spectre hovering around waiting for the next penis to sustain my identity. My desire is independent. Sometimes it likes to be explored with another person; other times on its own. It’s always best expressed however honestly, directly and without apology, and here’s why Cunt is the best word to complement that.
Cunt is often considered at its most offensive when used to describe a woman as a whole. I would have to agree that any use of a word that also refers to genitals to summarise an entire human being is pretty bad form. Even when used to refer to the very thing it was developed to describe though, Cunt is generally thought of as a vulgar way to refer to a lady’s parts. I even had a boyfriend once who asked me not to use it to describe my own genitalia as he felt it was almost self-violent to do so.
If we dig a little deeper into the history of the term though, it becomes more apparent how wonderfully feminist and appropriate it is. Certainly less violent and reductive than Vagina, in any case.
Vagina comes from the Latin for “sword-sheath” or “scabbard”, and refers only to the internal canal. It’s considered less offensive in polite society, but the word Vagina not only reduces a woman’s sex to simply an orifice; ignoring labia, vulva and clitoris, but automatically defines female sexual experience as something that only happens when a man has the good grace to be present. By likening the female sex to an item developed for a single purpose, Vagina describes an object with no sexual autonomy of its own. A “sword-sheath” has only one purpose: to wait around looking pretty until someone decides to shove a sword in it. It’s passive, inert and functional. A pretty hollow term for a hollow view of the female body.
Cunt however, takes in all the bits and pieces, folds and textures of the vulva, acknowledging a woman’s sexual expression doesn’t begin and end as a sperm receptacle. It’s expressive, inclusive and a thoroughly feminine term. Though the exact etymology is still hotly debated, many agree that the prefix “cu” is synonymous with the female, and Matthew Hunt describes how “coo” and “cu” “were ancient monosyllabic sounds implying femininity” on his website ‘Cunt: The History of the C Word’.The Online Etymology Dictionary also reveals the potency of the single syllable, as it tells us some 18th century writers only referred to the term as “the monosyllable”, further highlighting the staying power of the word by listing other less successful terminology. Just think of a world where we still called our nether parts “nature’s tufted treasure” or “Fumbler’s Hall”…So not only does Cunt carry the meaning of the whole female sex, it does it with just four-letters, packing a direct and attention-grabbing punch. It’s certainly preferable and more stylish than the infantilising “pussy” or nauseatingly coy “frou frou”.
I much prefer a word that encompasses my whole genitalia as the seat of my sexual pleasure. And if I find myself on an erotic adventure in which only my vagina is getting attention, you can be damn sure it isn’t my sexuality that’s being expressed. For that I need the Cunt, the whole Cunt and nothing but the Cunt. Well, occasionally a penis too.
How do you feel about the word Cunt? Do you use it, and under what circumstances? Are there any words you prefer? Let us know by leaving a comment or tweeting us: @TheatreLGBT