"The most heavily tabooed of all English words"
April 17, 2017 6:23 PM   Subscribe

An appreciation and exploration of the history, usage and context of the four-letter word beginning with C. NSFW.
posted by Devonian (94 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite


 
"The most heavily tabooed of all English words"

Spot the person that's never been to Australia.
posted by Talez at 6:26 PM on April 17 [34 favorites]


ANSI?
posted by gwint at 6:27 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Or New Zealand, it's not as common these days but saying someone is 'a good cunt' generally just means 'a good guy'.

Making it a gendered slur about a woman would sound strange in NZ english.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:32 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


It's a great word to lob at misbehaving machinery.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:35 PM on April 17


Or New Zealand, it's not as common these days but saying someone is 'a good cunt' generally just means 'a good guy'.

The phrase I've heard referring to this phenomenon is "where a mate is called cunt and a cunt is called mate".
posted by Talez at 6:35 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


Also, in the UK. Like if you called Piers Morgan an insufferable cunt you'd have far more people agreeing with you than people telling you not to use that word.
posted by Talez at 6:37 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


First time I heard it in the wild in Australia was a woman in a professional environment (University where were both teaching). She was telling an anecdote about her cousin throwing Shane McGowan out of a pub.
posted by kandinski at 6:44 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


[Folks, please just assume "American" goes in front of "English" in the title and please either read the article or skip the thread. A whole thread full of people talking about how it's not offensive elsewhere is going to get tedious damned fast. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:50 PM on April 17 [29 favorites]


CLAM
posted by Going To Maine at 7:00 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


If the post hadn't specified "four-letter word", I would have assumed the article was about Comic Sans.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:00 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries? I can't think of one, but I feel like it must exist.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:05 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Now "C is for cookie" is running through my head.
posted by Melismata at 7:06 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


Belgium?
posted by delfin at 7:06 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries?
I think that "spazz" functions this way.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:09 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries?

I think that "spazz" functions this way.


Stop doxxing my high school career (even if we did spell it with only one "z").

I generally do not appreciate adequately it's use in every day speech, but I do have something of an enjoyment of "cunny" during sex, as sort of an affectionate, yet naughty(ish), term.
posted by Samizdata at 7:13 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I liked this article but the references to non-English authors confuse me. Surely it's their translators who should be cited -- whatever Aretino or de Sade used it wasn't "cunt". And since the translators aren't named or dated (at least I didn't notice a citation), we don't know whether the choice to use "cunt" was a contemporary one or a modern one.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:14 PM on April 17


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries? I can't think of one, but I feel like it must exist.

Twat? Mainly because US people don't know what it means more than anything though. But in the UK it's probably one rung down the ladder from cunt, fuck, and motherfucker.
posted by Talez at 7:19 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries?

There used to be several. "Bloody" was verboten in the UK for decades, and "fanny," which in the US was a humourous word for "behind," was a non-humourous equivalent of "pussy" for Britons.
posted by bcarter3 at 7:22 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries? I can't think of one, but I feel like it must exist.

I'll admit that I don't know how offensive it actually is outside the US, but "fanny" is a pretty unoffensive word in the US that's used differently in the UK.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:23 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


was a non-humourous equivalent of "pussy" for Britons.

My Enid Blyton books don't lead this conclusion. Wasn't it a diminutive for Francis?
posted by Talez at 7:28 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Personally, I think minge sounds nastier than cunt. It's all about context though, innit?

I agree with the author of this piece about how aesthetically pleasing the word looks, " I adore that the first three letters (c u n) are basically all the same chalice shape rolling though the word until they are stopped in their ramble by the plosive T at the end", but having heard it used predominantly as an insult takes the polish off it.

One other synonym which wasn't mentioned in the article is something that my niece uses and never fails to make me laugh (I am a very childish nearly 50 year old). She was wearing a slightly too small onesy the other night and I mentioned that it might be a little uncomfortable to sit in and she said 'yeah, it goes right up me box' which I thought was hilarious.

I like the word 'cunt'. I often don't like how people use it. D.H. Lawrence had the right idea.
posted by h00py at 7:32 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


That was a far better piece of writing than I was expecting.
posted by bongo_x at 7:38 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Oh good lord, I spent about ten minutes in increasing confusion reading the comments and article until I finally realized I misread the title word "tabooed" as "tattooed."
posted by vegartanipla at 7:41 PM on April 17 [29 favorites]


Please just assume "American" goes in front of "English"

*sighs Britishly*, *thinks 'how quaint'*, *stifles giggle*, *accepts it*.

But what a brilliant essay and thank you for posting it.

Among other gems therein (it's all gems), there's a paragraph that perhaps explains the historical cleavage between the American English retention of the 'c' word as an intrinsically misogynist gendered slur, and such other dialects of English as Irish, British, Australian, and New Zealand English, where this usage has died out so completely that some non-American English speakers here on American Metafilter often need urgent remedial education to help them understand the extent to which they need to moderate their language here. The essay clears this up once and for all: by the seventeenth century, cunt was also being used as a derogatory synecdoche for women in England. American English preserves this seventeenth century usage, and this makes sense, since American English dates from precisely the seventeenth century. British English and others manifestly do not preserve this usage.

Not to get all King Cnut about it, but it does seem a shame that the prevailing wind seems to be an insistence that all dialects of English revive at least awareness of the seventeenth century usage: it would be far better if that usage died out completely.
posted by motty at 7:44 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


A few times I've worked with Brit's and Aussie's and they discussed being warned not to use it. Once a bunch of young guys showed up and a young woman who had arrived early said "Don't say Cunt" as literally one of the first things when they walked in. Pure comedy.
posted by bongo_x at 7:46 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Did you know there are three streets in Chicago whose pronunciation rhymes with vagina?

Paulina, Melvina, and Lunt.

This joke is naughty enough in American English, with its mere oblique reference to the c-word, that you cannot tell it at work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:51 PM on April 17 [19 favorites]


Um, I guess I did just tell it at work, but like other people's less cool works.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 PM on April 17 [18 favorites]


My British friends were highly amused when they visited the western US and a farm near our house had the word "SOD" in huge letters on a sign.
posted by mmoncur at 7:53 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


In the opening paragraph, how are The Vagina Monologues(2002) unreferenced?
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:10 PM on April 17


"The most heavily tabooed of all English words"

Spot the person that's never been to Australia.


As an Australian of 38 years, I must ask, is it you?
posted by adept256 at 8:12 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]




As someone who's spent time in pretty much every English-speaking country over the years, I can say with near-certainty that this is a US-only problem word, at least in terms of forbidden-ness.

My Australian, Brit, Jamaican, Icelandic and South African friends, for example, of all genders, either use it themselves or at least aren't offended by it. Heck, even pseudoamerican nations like Canada and the Bahamas, in which it's somewhat more vulgar, still have much less of a problem with it.

It seems to only be in the good ol' USA where it turns otherwise grown men and women into gasping antebellum belles with the vapors.

Since I can find no real pattern other than "USA or not USA", and not all* my friends are drunken louts, I have no real explanation for this. Some Puritan leftover, I suppose?

* Only the dearest, naturally.
posted by rokusan at 8:33 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Now "C is for cookie" is running through my head.

Unaddressed in the article: did "cookie" arise as a euphemism for vulva before this song, as a result of this song, or independently thereof?
posted by rokusan at 8:37 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


>Is there a reversal of this, a word that is relatively inoffensive in the US but beyond the pale in the other English-speaking countries

Well, 'spunk' is not as inoffensive in the UK as it is in the USA. I recently read that one of the soda giants trialed labeling its bottles "full of spunk" which was a dismal failure in Blighty.
posted by anadem at 9:22 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I've read that the trailers for Free Willy were met with sniggers in the UK. *zip*
posted by brujita at 9:26 PM on April 17


The solution for the vulgarity of this word can be found in Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, where he has the entry:

"Monosyllable - a woman's commodity"

The polysyllabic euphemism a clear reference to the word under discussion here. A bit of late 18th century English sexism.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:43 PM on April 17


As someone who's spent time in pretty much every English-speaking country over the years, I can say with near-certainty that this is a US-only problem word...

...It seems to only be in the good ol' USA where it turns otherwise grown men and women into gasping antebellum belles with the vapors.

Since I can find no real pattern other than "USA or not USA", and not all* my friends are drunken louts, I have no real explanation for this. Some Puritan leftover, I suppose?


The USA has a barrel full of problems right now, this one does not rate. Different things mean different things in different places.
posted by bongo_x at 9:49 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I have no real explanation for this. Some Puritan leftover, I suppose?

I'm fond of reminding people that the US was settled by people who were too uptight for the Brits.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:53 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


I misread the title as most heavily tattooed word. And thought to myself "do people really tattoo the word cunt on their body"?
posted by ShakeyJake at 9:54 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


> Well, 'spunk' is not as inoffensive in the UK as it is in the USA.

Amusing anecdote about that word: In 1985 I spent 6 months in the UK as an American exchange student, along with 25 other US university students. It was 1985, so this was at the height of Reaganism and Thatcherism; I was pretty anti-Reagan, but some folks in our program revered him. One such young woman got into a huge fight with a cab driver one night over the word "spunk" - she loudly proclaimed that Reagan was full of it, while her (older) cab driver thought she was an incredibly rude young woman who had had too much to drink, and shouldn't talk about her president that way. Needless to say, the more he told her to quiet down, the louder she became.

She only shut it down after someone - not me - pulled her aside and clued her in to the British usage of that word.
posted by mosk at 10:08 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


sighs Britishly*, *thinks 'how quaint'*,

Britain, Britain... that's where Geoffrey Chaucer was from, right? Canterbury Tales dude?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:10 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


By the seventeenth century cunt had acquired a shock factor, and one author who revelled in the deliciously deviate embrace of cunt was John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680).

Not an American bloke, you know. The rush to postfirst about the UK non-offensiveness of cunt might want to RTFA for a little more context.
posted by desuetude at 10:25 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


the deliciously deviate embrace of cunt

I see what you did there.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:41 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


[patiently waiting for Gwyneth Paltrow to find this thread and turn it into an ad for steaming or stones or some such...]
posted by Snowflake at 10:41 PM on April 17


As someone who's spent time in pretty much every English-speaking country over the years, I can say with near-certainty that this is a US-only problem word, at least in terms of forbidden-ness.



*cough*

CANADA!

*cough*
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:20 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


The solution for the vulgarity of this word can be found in Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, where he has the entry:

“Monosyllable - a woman’s commodity”

Wait, I’m confused - this entry seems to suggest that the word “monosyllable” is a bit of slang for a woman’s genitalia, but this comment is the only one to mention monosyllables.

Meanwhile, any discussion of the C-word shouldn’t skip out on Green’s Dictionary of Slang, the cool modern source for such info: noun (with many amusing derivatives), adjective, verb, and exclamation forms. (And, of course, the aforementioned monosyllable.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:50 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


On the 'spunk' tangent, in Australia, mostly in the 70's and 80's, spunky meant good looking. Here's a very 70's bit of pub rock as an example. I'm guilty of having said Leif Garrett was a real spunkrat in my much more innocent youth.
posted by h00py at 11:50 PM on April 17


Russell Ash found a whole family of Cunts living England in the nineteenth century

Did they all get to Ellis island and immigration said "No, we can't have that here" ? Did they die out? Even if they changed their name, where are the tombstones of the previous generations of proud Cunts?

Not buying Ash's book to check his source. I call bullshit.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:06 AM on April 18


Cunts - Aidan Moffat

We like to fuck and shag, we’re not into making love,
but I hope that she’d admit that we’ve done all of the above.
I’ve got a cock or sometimes willy, I’m referred to as her bird,
and she’s usually got a fanny, rarely any other word,
though you might’ve heard a pie once, or a bum-not-back-but-front, or even the odd snatch, but never once a cunt.
She only uses that word when it’s Scottish for amigo,
or to punctuate a sentence when deflating my wee ego.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 12:18 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


There was a young lady from Bude
Who went for a swim in the river
A young man in a punt
Grabbed hold of her shoulder
And said "You can't do that here, it's prohibited".
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:56 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]


*cough* CANADA! *cough* -- Phlegmco(tm)

Much more tolerated in Canada, Phlegmco, where it'd be considered, at worst, rude. In most of the USA it's practically a hate crime.

(Also, eponysterical.)
posted by rokusan at 1:01 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Britain... that's where Geoffrey Chaucer was from, right?

Obviously. An American would be Jeff.
posted by rokusan at 1:03 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


> "Cunt" is about as offensive in the UK as the comparable "prick" and "dick" are in the US
I see restless_nomad's admonition but in the light of the many assertions in this thread similar to that quoted I feel compelled to add a PSA from a born and bred brit who is happy enough to use the word cunt in moderation: do not say this word in earshot of any British person whom you would not wish to seriously offend unless you have good and specific reason to believe they won't mind. Especially in work situations.

posted by merlynkline at 1:04 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


Personally, I think minge sounds nastier than cunt.

Varies with the landscaping, in my experience.
posted by rokusan at 1:04 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Curb your Enthusiasm covered this.
posted by night_train at 1:15 AM on April 18


Another weird divergence is "slut", which American English still uses to mean "slag". In British English that usage evokes eye-popping hellfire preachers or purse-lipped maiden aunts. Whereas my mum might say, "Oh, I'm such a slut" when she hasn't mopped the kitchen floor for a while.
posted by Mocata at 2:11 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


An legendary exchange in the Australian House of Representatives some decades ago:

MP (representing a rural constituency):

"I am a country Member."

MP from opposing party:

"Yes, we remember."
posted by the duck by the oboe at 2:21 AM on April 18 [11 favorites]



Another weird divergence is "slut", which American English still uses to mean "slag". In British English that usage evokes eye-popping hellfire preachers or purse-lipped maiden aunts. Whereas my mum might say, "Oh, I'm such a slut" when she hasn't mopped the kitchen floor for a while.


I think that the "slattern" usage has been on the decline for decades, however. Possibly due to the influence of American English. Either way, I think that the primary meaning of "slut" in, at least, the under 30s, mirrors that in the US.
posted by howfar at 2:34 AM on April 18


In the opening paragraph, how are The Vagina Monologues(2002) unreferenced?

I believe the editorial meetings at the Daily Mail are called the Vagina Monologues because the editor, Paul Dacre, is so fond of the word "cunt" and uses it so freely.

I think I'll go and find out what Gropecunte Lane is called today.
posted by Grangousier at 2:51 AM on April 18


I feel compelled to add a PSA from a born and bred brit who is happy enough to use the word cunt in moderation: do not say this word in earshot of any British person whom you would not wish to seriously offend unless you have good and specific reason to believe they won't mind. Especially in work situations.

All true, but only for middle class contexts. Either side of that, you needn't be so concerned.
posted by Dysk at 3:02 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


See you next Tuesday.
posted by emelenjr at 3:04 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


> Well, 'spunk' is not as inoffensive in the UK as it is in the USA.

Unless of course if you're Lou Grant.
posted by octothorpe at 3:51 AM on April 18


Reads like some of a Louis C.K. act.

People really should be offended by intent, not the actual words. Patton Oswalt mentions this too. If someone says "I think it's ok if fags get married" and someone else says "people with alternative lifestyles can be normalized in blah blah blah" you cut the first guy some slack for just being a dope with good intent. Vs. the Machiavellian with the cloaked vocabulary.

I don't get why it became so offensive in the U.S. Watched part of Ken Burns' Prohibition when I had some time off. I get why the offense is taken and so ferocious. But...

I got chewed out for saying the C word. Not the C word, but the phrase "the C word" in reference to my mom at a restaurant. Woman just teed off on me.
And I cut people the same slack I expect. It was a misunderstanding so I sat there and took it, but she wouldn't stop. I mean, we were ready to settle the check and she's gonna follow us into the parking lot. So I said "I think my mother has CANCER."

That's a scary f'ing C word.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:58 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


The thing I like about "cunt" is that it seems a nice mirror to "cock", namely a word which is fun to say and is a strong, sharp word to say aloud, even separated from its cultural taboo. It kind of bugs me that nearly all "acceptable" slang words for "vulva" are diminutive or lacking in "power" when spoken.
posted by maxwelton at 4:16 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]


The only time it's been hurled at me as an insult was in the US. I was driving down the road in Austin TX looking for a place to park and stopped a few car lengths behind an idiot in a big-ass truck who was blocking the road, clearly intending to parallel park in a space there. So I waited and waited and waited for him to park so I could continue down the road, but we both just sat there, him in front of the space ready to back into it, and me well behind the space waiting for him to move his tank. After, I'm not exaggerating, 5 full minutes of this impasse, I finally said to hell with this shit, and pulled forward into the space, since he clearly didn't know what he was doing and I didn't have all day to sit there while he, I dunno, looked up how to parallel park on youtube. Whereupon he immediately screeched his truck back alongside me, completely red-faced, and literally spat the word "CUNT!" at me with incredible rage and vitriol before peeling off into the distance. How could he know that I had spent some years in England and in fact my British husband was sitting in the seat beside me and I've probably spoken that word more times in a single sitting than he's heard it uttered in his entire lifetime. So we just laughed, but then did sit a few minutes in case he decided to circle back and damage the car out of revenge, since it was a rental.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 4:48 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


I'm always interested whenever people claim that it's normal usage here in Ireland because I don't think I've ever heard it from any of my whole extended family - plenty of other cursing, naturally, but not "cunt". Certainly, that's partly a class thing, since we're mostly middle-class. But anecdotally, from overheard bus stop conversations and the like, I associate the use of "cunt" with a certain extra dose of malevolence and misogyny compared to standard cursing, and as far as I'm concerned it's still a gendered insult which I don't expect to ever use.
posted by Azara at 5:17 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


As an Australian of 38 years, I must ask, is it you?

Born and bred in Western Australia for the first 28 years.
posted by Talez at 5:18 AM on April 18


People really should be offended by intent, not the actual words.
The thing is, I can't see into your heart. I have no way of knowing someone's intent, except by interpreting cues from their behavior. And in the US, cunt is a word that is used to convey vicious, often violent hatred of women. And because I can't peer into other people's souls, that's what I have to go on when American men (and it is typically men) use that word. When I hear cunt from an American guy, I assume that he may want to kill me. And I totally hear you that it shouldn't have those connotations and that we'd all be a lot better off if it didn't have those connotations, the way that it doesn't in much of the rest of the English-speaking world, but it does, and that's the context I'm dealing with right now. It would be great if it would be reclaimed, but in the meantime, I'm going to act on the information that is currently available to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:36 AM on April 18 [20 favorites]


Is it okay if, as a US male, I refer to other men as "good cunts" to mean "good dudes"?
posted by saysthis at 5:40 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


At minimum, you are going to get the side-eye. But sure, go ahead try it and then report back.
posted by rtha at 6:04 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


Relevant podcast ep from lovable genius Helen Zaltzman: Allusionist 4: Detonating the C-Bomb.
posted by that's candlepin at 6:23 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


It's not only class which governs its use in Britain, but also how well you know the individual you're addressing.

As a man, I might sometimes affectionately tell a close male friend that he's "a silly cunt", but I wouldn't use the word when talking to a male stranger. It would risk causing unintended offence (because for all I know he objects to swearing) and imply a level of friendship between us which I had not earned. When used aggressively as an insult to another man, it still carries a considerable charge - and might well lead to a punch in the mouth.

I can't imagine any circumstances in which I'd call a woman a cunt, however well I knew her or however affectionate my usage was intended to be. It simply doesn't carry the same tone of friendly exasperation in those circumstances.

How (if at all) women use the word when no men are around is something I'd be interested to hear more about. Surely this can't be the whole story?
posted by Paul Slade at 7:05 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Can confirm that we women do in fact use the term when men aren't around, yes, though much less usually as a term of endearment.
posted by Dysk at 7:09 AM on April 18


> The thing is, I can't see into your heart. I have no way of knowing someone's intent, except by interpreting cues from their behavior. And in the US, cunt is a word that is used to convey vicious, often violent hatred of women. And because I can't peer into other people's souls, that's what I have to go on when American men (and it is typically men) use that word. When I hear cunt from an American guy, I assume that he may want to kill me.

This. I don't get the vapors over the word itself. I am pretty free with profanity in general. And personally, I'm quite fond of using "cunt" as a sexytimes word on my own terms. But as an insult, its purpose in the US is an implied threat of violence. I do sometimes shoot back with "cunt isn't an insult" with a snort of derision, but I'm not typically in a situation where that would be safe or effective. I don't think that personally adopting a UK level of casual usage is going to keep men from violently calling me a fucking cunt when I don't appreciate their catcalling.

And honestly, I'm not terribly fond of the the reductionist aspect of its "affectionate" use in the UK, either. (And for everyone in the UK/Australia who swears that everyone and their mum uses it freely with absolutely no malice and completely divorced from its meaning, there's another who demurs on that. As seen above.)
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


It's a bit simplistic to say that cunt is only used outside the USA in a non-inflammatory, non-discriminatory, non-misogynist way. I've lived in New Zealand over a decade and I for sure have heard men here call women cunts, and no it was not like "Ha ha what a larf I mean it like some other non-offensive thing." It was meant to be a misogynist slur. I appreciate that cunt can be meant in other ways too, but it's not like it's never ever not used the way it is in the states.

Also, please please please, if you are an English speaking dude not from America, please do not throw the word around when you are in the States. It is not cute, and women in the USA rightly hear it as a hateful threatening slur. I know more than one person who refuse to modify their behavior while Stateside, and I cringe when I think of the women who have to that word come out of their mouths.
posted by supercrayon at 8:01 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Britain... that's where Geoffrey Chaucer was from, right?

Obviously. An American would be Jeff.


I was thinking of the his puns on queynte.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:31 AM on April 18


As someone who's spent time in pretty much every English-speaking country over the years, I can say with near-certainty that this is a US-only problem word, at least in terms of forbidden-ness.

I don't think the word is used all that much in Canada, although as a pre-apprentice gasfitter 25 years ago I was often instructed to adjust this and that by a "c-hair".
posted by My Dad at 9:11 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


If you say it three times in front of a mirror in a dark room, the spectre of Mary Whitehouse may appear and try to have you deported.
posted by delfin at 9:21 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


(And for everyone in the UK/Australia who swears that everyone and their mum uses it freely with absolutely no malice and completely divorced from its meaning, there's another who demurs on that. As seen above.)

You see this a lot in part because it is commonplace in large segments of society that are often erased from popular consciousness. It's in part the desire to be recognised and not have our culture flicked under the carpet as unacceptable and not spoken of.
posted by Dysk at 9:56 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


Bummed. "I got really bummed when grandpa stayed with us last weekend" has a very different meaning in the UK.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:42 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


You see this a lot in part because it is commonplace in large segments of society that are often erased from popular consciousness. It's in part the desire to be recognised and not have our culture flicked under the carpet as unacceptable and not spoken of.

I went to my local public high school which was lower middle class and half bogan. My male bogan friends from high school use it on Facebook to refer to each other with reckless abandon.
posted by Talez at 10:42 AM on April 18


'pudding bag’ (1653)

The mind recoils.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:45 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Is this where I mention "fanny packs" and wait for UK folks to chortle?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:58 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "cunt" is still the king of swears in non-Quebec Canada, but it seems like we don't give quite as much credence to bad-language being capital-B Bad up here. Like you don't say "fuck" in church, but my mom and I pepper our sentences with "fucks" in casual conversation with one another, which I gather is not really a thing in the USA.

That said, cunt is recognized as having a strong misogynist flavour up here as well, and that carries with it extra taboo. You won't be sent to HR for using "fuck" in a meeting in Canada (though it might be considered inappropriate), but "cunt" or, almost equally, "bitch" would probably result in an uncomfortable email.
posted by 256 at 11:04 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


In Quebec, interestingly, English swears like "fuck" and "cunt" are used frequently, but they all carry roughly the weight of "darn," with sacres being reserved for actual swearing.
posted by 256 at 11:08 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Not that anybody ought to care, but I had to adjust to the use of "vagina" to refer to what I usually thought of as "vulva." And "cunny" to me, is a sweetheart word, as in, "Ah, what a sweet cunny you have."

Kevin "Bloody" Wilson, the Australian comedian and song writer, tells the story of his first gig in Canada. Before the show, he was presented with a document that described acceptable limits of "adult" entertainment in Canada....words and topics considered obscene, and therefore to be avoided on stage. Near the top of the list, says Wilson, is the word "cunt."

So, when he went to his hotel room to rest up before the show, and decided to write a new song, which he entitled "You Can't Say Cunt in Canada." I guess you can find this song somewhere on You Tube. Something about Aussie humor goes right to my funny-bone. I also liked Wilson's "Ho ho, Fucking ho" contribution to Yuletide's goings on.
posted by mule98J at 11:20 AM on April 18


There is also a "cunt splice", which reminds me that Patrick O'Brian's writing features some of the very best natural cursing in English literature.
posted by My Dad at 11:22 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Is it okay if, as a US male, I refer to other men as "good cunts" to mean "good dudes"?

American (and native Bostonian) comedian Bill Burr uses it regularly in this way, at least on his podcast. Is it a Boston thing?
posted by fuse theorem at 1:24 PM on April 18


Is it okay if, as a US male, I refer to other men as "good cunts" to mean "good dudes"?

I mean, at best you get with being moderately transgressive and, at worst, you seem like an asshole and make people feel extremely uncomfortable. I guess I don't see the value proposition.
posted by 256 at 1:30 PM on April 18


Not that anybody ought to care, but I had to adjust to the use of "vagina" to refer to what I usually thought of as "vulva." And "cunny" to me, is a sweetheart word, as in, "Ah, what a sweet cunny you have."

Exactly my use of "cunny" except, as I said, with a bit of wickedness to it for fun.
posted by Samizdata at 1:33 PM on April 18


C-U-N-T

The portions of a woman which appeal to a man's depravity
Are constructed with considerable care,
And what appears to you and me to be a simple cavity
Is really an elaborate affair.

Now doctors of distinction have examined these phenomena
In a number of experimental dames
And listed all the little things in feminine abdomina
And given them delightful Latin names.

There's the vulva, the vagina, and the jolly perineum,
And the hymen which is sometimes found in brides.
And a lot of other gadgets which you'd love if you could see 'em,
The clitoris and other things besides.

What a pity then it is, when we common people chatter
Of the mysteries to which we have referred,
That we use for such a delicate and complicated matter
Such a very short and unattractive word.
posted by ridgerunner at 3:03 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


And for everyone in the UK/Australia who swears that everyone and their mum uses it freely with absolutely no malice and completely divorced from its meaning, there's another who demurs on that.

It's a bogan (='white trash'? I guess?) usage and is less common than it used to be. (E.g. 'these cunts were all in the carpark doing donuts and some cunt called the fukken pigs and they scattered like roaches'). You'd hear it in a pub or a garage or w/e, not in an office.

And calling someone a cunt can also be a severe insult, though one that is directed to behaviour rather than anatomy, e.g. dick suggests someone's being oblivious and thoughtless, cock suggests someone's being a brash asshole, cunt suggests someone's being malicious (yes, ikr)

I also have a friend who sings in a all female covers band and apparently their leader has the habit of caroling 'cunts into gear ladies!' when it's time to go on stage.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:52 PM on April 18


You see this a lot in part because it is commonplace in large segments of society that are often erased from popular consciousness. It's in part the desire to be recognised and not have our culture flicked under the carpet as unacceptable and not spoken of.

I'm coming from the opposite direction - there are all too many people out there who love In Bruges and assume that every Dubliner talks like Brendan Gleeson's hitman.
posted by Azara at 5:13 AM on April 19


Maybe over the other side of yer ocean there, but over here, you're far more likely to run into people going "oh no, that word is unacceptable here as well! why, you'd be fired if you said it to your fellow suit-wearing office worker!" completely overlooking and erasing anyone who isn't white collar.
posted by Dysk at 5:31 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


« Older What doesn't kill you....   |   The Good, the Bad and the Very Good Beaver Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments