It’s one of the few words in the English language that still has the power to shock. But why? Grab a cuppa and savour Sadie Hasler’s brilliant defence of a good cunt. Warning: contains the word cunt.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe you just said that, Sadie,” said a 23-year-old girl I used to teach.
“What? That I no longer go to Bellinis, because last time I went there a man touched my vagina, uninvited?”
“No! That you just used the word cunt for your vagina.”
I was baffled. Why was this woman, over a decade younger than me, so shocked by my using the C word in its correct context? “Ugh. Bellinis. I haven’t been there since a man touched my cunt at the bar,” I said, just an unthinking ejaculation of fact while discussing where to hold some birthday celebrations.
Maybe my brain is skewed, but I would have thought the fact that I had my vagina molested by a stranger at all would be more shocking than me calling my own cunt a cunt. Would she have been as shocked if I’d chosen the C word to verbally reprimand the assailant himself, or was it the fact I had used it for its more rustic anatomical purpose that offended her so?
Now, and pardon the palpable nostalgia, I’ve had my cunt touched, uninvited, in numerous bars over the years, and once on the tube. Each time I have been, in my younger years, too polite to say anything, and have merely moved away and pretended to myself that they “didn’t mean to do it”. It’s what the amenable girl does. But you sort of know when your pudendum is being touched, don’t you? And what’s more, the person who is touching your pudendum knows they are doing it too.
“I’m overusing the word here for a reason, you know. I don’t actually want to bash people round the head with it; I’m not that flexible.”
Now that I am a far less amenable woman than the girl I was, I like to think I would now say something along the lines of, “Hey, stranger, how about not touching my cunt?” Or lay them out flat with one well-aimed punch to the cock. But perhaps no one wants to sexually assault me now I’ve reached my mid-30s. (Isn’t this the age we start going all butter-eyed over the good old days of being goosed by perverts, ladies? Sigh.)
Where was I. Oh, yes. Cunt.
I’m overusing the word here for a reason, you know. I don’t actually want to bash people round the head with it; I’m not that flexible. But I am using it for its actual thing, as the noun it is intended to be, so that those of you (still) reading this who don’t like the word might find it a bit less shocking by the end when I might have made some sort of point. You see, I write this with a semi-guilty conscience. Because I don’t think I use cunt in the proper way.
I of course use it (occasionally) for the thing itself: the vagina, the noo-noo, the ladygarden, the Jack and Danny (who were they by the way; tailors to the British twat since 1837?), the fanny, the quim, minge, pussy. Et cetera. (None of them are particularly nice, are they?) My most common personal term is the rather insipid ‘girlbits’. And I would sooner use cunt than fanny (yick).
This may sound bizarre, but because of its disreputability, I actually find cunt is the least imbued of all the terms. It’s the most direct word for the thing it represents. The rest are all either ludicrous, or ‘little girly’; pandering to the submissive nature of the welcoming orifice of male fantasies. A cunt is strong; a cunt is just a cunt. Just my opinion of course. Use what you will, and enjoy.
Despite all this, I also use cunt in a way that still has the ability to make me feel ashamed. It is a word of massive potency after all, even for those who use it a lot. I hate that it is used – by me included – as a derogatory term for, well, arseholes. It seems an unfair synonym; they are completely different holes after all. I don’t think anyone would mind the exit route for their waste material being used to describe a person you don’t like, but I think women should oppose cunt being used in a similar manner. I think we should take charge of using it in positive scenarios, such as:
On good sport: “Woah, Venus Williams really cunted that one out.”
On good baking: “Oh my, Mary Berry, that carrot cake is so cuntulent.”
On good partyparty: “That is the cuntliest dancing I have seen in a long time. You’re practically bloody Beyoncé.”
On watching a good presidential inauguration speech: “Girl done good. Girl done cunt in fact.”
That kind of thing.
I don’t want you to think I’m a complete heathen. I had my spell of abhorring the word too. For years I thought it was the mark of absolute moronity. But then I slowly stopped being offended. Then I slowly started using it. And now (apologies Mum), I use it rather a lot. In all sorts of ways. I like it. There. I’ve said it. I love cunt and am moving to Brighton.
“There are no bad words. Bad people, yes. Bad intentions, bad intonations, bad contexts, definitely. But bad words, no.”
So why did I start being ‘OK’ with it? Two reasons I think. I think discovering I loved writing, thus writing more, and then writing more and more, and realising that writing is my love for all time, the thing that engages, excites, inspires, drives and confounds me the most, I have embraced the exhilarating belief that no word is off limit. I don’t believe there are any bad words. I believe there are just bad ways of using them. It’s very liberating. There are no bad words. Bad people, yes. Bad intentions, bad intonations, bad contexts, definitely. But bad words, no.
Cunt was once just an ordinary word. It even appeared in the names of streets: Gropecunt Lanes featured around the country in the middle ages as a mark of what industry took place there (the oldest profession since time began, as the saying goes). It just journeyed off into infamy via a series of social extractions. Somewhere between Chaucer’s use of ‘queynte’ and the time Shakespeare was stitching his legacy deep in the fabric of the English language, ‘cunt’ had become an obscene word to be danced around; references to it had to be mischievously and creatively hidden within the text for the audience to root out for their own delectation and disgust. It did not appear in any dictionary between 1795 and 1961, and it was only in 1972 that the big boy Oxford English finally deigned to include it.
I think other than beginning to respond to it differently in a literary sense, I also began to respond to it differently in a very literal sense when I became sexually active. Something happens to a girl when she fucks (properly) for the first time. I’m not talking about the first fumbly forays where everything’s a bit jumbly and confusing and you’re just figuring out what to put where. I mean when you really start fucking. Something gets set free, kicked into motion. Instinct. Biology. Body-juddering lust. And when I began having sex regularly, properly, aged 17, words that had only been used for swearing suddenly started making sense. Explicitness took on real meaning and real potency. As a teenager, dick was always used to describe someone being stupid. Prick, same. Cock – same. Twat, same, but not often used. Pussy meant coward, but only boys used that. And cunt was an absolute no-no. Nuh-uh. No way. Disgusting. Foul. The mark of an ape, a bastard, a thicko, a lout, a thug.
It took me years of being unrepentantly galled by anyone who used it to realise, actually, I quite like it. If I was being insulted, it would take something a great deal more creative than a somewhat lazy C word. I’d need a full sentence, strung together well with some nice surprises, minimum. (In fact I think the real dangerous words aren’t weary nouns, but timeless verbs: if someone said to me, “stop writing”, I’d die on the inside. That’s not an invitation.)
“Isn’t it odd that we should have been so averse to using words concerning our own lady parts?”
Cunt drums up a lot of support. In defending it, those with basic training will bring out their “Chaucer used it, you know. Yes. It had a Q, of course” argument. Good old queynte. The more well-read can come out with a thoroughly impressive diatribe about its origins and bring us from some ancient proto-Germanic/Indo-European root (pick your etymological argument, you hot fucks) right up to present day and make even the most staunch advocates of primness forget why they even had an issue in the first place, leaving them stubbornly bleating, “I just…don’t like it.” like the lagging losers who harped on that the world was flat.
And some of us, the more mid-ranging intellects, can just say we like the sound of it. We like the punctuative frisson in the middle of a normal sentence, we like the consonantal kick, the surprise, the bawdy pub aptness, we like calling someone we can’t abide this fantastic frowned-on curse word.
We like the fact it’s subsiding into common parlance, that it still feels a little bit naughty but doesn’t quite cause a whole room to stop with a sharp intake of breath like we’ve just kicked a crippled orphan in the face. But especially, if we’re honest, and let’s be honest, we like it when the right someone uses it in its baser sense. When their tongue is buried in you or when they’re slamming hard into you making your skull shake with rapture. If they stop to tell you you have a beautiful cunt, it’s like stars joining hands in the heavens and doing the can-can.
It’s a good word. And it’s a good word for an excellent thing. The female parts. Mysterious, internalised, intricate, longed for, fantasised about, the holy grail of all flirtation, utterly functional, cauldron of biological alchemy, where we all come from, our earliest commonality. Isn’t it odd that we should have been so averse to using words concerning our own lady parts?
That is why I think it’s up to women to use it and shape its future. We shouldn’t leave it like a dirty flag with dim men down the boozer screaming at doomed football matches. Our cunts are better than that. Smarter and prettier. Cunt is to women as nigger is to black people. We get to choose how it is now used. Don’t let it be dirty and hateful. Let’s make it awesome.
One day I suspect we’ll barely remember why we found the word so offensive, and new words will have taken its place. Our language never stays still. It is our history, our proof of where we’ve been, a sign of where we’re going.
Words are like flashing indicators of where we might turn a little way down the road, but there’s no guarantee we might not change our minds and swerve off. Words are slow movers, behemoths, glaciers, old oaks, but they are also lightning, tiny molecular ferrets up your trouser leg, shooting stars on a slow night. Words can be whatever we want them to be. Even, and sometimes especially, Cunt.
READ MORE: Kathy Salaman has learnt the hard way about swearing in front of the kids: http://standardissuemagazine.com/lifestyle/swearing-more-a-blessing-than-a-curse3448 Views
Sadie is a playwright, actor, columnist, artistic director of Old Trunk theatre company, and frequently discombobulated multi-tasker.