The word's etymology is surprisingly complex and contentious.Like many swear words, it has been incorrectly dismissed as merely Anglo-Saxon slang: "friend, heed this warning, beware the affront Of aping a Saxon: don't call it a cunt! In fact, the origins of 'cunt' can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European 'cu', one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language.Kate Millett sums up the word's uniquely despised status: "Somehow every indignity the female suffers ultimately comes to be symbolized in a sexuality that is held to be her responsibility, her shame [...] It can be summarized in one four-letter word. Our self-contempt originates in this: in knowing we are cunt" (1973).When used in a reductive, abusive context, female genital terms such as 'cunt' are notably more offensive than male equivalents such as 'dick'.At the heart of this incongruity is our culture's negative attitude towards femininity.'Cunt' is a primary example of the multitude of tabooed words and phrases relating to female sexuality, and of the misogyny inherent in sexual discourse.Cunt: A Cultural History Of The C-Word is therefore intended as the first comprehensive analysis of this ancient and powerful word.'Cunt' has been succinctly defined as "the bottom half of a woman or a very despicable person" (Pentti Olli, 1999).
It can also be used as an adjective (to describe a foolish person), a verb (meaning both to physically abuse someone and to call a woman a cunt), and an exclamation (to signify frustration).'Cu' is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and forms the basis of 'cow', 'queen', and 'cunt'.The c-word's second most significant influence is the Latin term 'cuneus', meaning 'wedge'.Taboos relating to language are most readily associated with the transgressive lexicon of swearing.William Shakespeare, writing at the cusp of the Reformation, demonstrated the reduced potency of blasphemy and, with his thinly veiled 'cunt' puns, slyly circumvented the newfound intolerance towards sexual language.The same process took place in Mexico when the offensive term 'guey'/'buey' was "co-opted by the cool, young set as a term of endearment" (Marc Lacey, 2009).The Cunt-Art movement used traditional 'feminine' arenas such as sewing and cheerleading as artistic contexts in which to relocate the word.Despite its semantic flexibility, however, 'cunt' remains our highest linguistic taboo: "It has yet, if ever, to return to grace" (Jonathon Green, 2010).'Cunt' is a short, monosyllabic word, though its brevity is deceptive.In , Sigmund Freud's classic two-fold definition of 'taboo' encompasses both the sacred and the profane, both religion and defilement: "The meaning of 'taboo', as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions.To us it means, on the one hand, 'sacred', 'consecrated', and on the other 'uncanny', 'dangerous', 'forbidden', 'unclean'" (1912).