What Stace had to say on Friday, August 14th, 2009
The C Word

This article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, over at Emily Veinglory’s EREC blog. Then last summer it was published in the September issue of Lady Jaided, the Ellora’s Cave online magazine. But it occurred to me this evening that I’m quite proud of this little piece, and it should be on my site. So here it is.

The C Word

It’s a perfect word.

It’s evocative. It’s short. Its roots go back over 15,000 years. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Casanova were among its most famous literary champions.

And yet, cunt still gets the short end of the stick. So to speak.

In erotic romance, “cunt” is generally considered the division between sensual and erotic. Do you have forty sex scenes in your 25,000 word story? Do your characters say “fuck” and watch each other masturbate, do they use vibrators and have so much oral sex their jaws lock up? Great. That sounds sensual to me.

But do you have only three sex scenes and use the word “cunt” to describe your heroine’s love canal? Yes? Then you’re writing erotica, my friend.

Why is that? Why is it that one small word has the power to change sexy to erotic, to change arousing to offensive? And is it that offensive, really?

Most women seem to think so. Studies have shown that women find “cunt” to be the single most offensive word in the English language. (Seriously.) It’s forbidden. It’s absolutely taboo.

But what is forbidden is often what is most erotic, as well.

I never used to write it. I didn’t like to read it. Until I found a few erotic romances that used it, to great effect. My dislike of the word changed to–not indifference, because I don’t feel a word like cunt can ever inspire indifference–but more like approval. The word was forbidden. The word was direct. The word was a little shocking.

In short, the word was pretty hot.

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte is trying to woo that painter to her gallery? It’s an old man, and he proudly informs her that he’s been doing a series of paintings of cunts. Charlotte is, of course, stunned by this. He asks her to sit for him, and you can see she’s about to refuse when the old man’s cute-little-old-lady wife enters the studio. She’s holding a tray of lemonade and says sweetly, “I bet you have a beautiful cunt, dear.”

Think about that for a minute. “A beautiful cunt.” Think how you might feel if someone said that to you, in an obviously complimentary and admiring tone. Or a deep, dangerous, sexy one. Maybe if we think of cunt as a strong word, an arousing word, a descriptive word, instead of a nasty one, we can replace it in our vocabulary and our books and hold our heads high. Just hearing the phrase “beautiful cunt” made a difference to me, since we so often associate the word with less pleasant adjectives. But if we think of the word—and the objects—as beautiful…as something that deserves its own special, grown-up word…

That’s what cunt used to be. Chaucer used it in The Canterbury Tales, spelling it “queynte”. According to Charles Panati’s Sexy Origins and Intimate Things, “Chaucer believed the word was derived from ‘quaint’, which meant ‘a many-layered, in-folded mystery’.” Now really, what better way is there to describe a woman’s sexual organs than “a many-layered, in-folded mystery”? Can you think of another description as poetic, as accurate and lovely?

Of course, pre-Chaucer, cunt was a name. There are many families on the rolls in thirteenth-century England named “Cuntles” or “Clawcunte”, or many variations thereof. There were “Gropecunte Street”s or “Cunte Lane”s in medieval England as well. Clearly, the word’s meaning was fixed even over 700 years ago—it first appears in written record in 1066, but seems to have had a different meaning then, although “cunt” is derived from early language, when “kuni” or words like it were used simply to mean “wife” or “woman”.

Which is all very interesting, except it doesn’t mean much to us or help us. Women don’t want to see cunt. There’s an implication that if they do, they’re the type of woman who likes really graphic, nasty sex—the hardcore erotic stuff—instead of the lighter, sweeter, gentle-spanking kind of sex. (Which I think are the best kind of women, but hey.)

What’s a writer to do?

See, the problem is, “cunt” works so well. As I said above, it is evocative. It does give the reader a distinct message: this is going to be pretty graphic. This will be pretty hot. Isn’t choosing words to set a mood part of what we do as writers?

I decided to try using cunt. I wanted to see what t felt like to actually write it, to actually put that forbidden word on paper. Could I still turn people on when I threw a cunt bomb into my work? Could I still write scenes people would enjoy, even if a cunt bobbed up at them from the page?

To my surprise, it worked. And it wasn’t too bad. It was actually pretty sexy. And so exact! We’re always looking for words to describe or identify female body parts. Aren’t you tired of writing about slick folds or swollen entrances? Or channels, or tunnels, or whatever? Isn’t it hard to use “pussy” to describe both the vagina and the vulva (a word I don’t like, btw)?

This is where cunt fits in. I can talk about pussies and cunts as two separate (but obviously closely related) entities, and I can describe a vagina without adjectives but with a word that everyone can visualize. The many-layered, in-folded mystery of a woman.

I don’t use the word much; overuse deadens the impact and feels overdone, just as with any other word. But of late I’ve been abstaining, and I have missed it. All those folds and entrances just can’t compensate for the brevity and clarity of cunt.

I think it’s time we take “cunt” back. It’s time we allow ourselves to think of our sexual selves, our sexual parts, as deserving of an adult word (rather than the kittenish—and kind of childish—“pussy”). As able to see that some words have more than one meaning, and there’s nothing shameful in reclaiming such a rich history? There’s nothing shameful in possessing something as strong and powerful as a cunt, in saying that yes, we have this incredible body part, and it’s capable of amazing things, and we’re going to use a real, strong, mature, and age-old word to refer to it?

Say it loud! I have a cunt and I’m proud.


21 comments to “The C Word”

  1. Daniel Poeira
    · August 14th, 2009 at 8:58 pm · Link

    I do not have a cunt myself, but have always been quite fond of them, having explored many a cunt before settling down, getting married and having a son. But even as a married man, the cunt has not evaded from my life, and I am very grateful to my wife for being such a good cunt for me. One of the first things in her that made me fall in love was a “Clit Power” button in her purse, and we always have a lot of fun with her cunt.

    We will also be sure to teach our son the proper manners when dealing with a cunt. We don’t want him to grow up to be a dick.

    • Stace
      · August 14th, 2009 at 9:15 pm · Link

      I…I don’t know whether to laugh or blush, Daniel. :) But have you told your wife how much you appreciate her cunt?

      Thanks for stopping by! Nice to talk to you in more than 140 characters, hee.

  2. Michele Lee
    · August 14th, 2009 at 9:35 pm · Link

    Cunt is okay with me. Twat however…it’s a female equivalent of dick, as in “don’t be a dick”.

    • Stace
      · August 14th, 2009 at 9:37 pm · Link

      I don’t like “twat” as a euphemism, but I do like calling people twats. :) Yep, just like dick.

  3. driftsmoke
    · August 14th, 2009 at 9:40 pm · Link

    I am glad you posted this. I think I must have read it the first time you posted it, but it still hasn’t lost its punch. Best to you for being so smart. 😉

    • Stace
      · August 14th, 2009 at 9:52 pm · Link

      Well thank you! It’s always nice to be called smart. :) Yeah, I like this little piece. I’m glad I thought to dig it up, because it really should be on the site somewhere.

  4. Cora
    · August 14th, 2009 at 10:31 pm · Link

    As someone whose first language is not English, I don’t have a problem with “cunt” (and yes, I have one). To me it’s just a word, a word the meaning of which I learned relatively late, since schools and universities generally do not teach words deemed offensive. I have actually addressed the subject of taboo words, when teaching university, but I don’t dare do it with highschoolers.

    Hence, even though I know that “cunt” is a taboo word, it does not evoke the strong reaction in me it would evoke in a native speaker. As a matter of fact, I vastly prefer “cunt” to the p-word, which I find stupid and silly. I have used “cunt” once or twice in my writing (in comparatively mild historical erotica), but I refuse to use the p-word. I have used “twat” in writing, too, but only as an insult.

    Regarding Sex and the City, I don’t recall the episode you mention, but I remember one episode where the word was circumscribed with the rather silly “C U next Tuesday”, which they left untranslated in the German dubbed version, even though 95% of the viewer would have no idea what it meant. Hence, I always thought of “cunt” as a word so taboo that even Sex and the City could not say it directly. Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes also doesn’t say the word, but alludes to it. And considering that Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes are programs whose hero is known for saying incredibly rude and offensive things, the fact that they avoid “cunt” is very telling.

    I think the big problem is that the English language (unlike German) lacks a non-Latinate neutral word for the female genitals. Hence, writers are either stuck with silly euphemisms (which I personally hate), vulgarisms like “cunt”, “twat” or the p-word, which have the potential to offend part of the readership or “vagina”, which is the correct term (and the one I’d prefer in contemporary settings) but disliked by many readers.

    • Stace
      · August 15th, 2009 at 11:40 am · Link

      Yeah, I’m really not a fan of pussy. I think it belittles women, to be honest; it’s a silly, diminutive word. I hate the way my mouth crinkles up when I say it and the sibilance of it. It’s just bad.

      To be fair, the C-U-Next-Tuesday was a character point; Charlotte is fairly prissy so it was supposed to illustrate that. SATC has used the word before, but yes, every use generally illustrates the “women don’t like that word” trope, which I think is a shame, since they could have stood up for it and started to reclaim it.

      As for “vagina,” I just don’t like it in sex scenes. I’m not a fan of any clinical words in sex scenes, though; I don’t use “penis” either. There’s nothing wrong with it as a word, but I think if you use it in sex scenes you run the risk of sounding like you’re giving a lecture in Health class.

      Thanks! :)

      • Cora
        · August 15th, 2009 at 9:18 pm · Link

        I’d rather read “vagina” than a silly euphemism like “the flower of her womanhood” or – my personal favourite – “the fist of her femininity”, but that’s just me.

        As for “C U next Tuesday” in Sex and the City, I just found it funny that they left the euphemism in untranslated, even though 95% of the audience would not have understood it. As for the actual word “cunt”, it just occurred to me that since I’ve only seen the dubbed version it might have been lost in translation. As far as I recall, Sex and the City always used the German equivalent to “pussy” (similarly ugly), never the equivalent to “cunt”.

        Queer As Folk is the only TV show where I’ve actually heard the word “cunt” said.

  5. synde
    · August 15th, 2009 at 1:08 am · Link

    i love this article ..it’s the third tiem I read it and it gets better each time…

    • Stace
      · August 15th, 2009 at 11:42 am · Link

      Thanks Psynde! I actually think it could have been better–you know me–but I was limited a bit by word count as well. :smile:

  6. Lisa Hendrix
    · August 15th, 2009 at 1:10 am · Link

    You’re right, cunt is the ultimate taboo — and the ultimate insult when spat at a woman out of hate.

    I’ve been able to use the term “quaint” in my last couple of books because they’re set in the middle ages. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when my series moves up to more modern times (it covers 1000 years), but perhaps I’ll be able to slowly “adjust” spelling to move the word, and reader acceptance, toward the current spelling.

    • Stace
      · August 15th, 2009 at 11:41 am · Link

      Oooh, that’s very clever! I actually think “quaint” isn’t bad, either, but I’m afraid people wouldn’t know what I’m talking about, lol.

  7. Jenn Bennett
    · August 15th, 2009 at 1:26 am · Link

    Excellent post.

    I remember a couple of years ago when I was working in a creative thinktank job, and was brainstorming with several liberal women. We were all in our twenties/thirties and friends outside of work. Our brainstorming session trailed off-subject into silliness and we began trying to out-gross each other with names for female genitalia. I thought that the ridiculously offensive “cumdumpster” would have taken the cake, but it was cunt that shocked everyone into silence.

    • Stace
      · August 15th, 2009 at 11:44 am · Link

      And I just don’t get that! It’s like, we’ve been told the word is ugly so we assume it is, when it actually isn’t. I really dislike that the acceptable word is the one that reduces us to children (“pussy”) but the clear one is considered horrible. And yeah…”cumdumpster” is just awful. “Dumpster”? That’s really less offensive than cunt?

  8. Kinsey Holley
    · August 15th, 2009 at 1:28 am · Link

    I’ve just started using the word “pussy” in my writing but, like you, I really don’t like it. There’s something infantile, silly, about it. But I still have that “oh noes that’s a terrible word” hang up about cunt. I’m trying to get past it.

    Something I’ve always thought interesting – in American English, you can only call a woman a cunt. It makes no sense to use the term for a man. The opposite is true of “pussy” – in American English, a pussy is a weak man, but you’d never use it to insult a woman. And the English love the word “cunt” as an insult applied to men and women equally. I don’t think the English regard cunt with the same revulsion we do. It sounds weird to me, to call a man a cunt.

    I have no point to make with that. I’ve just always thought it kind of strange.

  9. writtenwyrdd
    · August 15th, 2009 at 7:36 am · Link

    Call me a guy, but used in writing sex scenes, the C word is a teriffic tool. I love the Chaucer meaning!

  10. kirsten saell
    · August 16th, 2009 at 3:44 am · Link

    You probably already know how I feel about that word. I adore it!

    Even look at the way the two words are used as insults:

    Cunt=heinous bitch, evil cow, AKA a woman who isn’t afraid to piss people off.

    Pussy=sissy, wimp, milquetoast.

    I’d rather be a bitch than a doormat. And I’d far rather be a cunt than a pussy, any day of the week.

  11. Tom Gallier
    · August 16th, 2009 at 9:34 am · Link

    I thought the C word was Constipation. Boy, am I out of the loop. 😡

  12. hagelrat
    · August 16th, 2009 at 11:45 am · Link

    I don’t really find any words offensive. I find plenty of people offensive that’s different. :mrgreen:

  13. Seeley deBorn
    · August 16th, 2009 at 7:20 pm · Link

    This is one of my fave pieces of yours.

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