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The C-word wasn’t always so offensive
Posted: 27 February 2013 07:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Slate’s Explainer explains with the help of Anatoly Liberman of the University of Minnesota, Jesse Sheidlower of the Oxford English Dictionary, and Ben Zimmer

Nice word history.

edit: Thanks Jheem!

[ Edited: 27 February 2013 08:13 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 27 February 2013 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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You used a mailto in your link which opens up the email client rather than taking you to the page (link).

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Posted: 27 February 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for the link, oeco. Most enjoyable, especially thingstable for constable, I hadn’t heard that one before.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The “thingstable” example strikes me as a situation where the would-be censors appear to have dirtier minds than most of the general public.  It wouldn’t have even occurred to me that “constable” was a candidate for euphemism, let alone that it needed to be euphemized.

I found the BBC survey of offensive words interesting.  Although the c-word is highly tabooed in the US, I doubt it would have trumped the n-word here (and I certainly suspect that more than 42% of survey-takers would have marked the n-word as “very severe").

Having said that, I think there is, at least in the US, a commonality between the taboos against the n-word and the c-word, and this may explain why the c-word is so strongly tabooed.  The c-word, I think, is tabooed at least in part because it (especially when used by a man as a term of abuse for a woman) is seen as conveying an attitude of contempt towards women in general, and not just a dislike of a specific woman.  The term is associated with sexism, and, thus, it is not only tabooed because it is a vulgar word, but also because it is associated with a tabooed social and political attitude.  I don’t know precisely how, or why, the c-word became associated with sexist attitudes, but, at the risk of indulging in a MWAG (Mongolian Wild Ass Guess), I would presume that it happened the same way other words took on such connotations: the word was used enough times by enough people in contexts that clearly conveyed contempt towards women (and it was said with just the right tone, inflection, and sneer) that, over time, it took on that association.

[ Edited: 27 February 2013 10:30 AM by Svinyard118 ]
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Posted: 27 February 2013 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I used to hear the word a lot when I lived in London. Directors were always calling their male voice talent “cunts"… never heard it said to a woman.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 02:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I haven’t ever heard a man referred to as a “cunt”, at least in person, although I’ve certainly heard men call other men “pussies”.  However,” cunt”, as a term of man-on-man mockery, is evidently not unheard of in the US, as there was an episode of the (thoroughly Leftpondian) show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, where the creator and star of the show, Larry David, referred to a man as such (because he behaved in a way that Larry considered non-masculine).  I have no idea how common this particular usage is in the US, but I suspect that, as with so much else, YMMV.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I would have said the use of the word to refer to a man was vanishingly rare in the US, but HDAS has a fair number of citations of that sense, running from 1860 to 1987. So it does have some currency over here, even if I’ve rarely heard it.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Most enjoyable, especially thingstable for constable, I hadn’t heard that one before.

It doesn’t work in my ear because I would say (and hear) KAHN stible rather than CUNS tible. It took me a while to get that.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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When I worked as a building laborer in the U.K. (admittedly, several decades ago) the words “fucking"and “cunting” were practically the only words used as adjectives in conversation at work. There was no direct sexual connotation at all. “Fucking” was used without particular emphasis; anything could be “fucking” - one took the fucking bus to work, one collected one’s fucking pay packet; here comes the fucking tea-can; pass the fucking shovel, Harry. When, for any reason, the emotional temperature rose a degree or two, “cunting” was added: “You dropped the fucking cunting brick on my fucking foot --- cunt!” “Cunt” was used in direct person to person address, as an aggressively contemptuous term of abuse. I recollect a joke heard from old Army colleagues: Sergeant (whispering furiously to new recruit on church parade): “Tek yer ‘at off in the ‘ouse of the Lord—cunt!”. But this was work-place language. I do not think my mates used those words in that way at home, or in the presence of women. And I never heard any of my mates refer to any woman (whether “respectable” or not) as a “cunt” --- nor do I think it would have occurred to them to do so. Moreover, using “foul language” in the presence of women would have been considered shocking bad form, even among the most unlettered of my work mates. Class distinctions (stronger then than now, I think, in Britain) also had a great deal to do with choice of language. I rarely, if ever, heard the words “fucking”, “cunting”, “cunt” used by my fellow-students at University.

I recognize, though, that if these notes are of any interest at all, it will be purely historical. Times change. Autres temps -autres moeurs, as Britain’s nearest neighbors say.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dellightful, Lionello, as always.

And I never heard any of my mates refer to any woman (whether “respectable” or not) as a “cunt”

This is what brought the issue to the fore. At the Oscars, the humorous paper “The Onion” tweeted about the 9 year-old girl who was the youngest candidate for an Oscar, “She’s a cunt!” they removed the tweet and apologized. Several here have pointed out that this is why the word is so ugly here on this side of the waters. We ONLY use it to refer to women (except for the HDAS reference Dave cites). and woman, rightly, absolutely hate it. Unless, of course, they use it about each other.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The “thingstable” example strikes me as a situation where the would-be censors appear to have dirtier minds than most of the general public.

Would-be censors always have dirtier minds than most of the general public, Svinyard118.

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Posted: 01 March 2013 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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It’s interesting to note that much of the content of the introductory piece that oeco referred us to, is remarkably similarly to that used in Mark Morton’s book “Dirty Words: The story of Sex Talk,” published in Canada in 2003 (and copyrighted in 2005). Morton was at that time assistant professor of English at the University of Winnipeg.  In his book (pages 204 through 234) he gives extensive coverage to the word under discussion, in the chapter entitled, “Down in the Valley.” Dave, perhaps Morton is still in your bailiwick.

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Posted: 01 March 2013 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Morton’s book is published in the US and Canada under the title The Lover’s Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex. (I hate it when they change titles for no good reason. It just confuses things.)

Morton is now at the University of Waterloo, which is closer than Winnipeg.

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Posted: 03 March 2013 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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So the toff was driving, or rather, being driven, through a seedy part of town that he had been visiting for seedy reasons. The Rolls was stopped at the lights when a hobo rapped on the rear passenger window.
The toff ignored it for a while but eventually wound down the window. “‘Ere, ‘gov,” said the hobo, “can you lend us five quid?”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Shakespeare,” said the toff. The window glid back up, the lights turned green, and the car pulled away.
Sadly, the toff’s driver had to stop at another red light and eventually the surprisingly energetic hobo had caught up to them, and was again rapping on the window insistently.
The toff sighed, and lowered the window yet again.
The hobo cleared his throat and spoke. “Cunt. D.H. Lawrence.”

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Posted: 03 March 2013 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Glid? That form of the past tense of glide is new to me. Is it an Aussie usage, OP?

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Posted: 03 March 2013 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Glid is archaic British, as is the joke…

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