What gives ‘cunt’ its offensive power?

The offensive power of words. Don’t forget to emphasize the T.

Strong Language

The following is a guest post by Kate Warwick.

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It’s definitely a hand grenade of a word, especially in speech. But is it just the literal meaning of cunt which makes it so offensive? Linguistically, there are other elements of the word which contribute to its force: connotative layers of meaning, its sound and the impact on the hearer.

From the 11th century’s rather off-puttingly named Godwin Clawecunte[1] to the 21st century’s complete cunt, the word has clearly undergone some meaning extension; from literal or denotative to abusive or connotative. It’s notoriously difficult to pinpoint change, of course, but the development of connotative meaning can be seen in Pepys’s 17th century use to mean a sexually active women, ‘he hath to sell such a pouder as should make all the cunts in town run after him’.[2] Later, in Manning’s First…

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The smeg effect

The thin white line between vulgarity and mundanity is disappearing.

Strong Language

Smegma.

“Ewww”?

I hope so. Smegma isn’t a very common word, perhaps partly because so many of us are circumcised. But what it names (a cheeselike secretion that accumulates under the foreskin and around the clitoris – it’s also called dick cheese) is disgusting and prurient.

The disgust is something that gets worn off with repeated use, however; words lose their vividness as they become fixed idioms. Here, compare these two:

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Action in scene|Shop Talk

I’ve been thinking a lot about action in scene lately. Turns out I’m not the only one. In fact, according to this gem of a post I found on The Writing Garden, one of my favorite contemporary authors, Chuck Palahniuk, has some great advice on the subject: It’s all about eliminating thought verbs. I’ve reposted it here as I find the font of the original to be difficult on the eyes. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Action in scene|Shop Talk”