In some contexts, 'cunt' remained a socially acceptable word until very recently: "in rural areas [of England in the 1960s] the word was still being used as an ordinary everyday term, at least when applied to a cow's vulva" (James McDonald, 1988). Similarly, David Crystal (2007) notes that the word has a widespread, though not ubiquitous, forbidden status: "There is an English four-letter taboo word beginning with the letter c which is so sensitive still, in the minds of many, that if I were to print it in full in this book I would cause unknown quantities of upset and complaint. [...] In Caernarfon, this same word is used among some sections of the population as an amiable form of address". Indeed, Eric Partridge, writing in 1931, proclaimed 'cunt' "a very frequently used word - one used indeed by a large proportion, though not the majority, of the white population of the British Empire".
However, besides these location- and usage-specific exceptions, 'cunt' has been the primary English language taboo for over five centuries. I have attempted to ascertain approximately when the word first became taboo, and have also documented the history of its media censorship.
The censorship of 'cunt' is a cyclical process: initially, the word was socially acceptable, then it became taboo, and more recently it can be found with increasing regularity in both print and broadcast media. This gradual mainstream acceptance represents an erosion of the word's taboo status.
'Cunt' was used medically by Lanfranc, who, in the early 15th century, wrote: "In wymmen [the] neck of [the] bladdre is schort, [and] is maad fast to the cunte" (14--). Two hundred years later, however, the 'cunt' taboo was firmly in place: Minsheu rendered it "Cu [and] c" ('Cu etc.', 1617) and John Fletcher resorted to "They write sunt with a C, which is abominable" (1622). It is not possible to unequivocally identify the date from which 'cunt' first became taboo, though Mark Morton (2003) provides a rough guide: "Up until the fourteenth century or so, cunt appears not to have been a taboo word. [...] By the fifteenth century, however, the word cunt seems to have shifted toward the taboo. [...] Near the end of the seventeenth century, the word cunt was firmly ensconced in obscenity".
Southwark's 'Gropecuntelane' dates from 1230, indicating that, at that time, the word may have been bawdy but was not obscene. Similarly, the earliest example of a 'cunt' surname is that of Godwin Clawecunte from 1066, and the latest is Bele Wydecunthe's from 1328. Lanfranc, writing one hundred years later, does not disguise the word, though Geoffrey Chaucer does.
Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, employs the deliberately faux-archaic spelling 'queynte' (variants: 'queynt', 'qwaynt', 'quaynte', 'queinte', 'coynte', and 'coint'; modern spelling: 'queint') as a substitute for 'cunt'. Eric Partridge suggests that, to form 'queynte', "Chaucer may have combined Old French coing with Middle English cunte or he may have been influenced by the Old French cointe" (1931), and Mark Morton suggests a link to 'quaint', though the simplest explanation is that Chaucer added the 'nte' medieval suffix of 'cunt' to the feminine 'qu' prefix. William Shakespeare's "acquaint" in his Sonnet XX (1609[a]) is a disguised reference to both 'quaint' and 'cunt'. Andrew Marvell uses similar literary camouflage in To His Coy Mistress, with a reference to "quaint honour" (1653):
"Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Three hundred and fifty years later, an If... cartoon by Steve Bell also disguised 'cunt', this time by rendering it as the faux-French "QUEURNT" (2003). Perhaps this comic example adds a new dimension to Chaucer's 'queynte', which can be seen as a similarly exoticised rendering of 'cunt'.
The Canterbury Tales, which are full of more minor swear words such as 'shit' and 'piss' though not the tabooed 'cunt' (except in disguised form), were written at the very end of the 14th century, thus it seems that 'cunt' was an acceptable term throughout the Middle Ages, becoming taboo during the late 14th century. Peter Fryer contends that "it has been avoided in written and polite spoken English since the fifteenth century" (1963), and Jonathon Green's C Is For Cunt (a chapter in Getting Off At Gateshead, 2008) explains that, after circa 1500, "Cunt persisted, but now only in taboo". There was almost certainly a period of transition, during which the word's status gradually changed from acceptability to unacceptability, just as, five hundred years later, it is in transition again, from taboo to reacceptability.
Swearing And Cunt Censorship
The earliest recorded linguistic taboos are Middle English blasphemies such as ''slids' ('God's eyelids') and ''sfoot' ('God's foot'). It is interesting that these early curses were related to parts of God's body - the eyelids and feet - as contemporary swearing has become secularised though bodily taboos have remained: from eyelids and feet we have moved to erogenous zones such as 'cunt', 'cock', 'tits', and 'arse'.
Whilst the church exercised considerable power over society in the Middle Ages, its authority diminished following the Reformation of the 16th century. With this revolutionary iconoclasm came a reduction in the potency of religious profanity, thus, for example, the insulting term 'devil' was significantly weakened: "the first use of devil as 'merely a term of reprobation', sometimes playfully applied, [occurred] after the main ructions of the Reformation" (Geoffrey Hughes, 1991).
The transition from religious to secular swearing, reflecting the concurrent transition in society, changed the boundaries of linguistic taboo. Religious curses ('damn') were replaced by taboos relating to bodily functions such as sexual intercourse ('fuck') and excretion ('shit'). In the 20th century, these in turn were joined by new taboos relating to 'politically incorrect' language, including homophobic ('queer'), sexist ('bitch'), and racist ('nigger') abuse. Interestingly, when an Australian footballer hit the headlines for his use of the phrase "black cunt" (Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, 2006), he was condemned for his racist language rather than for his use of the c-word: "reports [...] of the incident made no reference to the use of cunt. It was the racial abuse that triggered the uproar".
In Swearing, his history of profanity, Geoffrey Hughes notes that "genital, copulatory, excretory and incestuous swearing" has now largely replaced religious oaths: "[the] great and obvious force behind most medieval swearing was Christianity [...] the grisly invocation of Christ's body, blood and nails in the agony of the Crucifixion seems as grotesque and bizarre to us now as modern [...] swearing would have seemed to medievals" (1991).
Jesse Schiedlower traces the history of swearing from religion to sex and beyond: "Throughout the centuries, different topics have been considered incendiary at different times. Several hundred years ago, for example, religious profanity was the most unforgivable type of expression. In more recent times, words for body parts and sexually explicit vocabulary have been the most shocking [...] Now, racial or ethnic epithets are the scourge" (1995).
In The Curse Of The C-Word (2001), Mark Irwin calls 'cunt' "THE ULTIMATE INSULT" and "the most obscene non-racial English curse" (2001[a]), though he also suggests that racist insults such as 'nigger' may eventually replace 'cunt' as the ultimate taboo: "Even in the 1970s, ['nigger' appeared in] TV sitcoms and in print - even in children's books - while the words fuck and cunt were never seen [...] The move from religious to sexually orientated [swear]words took place 300 or so years ago in English [and a] hundred years from now, words such as cunt and fuck may be viewed as quaint oddities" (2001[b]). In The Aristocrats, a fictional vaudville act is named "the Nigger Cunts" (Paul Provenza, 2004) precisely because 'nigger' and 'cunt' are, at the time of writing, the two most offensive English words.
After the Reformation, literary censorship was performed by the Privy Council and theatrical censorship was the portfolio of the Master of the King's Revels. Mindful of these restraints, William Shakespeare's references to 'cunt' are all in disguised forms. Thus, in Measure For Measure, we find 'counsellors' used as a pun on 'cunt-sellers': "Good counsellors lack no clients" (1603[b]). Similarly, in Henry V, Katharine confuses the English terms 'foot' and 'coun' ('gown') with the phonetically similar French 'foutre' ('fuck') and 'con' ('cunt'), calling them "mauvais, coruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d'honneur d'user. Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France, pour tout le monde" (1599).
In her analysis of Shakespeare's sexual puns, Pauline Kiernan (2006) has identified references to 'cunt' in the most innocent-sounding phrases: she translates Shakespeare's "tallow-face" (from Romeo And Juliet, 1597[b]) as "greasy-cunt", and his "vocativo [...] Genitivo" (from The Merry Wives Of Windsor, 1602[b]) becomes "vocative-Cunt [...] Genitiv-Cunt".
In Twelfth Night, Malvolio virtually spells out the word: "By my life, this is my lady's hand! these be her very C's, her U's, and her T's" (1601[b]). Sir Andrew Aguecheek understands the cheeky allusion: "Her C's, her U's, and her T's: why that-", though he is swiftly interrupted by Malvolio before he can state the obvious. 'C', 'U', and 'T', of course, spells 'CUT'; the missing 'n' is contained in the 'and' of "and her T's", with 'and' "no doubt be[ing] pronounced 'en'" (Peter Fryer, 1963) to heighten the similarity. Shakespeare's "carved" in The Taming Of The Shrew (1596) is an indirect reference to 'cunt', as the definition of 'carved' is 'cut'.
Four hundred years after Shakespeare, 'cut' and 'cunt' were still being confused. David Lodge punned on 'Silk Cut' with his phrase "Silk Cunt" (1988). John Spellar delivered a speech in the House of Commons, as reported by Simon Hoggart: "[Spellar tried to say] "We recognise that these cuts in the defence medical services had gone too far," but he inserted an unwanted letter "n" in the word "cuts". It still made perfect sense" (2000).
'Cut' was itself a recognised euphemism for 'cunt' in Shakespeare's time, and there are three reasons for this: firstly, its almost identical spelling; secondly, its meaning as 'water channel', alluding to the vagina and its fluids; finally, its meaning as 'wound', which alludes to the vagina as a gash. None of these reasons persuaded Dover Wilson, however, as he steadfastly maintained that Shakespeare's 'CUT' was merely "a typographical error for C-U-E" (Eric Partridge, 1947). A further 'cut'/'cunt' pun was provided by Thomas Middleton, whose A Fair Quarrel includes a reference to "callicut" (1617).
Case Study: Country Matters
Shakespeare's most famous 'cunt' pun is from Hamlet, when the Prince asks Ophelia: "Do you think I meant country matters?" (1602[a]), emphasising the first syllable of "country" to make the allusion clear. In the unlikely event that his audiences should fail to detect the 'cunt' in "country matters", Shakespeare qualified it with Hamlet's leery references to Ophelia's groin: "Lady, shall I lie in your lap? [...] my head upon your lap? [...] between maid's legs".
Ophelia, however, responds dismissively: "I think nothing, my lord". Undeterred, Hamlet describes "nothing" as "a fair thought to lie between maid's legs". Ophelia is fully aware of his double-entendres, commenting sarcastically: "You are merry, my Lord". The allusion in her 'nothing' reference is a little convoluted: 'nothing' can mean 'zero', which is represented numerically by the digit '0', which can also be seen as a graphical representation of a vagina. Furthermore, 'thing' is a euphemism for 'penis', thus "nothing" can indicate 'no thing' ('not a penis', thus 'a vagina').
Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson devote an entire paper to Hamlet's 'country matters' passage: Obscenity In Hamlet III.iii: "Country Matters" (1996). They recount the attempts to remove or weaken the passage in various theatrical productions of the play: "Hamlet lying on the ground at Ophelia's feet or between her legs [has] caused performers and audiences such anxiety and distress that sometimes some and at other times all of the lines associated with the image should have been cut in many eighteenth- nineteenth- and even twentieth- century productions. They were also cut in a number of expurgated editions of the play and continue to cause problems for recent editors who cannot choose to cut them and are moreover obliged to comment on them".
The 'problem' of the clear 'cunt' reference in 'country matters' has been dealt with historically either through emphasis or omission. Richard Burton, in his bold interpretation of Hamlet, "not only spoke the suggestive lines directed at Ophelia at the start of the play scene, but spotlighted their obscenity by giving exaggerated emphasis to the first syllable of 'country'" (John A Mills, 1985). Steven Berkoff (1989) went even further - he paused between the first and last syllable of 'country', and noted the suitably shocked reaction of the audience:
"Do you think I mean count-
Maison Bertaux went further still, as his production repeated the 'country matters' lines over and over, varying their delivery each time.
Scholars have always been cautious in embracing these most indelicate of the Bard's allusions: "editors of even scholarly editions frequently shied away from sexual glosses" (Stanley Wells, 2001). Laurie E Maguire writes that successive Shakespeare editors have relied upon "the safe refuge of Latin euphemism. Thus "pudenda" appears frequently in footnotes [though] it is not [...] pudend[a] but a slang word for the female pudendum, and we have an exact equivalent today: cunt" (2000). Typical of this evasive trend is William Blackstone's footnote to Twelfth Night's 'CUT' pun: he mentions that "some very coarse and vulgar appellations are meant to be alluded to by these capital letters" (1793), though he does not reveal exactly what those "coarse and vulgar appellations" are. Even the annotations of modern editions do not explicitly connect 'CUT' to 'cunt': Michael Davis merely notes that "These letters [...] can provide coarse amusement" (1966). Regarding 'country matters', Edward Dowden writes coyly: "I suspect that there is some indelicate suggestion in country" (1899). Writing almost a century later, Philip Edwards defines 'country matters' with misplaced literalism as "the sort of thing that goes on among rustics in the country" (1985), though he does go on to cite the "sexual pun in 'country'". Phyllis Abrahams and Alan Brody's somewhat bizarre explanation is that the phrase "probably refers to the sexual activities of barn-yard animals" (1968). The most specific notation is that of Harold Jenkins, who comments on "a popular pun on the first syllable" of 'country' (1982). Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson, in their survey of Shakesperian footnotes (1996), credit an annotated reprint of the Hamlet first quarto as the first version to explain the link to 'cunt' by printing the word in full: "1992 does see the culminating moment of editorial frankness when Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey finally print the word "cunt"". Pauline Kiernan has no reservations in translating the offending phrase as CUNT-RY MATTERS (2006).
Like Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer also suffered from posthumously euphemised annotations and translations: "in the Miller's Tale, a young Oxford don named Nicholas is making advances to a girl named Alison. Chaucer says forthrightly, "He caught her by the queynte." Robert Lumiansky, translating, says, "He slipped his hand intimately between her legs." This [...] is still bowdlerism" (Noel Perrin, 1969).
Prince Hamlet's phrase 'country matters' was actually rendered as "contrary matters" in the play's first quarto version (1603[a]), though 'country matters' has since become almost a household phrase, and its longevity endures in many punning newspaper headlines. For example, Jay Rayner's rural restaurant review in The Observer (2001) was headlined Country Matters, as was a letter in Private Eye (2010). There have also been several Country Matters headlines in The Guardian: one for a letter in 2001, a second for a review by Mark Lawson in 2001, and a third for a letter in 2002. Country Matters was also used as a chapter title in The Guardian Year 2000, as the title of a column in The Week magazine, and in the title of Oliver Maitland's book The Illustrated Book Of 'Country Matters' (2000). It was also the title of a BBC Radio 4 sitcom in 1994.
'Cunt' and 'country' (pronounced 'cunt-ry', 'cunt-ree', or 'cunt-er-ee') are phonetically rather than etymologically related, though, coincidentally, the Old French for 'country' and 'county' are 'cuntree' and 'cunte' respectively. Alan Bold has compared 'cunt' and 'country' in relation to Shakespeare's Hamlet pun: "'Cunt' is regarded as unlovely while the word 'country', which contains it, is the word for all things bright and beautiful. Even Shakespeare, hypersensitive to verbal sound, exploited the similarity of the two words" (1979).
The Bard's use of 'country' as a suggestive pun on 'cunt' was not limited to Hamlet. In The Comedy Of Errors (1590) we find: "she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her", and in Henry IV (1597[a]): "The rest of thy low-countries have made a shift to eat up thy holland". In this last example, "low-countries" is a reference both to the phonetics of 'cunt' and also to the vagina's position in the lower half of the body.
Outside the realm of literature, the similarity of 'cunt' and 'country' has been highlighted by Billy Connolly, who called himself "the man who put the 'cunt' in 'Country music!" (1979), and by Rowan Atkinson, who has been introduced as "the man who put the 'tree' back into 'Country'" (1980). Lily Savage once joked that she would release an album called "Total Country" (Terry Kinane, 2000), and Sarah Nelson recorded a song titled Cuntry Music (2004). The chorus of Hog Whitman's The 'C' Word Song includes the line "She put the 'cunt' back in 'country'" (2002). Hannah Wilke created a performance/installation titled My Count-ry 'Tis Of Thee in 1976. Shooter Jennings posed in a 'PUT THE O BACK IN C UNTRY' t-shirt and released an album called Put The O Back In Country ("Let's put the 'o' back in 'country'", 2005) because he felt that "country [music] is in a kind of cunty place right now" (Alexandra Jacobs, 2005). The Ike Reilly Assassination released a song titled They Really Put The Cunt Back Into Country (200-), a comment on American Country music's overt nationalism. Country music singers Rosanne Cash and Hank Williams III have both enlivened their concerts by calling for the 'cunt' to be put back into 'country'. Erotic Review published Rebecca Riley's Another Cuntry (2009), a pun on 'another country'. Stephen Fry punned on the imaginary word 'cuntricide' with the fake definition "'Countryside': to kill Piers Morgan" (John Naismith, 2002). A poster featuring comedian Jerry Sadowitz transformed 'Your Country Needs You' into Your C*nt He Needs You and, of the many slang phrases referring to the groin being 'down below', 'low-countries' and 'county down' also allude to the similarity of 'cunt' and 'country'.
In the Australian parliament in 2001 (reported by Simon Carr in 2005), Winton Turnbull announced: "I'm a Country member!", to which Gough Whitlam replied: "I do remember" (punning on 'Country member' as 'cunt, remember?'). English politicians are less linguistically liberated, as Alastair Campbell deleted all of Tony Blair's uses of the the word 'cunt' from his published diaries and Peter Mandelson self-censored his acerbic comment "total cunts" to the less caustic "total chumps" (Pedigree Chumps, 2010).
A missing 'O' caused problems in the headlines Protecting Thanet's Cuntryside (in Adscene, 2000) and Discunt Tickets For Russian Jet (in the Wilts And Gloustershire Standard, 2012), due to subeditors' typographical errors, and a similar misprint occurred when a Leicestershire Council press release was headed Cunty Councillor Ian Morris (2002). In an episode of Wheel Of Fortune (2007), the display once read "C UNT", as the featured phrase was "COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS SHOW" and the contestants had not yet asked for an 'O'. A split-second example of a missing 'o' can be found in the title-sequence of Countryfile: the letters of the title are displayed in various computer-generated combinations, including "C untryfile" (Sarah Eglin, 200-). In a television commercial by Chevron (2005), the 'o' of 'countries' was replaced by a round magnifying-glass, rendering the word as "c untries". A company called 30pTones sells a telephone screen-saver featuring the slogan 'ORANGE COUNTRY CHOPPERS', with each 'O' replaced by a wheel to render the slogan as ' RANGE C UNTY CH PPERS' (2005). Country Music Plus magazine and Country Grain bread both employ logos in which the 'o' of 'Country' is enveloped inside the capital 'C', giving the appearance of 'Cuntry Music Plus' and 'Cuntry Grain' respectively. The logo of Town + Country Surf Designs renders the 'o' of 'Country' as a filled circle, resulting in 'C untry'. A Royal Porcelain billboard in Bangkok replaced the letter 'O' in its slogan with a globe, so 'OVER 60 COUNTRIES' became " VER 60 C UNTRIES" (2012). A Bangkok Community Theatre poster advertising the play A Country Wife used a lemon to represent the 'o' in 'Country', rendering the title as 'A C UNTRY WIFE' (2012).
Sexual Repression And Taboo
Shakespeare symbolises profanity's thematic transition from religion to sex, though it is the relationship between these two themes that is the ultimate source of many contemporary taboos. The direct influence of religion on the lives of the population has steadily decreased, though its indirect influence remains substantial. Religious oaths lost their earlier vehemence, replaced by a taboo against sexual discourse, though this new taboo can itself also be attributed to the influence of the church.
Sex is now, according to JC Flugel, "the most taboo-ridden of all subjects in the modern world" (Eli M Oboler, 1974). One method of social regulation is through language, thus the lexicon of sex is tabooed in order to repress sex itself: "Prudery's first line of defence is the regulation of speech. Feelings of shame and guilt about the organs of sex [...] tend to become closely associated with the words that are used for these things. These words become taboo" (Peter Fryer, 1963). Ellis Cashmore links this prudery to the development of social etiquette: "with rules came manners, and with manners came courtesy, and with courtesy came modesty, and the word 'cunt' [was] referring to parts of the body that were enclosed, they were secreted away" (Pete Woods, 2007).
As the vagina is a sexual organ, 'cunt' signifies sex; thus, as 'cunt' does not enjoy the medical acceptability of 'vagina' or 'vulva', it is tabooed: "[there is an] exact correlation between degree of taboo in verbal usage and the degree of taboo in [...] the referent" (Geoffrey Hughes, 1991). Because the signified (sex) is the source of the taboo, censorship of the signifier ('cunt') represents an attempt to repress what it signifies, thus the marginalisation of 'cunt' acts essentially as a social pacifier, marginalising sexual thoughts.
This Freudian notion of socially acceptable patterns of thought - 'dominant consciousness' - is the first of the "levels of censorship" listed by William Albig (1956). He defines a process of self-censorship whereby individuals unconsciously filter non-productive thoughts from their minds, driven to do so by legal, social, and cultural censorship of that which does not conform to the hegemonic dominant ideology.
Thus, censorship of the word 'cunt' ensures that the population's collective consciousness is focussed upon financially or culturally productive pursuits and is not distracted by recreational sex. Edward de Bono highlighted this repressive tendency in his evidence at the obscenity trial of Oz magazine: "the potential of [Oz] to put people off sex is only about thirty per cent of that of the average sermon in any church [...] A lot of our emphasis in society is to put people off sex" (Sheree Folkston, 1991).
Eli M Oboler ascribes the source of this desire to dissuade society from recreational sex to the concept of original sin, citing Theodor Reik's identification of the causal link between original sin and carnal desire: "religion, particularly Christianity, traces the guilt feeling [...] back to an 'original sin,' which is conceived as sexual transgression, to the 'weakness of the flesh,' or to sexual desire" (1974). Thus, it is Christian doctrine that determines our sexual repression and instigates our taboos against sexual terms such as 'cunt'. Regular attendance at religious services is low, yet it seems that we are still restricted by a religious sexual repression. As Stephen Burgen writes in Concerto In C (a chapter in Your Mother's Tongue, 1996): "Religion may not have the hold on the European mind that it did, but the Judaeo-Christian tradition lies at the root of all of our most important taboos".
Belief in the sinful nature of sex was most readily apparent in the doctrine of 17th century Puritanism, and John Calvin's Puritan position has been evocatively summarised by Eli M Oboler: "The sin of Adam, which is the sin of mankind, is regarded as a perennial fountain of filth and uncleanness which is perpetually bubbling up in black streams of perverted and degraded impulse" (1974). Contemporary attitudes towards sex have barely changed, with slang terms such as 'dirty weekend' demonstrating the underlying shame with which sex is still regarded. Similarly, sexual swear words such as 'cunt' are still thought of as 'filthy language' and 'dirty words'.
Oboler's "fountain of filth" is perhaps best personified by John Wilmot, whom Paddy Lyons credits with "drawing into poetry plain terms to describe bodily parts and genital functions" (1996). Wilmot "wrote more frankly about sex than anyone in English before the twentieth century" (Margaret Drabble, 1995), disregarding the Puritan doctrine and instead composing sexually anarchic poetry with no taboo left unbroken. He described, according to Geoffrey Hughes, "a world seen from crotch level" (1991):
"though St. James has t' honour on 't,
"A touch from any part of her had done 't,
"Each man had as much room as Porter, Blount,
"Now heavens preserve our faith's defender,
"Oh why do we keep such a bustle
Wilmot's bawdiest work was a play titled Sodom, whose dramatis personae includes characters such as 'Queen Cuntigratia' and her maid 'Cunticula'. Henry Spencer Ashbee notes that Wilmot wrote it anonymously: "Sodom [...] is generally supposed to be by John Wilmot [...] in spite of [his] having most strenuously disowned it [though] one has but to glance through his poems to find ideas as lewd, couched in language as gross and as obscene" (1885).
In 'outing' Wilmot as the anonymous author of Sodom, Ashbee is not a little hypocritical, as his own account of the play was written under the pseudonym Pisanus Fraxi and his journal My Secret Life was also pseudonymous and only posthumously attributed to him.
In this extract from Sodom, Cunticula and Cuntigratia discuss a third character, General Buggeranthos:
"He has such charms,
Robert Burns had none of the scandalous reputation so readily associated with Wilmot, yet Burns's poem The Case Of Conscience (17--) seems to have been written solely for the purpose of inventing as many 'cunt' rhymes as possible:
"I'll tell you a tale of a wife,
The shock of the word 'cunt' is compounded if it is used to defile sacred symbols. Thus, in Channel 4's The Granton Star Cause, 'cunt' is most frequently used by a character identified as God. Played as a man with supernatural powers drinking in a pub, God describes himself as "a lazy, apathetic, slovenly cunt" (Paul McGuigan, 1997), these character traits being his explanation for the continued existence of greed, famine, and war in the world.
This juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane - God saying "cunt" - recalls Sigmund Freud's two-fold definition of 'taboo' (both religion and defilement). The intense controversy generated following this succinct juxtaposition demonstrates that one plus one can sometimes equal four. In other words, when sacred and profane symbols are combined, they produce more than the sum of their parts. This was the case when Jerry Springer: The Opera featured both 'cunt' and Christ, according to Stephen Armstrong: "saying 'cunt' isn't the issue. It's saying 'cunt' and having Jesus in the same programme that becomes the issue" (Pete Woods, 2007).
The band Cradle Of Filth also exploited the potency of this equation with their Vestal Masturbation t-shirt, emblazoned with the slogan 'JESUS IS A CUNT'. The slogan (also used on bumper-stickers) was parodied by the New Musical Express as "Cradle Of Filth Are Even Bigger Cunts" (2000). The aim was to construct a slogan that was both as offensive and as succinct as possible; by appropriating our culture's most revered icon (Jesus) and equating it with our greatest taboo ('cunt'), they achieved their goal.
Bill Drummond mounted a similarly iconoclastic enterprise in 2002, with his multi-faceted event Is God A Cunt?, acclaimed by Arthur Smith as "possibly the world's most provocative title" (2002). Invited to contribute to an exhibition provisionally titled God Is Not A Cunt, Drummond set up a telephone voting system, advertised on the side of a bridge: "I'm standing [on the M25 motorway] staring at this big wall of virgin-grey concrete. In one hand I have a large pot of black paint, in the other a brush. I get to work. I daub on the wall, in letters as big as I can manage, for all passing motorists to read, 'Is God a Cunt?'. Underneath I then paint in a smaller and more controlled hand, 'To Vote Yes Phone 0870 240 4174' and 'To Vote No Phone 0870 240 4175'" (2002).
The telephone numbers were genuine, and a poll was conducted to determine whether or not God is indeed a cunt. Comments were also invited to be written onto a large "IS GOD A CUNT?" painting. Drummond publicised these ventures with a pamphlet "published specifically for all those that may consider asking the question Is God A Cunt?". He also chaired a public debate on the topic, and compiled a scrapbook to coincide with this.
Victorian attitudes to sex were demonstrated by a repressive linguistic purge of sexual colloquialisms from acceptable discourse. 'Offensive' terms such as 'cunt', 'cock', and 'fuck' were prohibited, as Terence Meaden explains: "['cunt' was] a perfectly normal, useful word [...] until a puritanical government legislated against it" (1992), and milder terms such as 'piss', 'arse', and 'bugger' were also subsequently suppressed.
Michel Foucault contrasts this linguistic purge with the relative leniency of the pre-Victorian era: "At the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain frankness was still common [and] words were said without undue reticence [although in] Victorian [society] there was an expurgation - and a very rigorous one - of the authorized vocabulary [...] Without question, new rules of propriety screened out some words" (1976).
Foucault suggests, in reference to the sexual vernacular, that the Victorians were not repressing the language but, rather, compartmentalising it. He discusses "[the] taxonomical impulses of the nineteenth century [and the] explosion of distinct discursivities which took form in [...] biology, medicine, psychiatry [and] psychology", arguing that they were inclusive rather than exclusive. He saw this as a positive attempt to classify human behaviour: "Rather than a general prudishness of language [...] the wide dispersion of devices that were invented for speaking about it [were] a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse".
This taxonomy is more problematic than Foucault concedes, however, as it results in a polarisation between 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' language: 'vagina' and 'vulva' were confirmed as acceptable medical terms whereas 'cunt' was demoted to unacceptable slang. It is no surprise, then, that My Secret Life, the graphic Victorian diaries of sexual conquests written by Henry Spencer Ashbee, were published only surreptitiously. Ashbee even wrote under a pseudonym (Walter), to avoid detection, and his Secret Life includes this celebration of 'cunt': "After the blessed sun, sure the cunt ought to be worshipped as the source of all human happiness [...] God bless cunt" (1880). In Cuntal, Jonathon Green discusses the proliferation of the c-word variants in My Secret Life: "We have cuntal, we have cunted, we have uncunted. And [...] we have cunt. Probably more cunt than in any other publication" (2006).
Sexually explicit language was deemed a corrupting influence as early as 1564, when the Council of Trent decreed: "books professedly treating of lascivious or obscene subjects [...] are utterly prohibited, since not only faith but morals [...] are readily corrupted by the perusal of them". Three hundred years later, identical reasoning was applied when the Obscene Publications Act was drafted: Hansard records that it was envisaged as being applicable to "works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth" (1857). Even today, there are debates concerning the 'harmful' effects of obscene material: whether pornography encourages rape, for instance, and whether film violence encourages violent crime. These irrational anxieties stem from the earlier religious condemnation of obscenity.
Literary censorship, fuelled by this religious zeal, occasionally verges on the ridiculous, as when Jacob Tonson's censored edition altered the register of John Wilmot's work by replacing the word 'cunt' with "Love":
"With wine I wash away my cares,
Jim McGhee (1995) traces the posthumous censorship of Wilmot's The Imperfect Enjoyment, noting the differences between two anonymous editions (1680 and 1685) of the anthology Poems On Several Occasions. "That it through ev'ry Cunt" (1680) became "That it through ev'ry Port" (1685). Likewise, "a Cunt it found" (1680) became "entrance it found" (1685). The 1680 phrase "her very look's a Cunt" became, in 1685,
"her very looks had charms
Similarly, Allan Ramsay's censored edition of the 16th century poem A Bytand Ballat On Warlo Wives inexplicably substituted "Sunt" for 'cunt': "Sunt Lairds and Cuckolds altogither" (1724). Ramsay added a mistakenly self-congratulatory footnote: "Sunt [...] is spelled [here] with an S, as it ought, and not with a C, as many of the English do". As Noel Perrin puts it, "Instead of omitting an offensive word, [Ramsay] changed it into a harmless one" (1969), a tactic employed extensively by the most famous literary censor, Thomas Bowdler, who sanitised Chaucer and Shakespeare's works and later came to epitomise Victorian linguistic censorship.
The Obscene Publications Act gave Bowdlerism a seal of official approval, and was used to condemn some of the most acclaimed works of modern literature simply by dint of their perceived incoherence. Thus, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Archibald Bodkin, not only criticised James Joyce's Ulysses (featuring a character called "CUNTY KATE", 1922), as "unmitigated filth", he also expressed his bemusement at its stream-of-consciousness prose: "I am entirely unable to appreciate [...] what the book itself is about. I can discover no story. There is no introduction which gives a key to its purpose" (Alan Travis, 1998).
Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer ("I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt", 1934; expertly deconstructed in Kate Millett's Sexual Politics), Allen Ginsberg's Howl ("fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt", 1956), and Wiliam Burroughs's Naked Lunch ("They could have heard you screaming over in Cunt Lick County", 1959) were all also investigated by the Vice Squad. Fortunately, however, as Barry Miles explains, artistic merit is often an acceptable defence for obscenity: "Coarse and vulgar language is used in treatment and sex acts are mentioned but unless the book is entirely lacking in 'social importance' it cannot be held obscene" (1989).
The most archetypal demonstration of the censor's ideological flaws is the trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Penguin planned a mass-market paperback publication of DH Lawrence's explicit novel, though the Home Office, which accused them of obscenity, initially thwarted their attempt. (Penguin later published CH Rolph's account of their vindication, The Trial Of Lady Chatterley.) In his opening address at the obscenity trial, prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones pointedly dismissed arcane Victorian pruderies: "do not approach this [case] in any priggish, high-minded, super-correct, mid-Victorian manner" (CH Rolph, 1961), though his objections to the novel were themselves somewhat priggish and Victorian. He naively disapproved of Lawrence's "set[ting] upon a pedestal promiscuous and adulterous intercourse [and] advocat[ion of] coarseness and vulgarity of thought and language".
The defence called a great many witnesses, who each attested to the literary merits of Lawrence and, to a lesser extent, Chatterley itself. These defence witnesses were only seldom cross-examined (as CH Rolph puts it: "'No questions', said the surprising Mr Griffith-Jones [...] he was to say it many times", 1961), and the prosecution called no witnesses of its own at all ("Griffith-Jones now made the surprising announcement that he was calling no witnesses [...] The gasp of surprise in Court was reprehensibly audible").
This lack of cross-examination and prosecution witnesses was compounded from the beginning of the trial by Griffith-Jones's question to the jury: "would you approve of your young sons, young daughters - because girls can read as well as boys - reading this book[?] Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?". This patronisingly sexist and outdated social attitude was a factor in the jury's 'not guilty' verdict; Rolph called it "the first nail in the prosecution's coffin".
Griffith-Jones also took the trouble to keep a detailed tally of the novel's profanities, informing the jury that the word 'cunt' occurs some fourteen times. What he did not mention, however, was that 'cunt' was used (perhaps unrealistically) as a term of endearment: "'Th'art good cunt, though, aren't ter? Best bit o' cunt left on earth!['] 'What is cunt?' she said. 'An' doesn't ter know? Cunt! It's thee down theer [...] Cunt! Eh, that's the beauty o' thee, lass!'" (DH Lawrence, 1928).
Such tallies of swear words are often used to justify censorship, though they are usually unreliable. When BBC2 broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, for example, pro-censorship campaigners claimed that the opera included 297 c-words. This generated suitably outraged headlines, such as 3,168 'F' Words And 297 'C' Words... Just Another Saturday Night On The BBC (in The Sun, 2005), though the truth was far less sensational. The opera featured a chorus of twenty-seven people, who all sang their lines simultaneously. Thus, each time 'cunt' was sung once by the chorus, it was counted as appearing twenty-seven times!
The Lady Chatterley prosecutor's elitism and condescension is characteristic of much of the censorship performed in Britain. For example, the British Board of Film Classification (or "Big Bloody Fucking Cunts", according to Eddy Lawrence, 2005), contends that it must censor images that may be a corrupting influence, yet the material has yet to corrupt any of the BBFC examiners who view it 'on our behalf'. Similarly, sexually explicit material is passed by the BBFC for 'arthouse' films with middle class audiences, though populist entertainment is more heavily censored. Taboos - from their religious origins to the modern restrictions on sexual words and images - exist as methods of social regulation, and censorship is maintained for this purpose despite its outdated religious provenance and the paradoxes inherent in its execution.
The contemporary ubiquity of sexualised imagery can be seen as a liberating (albeit exploitative) reaction by an increasingly secular society against religious repression, and this current cultural preoccupation with sex can arguably be regarded as a consequence of the Chatterley trial, as the novel's publication symbolised the beginning of the 'permissive society'. The defeat of the Chatterley obscenity charge at the beginning of the 1960s set a trend for sexual liberation which came to define the decade, and the demystification of sex was indeed Lawrence's stated aim in writing the novel: "the obscene words [in Lady Chatterley] are meant to show [Mellors's] frank carnality and its vivifying power. So they are an integral part of Lawrence's purpose. But still more, one suspects they are part of the extracurricular activity of bringing [...] sex out into the open" (Graham Hough, 1956).
Whereas writers such as Wilmot and Ashbee used 'cunt' for its bawdiness, Lawrence's intention was exactly the opposite. He sought to create a "proper vocabulary to discuss sex [by using] the obscene words familiarly and seriously, so that the tabooed acts and parts of the body can be talked about in natural and native words" (HM Daleski, 1965). Lawrence's use of swear words can thus be distinguished from those of his contemporaries: he "enhance[d] the value of the [tabooed] words by fashioning new contexts for their use, employing them in contexts which support neither an abusive nor a shameful nor a scornful connotation. His practice, in this respect, is markedly different from that of James Joyce in Ulysses, for Joyce's use of the words [...] in effect perpetuates their debasement".
The First Cunt Is The Deepest
It was ten years after the Lady Chatterley trial until 'cunt' hit the headlines again, when "the most offensive word you can use on British TV" (James Doorne, 2007) was uttered for the first time on live television in 1970. David Frost was interviewing the Yippies during ITV's The Frost Programme, and introduced Jerry Rubin as "a reasonable man". Felix Dennis shouted back, jokingly, "He's not a reasonable man, he's the most unreasonable cunt I've ever known in my life!". There ensued an atmosphere of general pandemonium; Dennis admitted to behaving "bloody abominably" (Richard Cowles and Colin Campbell, 2002) and Rosie Boycott later accused him of "wreak[ing] havoc on live television [and] effectively [bringing] the show to a standstill" (Andy Baybutt, 2002).
The very nature of live broadcasting makes unexpected events a distinct possibility. If a programme is broadcast live, mistakes cannot be rectified in the editing room, and advantage can be taken of the situation because a live broadcast allows unfiltered access to the airwaves.
The first scripted use of 'cunt' on television - the first time its use was premeditated by a broadcaster, in contrast to the unforeseen use by the Yippies - was in the ITV drama No Mama No:
"What did he say?"
Verity Lambert persuaded the Independent Broadcasting Authority that the use of 'cunt' was dramatically valid: "I had a lot of correspondence with the IBA about that word. I think it was a real insult, and she needed to say that particular word. And, in the end, to be fair to them, they accepted that as an explanation" (Kerry Richardson, 1994). By contrast, American television was a 'cunt'-free zone until as late as 1994, when chat-show host Phil Donahue used the word "in relating and condemning an employer's insult to a female employee" (Jesse Scheidlower, 1995).
Such is the word's scarcity on television that several programmes have been erroneously credited with being the first to broadcast it. Auberon Waugh cites No Mama No as "perhaps the first use on television of the most controversial word of all" (Kerry Richardson, 1994), though, as noted previously, 'cunt' was scripted into this 1979 drama nine years after it was uttered live on The Frost Programme.
Years later, John Walsh confidently declared that 'cunt' was used on live TV for the first time as late as 2002: "It is, or was, the last linguistic taboo, the final insult, the unsayable word. [...] But now history has been made. For probably the first time, someone has said the "c-word" live on British television". Walsh was referring to This Morning, the live daytime ITV programme during which Caprice, discussing her role in The Vagina Monologues, mentioned the section "called Reclaiming Cunt" (Siubhan Richmond, 2002). This was certainly groundbreaking, as the word was spoken on morning television, though it was clearly not the first time the word had ever been broadcast live.
A similar mistake was made by Matthew Beard and Victoria Coren, both of whom mistakenly claimed that the 2003 drama Witchcraze marked the BBC's first broadcast of the dreaded word. In C-Word Allowed To Make Debut On BBC Television, Beard wrote that "A drama-documentary on witches on BBC2 is to risk the wrath of viewers by featuring the "C-word" - previously considered so unutterable that it has never been passed by BBC television censors" (2003). Coren agreed that "[in Witchcraze] BBC airwaves played host for the very first time to what I believe the more delicate members of society refer to as 'the c-word'" (2003). The Sun also gleefully announced that Witchcraze would "break one of TV's last taboos" (C-Word Shock, 2003).
The Channel 4 drama Mosley was yet another programme incorrectly cited as the first to contain the word 'cunt'. The Mail On Sunday reported that Channel 4 "will break the last taboo over bad language on television [...] with the deliberate use of the only word in the English language considered more offensive than the F-word" (Michael Burke, 1998). The newspaper did not print 'cunt' itself, though it solemnly proclaimed the word to be "an anatomical reference [which is] deeply offensive to women in particular".
The Mail declared that 'cunt' "has not been scripted into a mainstream television drama before", though this is incorrect on two counts. Firstly, Mosley is not a mainstream drama, as Channel 4 is not a mainstream channel; secondly, 'cunt' had appeared previously, in the mainstream ITV drama No Mama No. Regarding Mosley, Laurence Marks explained that the decision to include 'cunt' was not an easy one to make: "it is intensely powerful [...] we debated long and hard about using the word. There were many on the production team who thought we should not. The word is the most reviled single utterance in the English language [...] We know this word will jar but it was used for dramatic effect" (Michael Burke, 1998). (The word appeared in another prison drama, Ghosts... Of The Civil Dead, when it was forcibly tattooed onto a prisoner's forehead; it was later painted onto a man's forehead for a photograph in Front magazine.)
Tabloid journalists leaping to conclusions is one thing, though Irvine Welsh should really know better. Welsh confidently declared in 2003 that 'cunt' was first broadcast in a programme he had written eight years previously: "the word cunt was first aired on TV in my drama The Granton Star Cause in 1996". This drama, broadcast by Channel 4, contains perhaps more c-words than any other programme, though it was, of course, far from the first instance of the word being broadcast.
The premiere appearance of 'cunt' in the press is a matter of equally contentious debate. When, in 1988, Mike Gatting publicly criticised a cricket umpire with the phrase "fucking, cheating cunt", The Independent was the only newspaper to publish his comments unexpurgated. Bill Bryson has since claimed that this marked "the first time that cunt had appeared in a British newspaper" (1990), as has Ian Jack: ""Cunt" as well as "fucking" was included, perhaps the word's first appearance in a British newspaper" (2002).
In fact, 'cunt' had appeared in The Times the year before, in an article by Bernard Levin. Levin criticised the common newspaper practice of asterisking swear words, commenting sarcastically that "If the words are printed with only their initial letters, followed by asterisks [...] they are at once and entirely robbed of their dreadful power" (1987). He then went on to quote unasterisked lines from the poem V (Tony Harrison, 1985):
"Aspirations, cunt! Folk on t'fucking dole
Levin's article marks the one and only occasion that The Times has printed 'cunt' uncensored. David Glencross, writing in The Observer, was nonplussed by the article: "When an extract [from V was] printed in The Times, embedded in an article by Bernard Levin, the social fabric of the nation survive[d]" (1987), though Levin's fellow Times columnist Ronald Butt castigated him for "[choosing] to reproduce a verse of unmitigated obscenity [...] in what was clearly a gratuitous taboo-breaking exercise" (1987).
V was also published unexpurgated in The Independent shortly after The Times's extracts, with a warning regarding its "SEXUALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE" (Blake Morrison, 1987). These extracts in The Times and The Independent came months before Mike Gatting's cricket outburst, though they were overshadowed by the controversy surrounding V's recital on television.
However, the very first usage of 'cunt' in a newspaper occurred as long ago as the 1970s, more than a decade before The Times and The Independent were brave enough to print it. The word appears in a 1974 interview with Marianne Faithfull, published in The Guardian. The writer, Janet Watts, introduces Faithfull as a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind: "She used not to read what people wrote, because she got to believe it: now, she's easy about it, relaxing into words I think she thinks I can't print". Watts then quotes Faithfull's reactions to negative reviews: "If they think I'm a whoo-er [sic.], they're entitled to say it: just as I'm entitled to think they're a cunt for saying it".
Cunt In The Press
The Guardian proudly proclaims that 'cunt' "occurs more frequently in [it] than in any other newspaper on earth" (Ian Mayes, 2002). It was the first newspaper to use the word uncensored on its front page, when Paul Kelso quoted Roy Keane's criticism of the Irish football manager: "you're not even Irish, you English cunt" (2002). As the newspaper later admitted, "Reproduction on the front page of the unexpurgated words of Keane brought protests not only from many readers, but from one or two members of staff" (Ian Mayes, 2002). Indeed, Keane also attempted to distance himself from the word (ironically, in an interview with The Guardian): "you did not employ the term, 'an English cunt'? Keane looks pained and deeply affronted. 'No. No way. I have to live in England, and to be accused of saying that sort of thing, it's not nice for my wife and family[']" (Sean O'Hagan, 2002).
The word's first appearance on a magazine cover came when Viz produced their "SWEARIEST COVER EVER", including the line "I THOUGHT I WAS A DAFT CUNT!" (2000). Modern Toss magazine's first issue (Jon Link and Mick Bunnage, 2004) featured the sentence "that's three words you cun" on its cover, with the final 't' conveniently cut off by the edge of the page (also available as a tea-towel). The magazine's central comic-strip character, the aptly-named Mr Tourette, is a sign-writer who paints obscene signs for people and then angrily proclaims "What are you some sort of cunt?" and "I still want paying you cunt". These phrases are also available as t-shirt and badge slogans, and some of his best comic-strips are available as silk-screen prints and postcards. One of his signs, "the Queen's cunting boat", appears on a Modern Toss card. On a Modern Toss postcard, 999, a man retorts with "It's a brain tumour you cunt" when questioned about his unusual head; and on a Modern Toss card, a woman describes her boss as "a fucking cunt". In a later Modern Toss book by the same authors (2007), the character paints signs reading "TRUMPET CUNT", "ALPINE CUNT CABIN", and "UPMARKET CUNT TRIPOD". In 2010, Modern Toss produced a Periodic Table Of Swearing, available as a tea-towel and a set of magnets, which contains abbreviations such as 'C' ('cunt'), 'Sc' ('stupid cunt'), 'Sfc' ('stupid fucking cunt'), 'Tfc' ('total fucking cunt'), 'Soc' ('stupid old cunt'), 'Ysfc' ('you stupid fucking cunt'), 'Ysfac' ('you stupid fucking arseholing cunt'), 'Pac' ('pissed as a cunt'), 'Kfc' ('your kunting me fucking head out cunt' [sic.]), 'Tcp' ('two cunts in a piss factory'), 'Icc' ('international cunt circus'), and 'Pwc' ('Pringle wearing cunt')..
Smut and Lazy Frog, two Viz rivals, have both excelled themselves by producing 'cunt' posters: Smut's election banner proclaiming "VOTE FOR NONE OF THE CUNTS!" and Lazy Frog's Billy Elliot parody "Cunty Elliot" (both 2001). Furthermore, Smut has a comic strip called Watch Out Beadle's A Cunt (200-). Viz co-editor Chris Donald had initially vowed never to print 'cunt': "[he] once stated that the word "cunt" would never grace the pages of his magazine. Too offensive, he said" (Tom Hibbert, 1991), though the comic strip Bertie Blunt: His Parrot's A Cunt (198-) changed his mind. Private Eye published a comic strip titled The World C***s in 2010, by Paul Wood, to celebrate the football World Cup.
The only magazines actually to use 'cunt' in their titles, except for the fictional "Cunt On Cunt" (Brett Easton Ellis, 1991), are the underground comics Cunt Comics (Rory Hayes, 1969) and Cunty (19--), Cheyanne Payne's zine Cunt Fear (written pseudonymously as Star Whore in 1994), Amanda's zine The CUNT Zine ("Talking about cunts is a vitalizing experience, and it's hard not to talk about cunts after being so immersed in cunt culture", 2003), Rachel Pepper's zine Cunt (1991), Danny Boyle's zine Catfighting Cunts (1990), and several hard-core zines: Cunts And Grunts (19--), International Cunt Fucker (19--), and Sewer Cunt (Sverre Helmer Kristensen, 1994). Music magazine Uncut is known disparagingly amongst its rivals as 'Ucunt' (an anagram of the title, meaning 'you cunt'), and Manhunt is known by its own editor, Eric James, as "mancunt" (2002). Kutt magazine is named after 'kutt' - the Dutch term for 'cunt' - and there is also a magazine called Quim, its title etymologically linked to 'cunt'.
Viz initiated an occasional feature titled Celebrity Cunts, for which readers were invited "to nominate stroppy stars for the title of Britain's No. 1 celebrity cunt" (1998). Danny La Rue ("Brief encunter", a pun on Brief Encounter), Rod Stewart ("Do ya think I'm cunty?", a pun on Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?), and Michael Crawford ("supercunt") were all duly nominated. (Their fellow nominee Jim Davidson was summarily dismissed by Euan Ferguson in 2001, who defined 'cunt' as "a woman's genitalia or a man who is Jim Davidson").
Some years after Celebrity Cunts, a suspiciously similar exercise was mounted by Front magazine, which published a list of Britain's Biggest C**ts! (2003) and proclaimed Michael Winner to be "the Count Of Cuntdom". Front's editor claimed that the list "set a world record in 'use of the c-word'" (Eoin McSorley, 2003), and the article's body-text is indeed liberally sprinkled with 'cunt's. The list became a regular feature, losing its exclamation mark in the process: Britain's Biggest Cunts was published every month, with a chart known as "THE CUNTDOWN" featuring puns - "Scouting-For-Cunt" (Scouting For Girls; 2008[a]); "Big-Cunt-Little-Cunt" (Big Cook Little Cook; 2008[b]); "the cunt leading the cunt" ('the blind leading the blind'; 2008[c]); "hit the nail right on the cunt" ('hit the nail on the head'; 2008[d]) - neologisms ("cuntery", 2008[b]; "cuntish", 2008[f]; "cunty-faced", 2008[d]; "cuntness", 2008[f]), and gratuitous abuse ("Shitty cunty shitty cunty shitty cunt shitty cunty cunt", 2008[a]; "cunt-or-no-cunt", 2008[d]; "nasty-little-scally-cunt cunt", 2008[f]; "OH-MY-GOD-YOU-FUCKING-CUNT cunt", 2009). The specialism here is invectives directed against specific celebrities, such as Jonathan Ross ("you're-just-a-cunt cunt", 2009) and Craig Revel Horwood ("Call-that-a-fucking-middle-name-you-cunt", 2009). Thus, Roy Stride is a "pop-cunt" (2008[c]), Bono and Bob Geldof are "Bono-and-Geldof-melded-into-one-ultra-cunt super-cunt", Jordan is a "cunt cunt cunt CUNT" (2009), Danny Wallace is a "shit-cunt" and an "ultra-cunt", Robert Kilroy-Silk (renamed "Cuntroy-Silk") is a "cunt-muncher"), Ian Wright was renamed "Ian Cunt-cunt-cunt" (2008[d]) and "Ian-cunt-cunt-cunt-more-like", Lewis Hamilton is "Not-even-as-cunty-as-your-dad", George Lamb is a "rent-a-cunt cunt" (2008[e]) and a "Cunt-called-George cunt", Anthony Hamilton is "Even-more-of-a-cunt-than-his-cunt-son", and Peter Andre should be sent to Australia "on the Cunt Express".
The name was later changed to World's Biggest Cunts, though the formula was otherwise unchanged: celebrity-abuse (Sting: "I-was-in-The-Police-but-now-I'm-a-cunt", 2009[b] and "Every-breath-you-take-you're-a-cunt", 2009[d]; Trace Cyrus: "Transfer-covered-shake-shake-shakey-cunt"; Paris Hilton: "Cunt-satan-cunt-satan-cunt-satan"; Noel Edmonds: "Never-go-bungee-jumping-with-this-cunt", 2009[f] and "There's-no-soul-behind-those-dead-eyes-cunt", 2009[d]; Heston Blumenthal: "still a cunting cunt. Cunt the fuck off"; Mr Kipling: "Kipling Kunt", 2009[e]; Zac Efron: "still-a-cunt cunt", 2009[g]); puns such as "Capricunti" ('Capriani'; 2009[b]), "Strictly-cunt-dancing" (Strictly Come Dancing; 2009[a]), and "exceedingly-cunt cunt" ('exceedingly good cakes', 2009[e]); portmanteau neologisms: "dick-cunt" (2009[d]), "cunty-faced cunt-bag", "Home-cunt Secretary", "cunt-house", "cunt-job", "cunt-knobs", "cunty cuntingness", "cunt-tard" (2009[h]), "shitcunt" (2009[g]), and "cuntastic cuntatron"; and indiscriminate ranting: "cuntiness in Dancing Cunts On Ice", "Bring-back-Mr-Blobby-or-get-to-cunt" (2009[a]), "Why-is-this-cunt-still-on-telly", and "fuck off back to Cuntville" (2009[c]).
The name then changed again, to World's Biggest C*nts (2009), with similar neologisms ("Double-cunty [...] cuntgun" (2009); "Cuntamania!" (2013); "cuntyness [...] out-cunted [...] out-cunt [...] cuntishness", 2010[b]; "non-cunty", 2010[d]; "thundercunts", 2010[f]; "Absofuckingcuntinggoddamnlutely", 2011; "powercunt [...] hypercunt", 2012; "cunt-head", 2010[h]), wordplay ("cuntishly"; "y'cunt"), and puns ("fox-cunting" ('fox-hunting', 2010[d]), "CUNTinue" ('continue', 2013), "BA-CUNT" ('Bacon'), "cuntkrieg" ('Blitzkrieg', 2010[e]), "Go and Com-cunt" ('Go Compare'), "Pineapple Cunt Studios" (Pineapple Dance Studios, 2010[h]), "Cunt Day" ('Green Day', 2010[a]), "21st Cuntury Breakdown" ('21st Century Breakdown'), "Cuntasaurus Rex" ('tyrannosaurus rex', 2009), "C-HOLE" ('a-hole'/'ass-hole'), "Cunt my gold" ('Cash My Gold', 2010[g], "Iron Cunt" ('Iron Chef'), "Cuntmunk" ('chipmunk', 2010[f]), and "CUNT FM" ('Halifax FM')). Insults (Steve Jones: "a cunt-shaped cunt-sausage", 2010[a]; Billie Joe Armstrong: "please-get-non-cunty-again", 2010[b]; Gary Barlow: "Grow-it-back-and-stop-being-such-a-cunt", 2013; General Shepherd: "You'd-be-even-more-of-a-cunt-if-you-were-real", 2010[c]; Robert Pattinson: "Yep-you're-a-cunt-in-real-life-too"; Paddy McGuinness: "Should-be-funny-but-outright-cunting-isn't", 2010[d]; Iggy Pop: "puppet-cunt", 2010[e]; David Mitchell: "cuntarse"; Mr (Benjamin) Hudson: "Mr Cunt Hudson"; Alan Titchmarsh: "cunt-featured fuckwit", 2010[g]; Tim Westwood: "Cunty McCunt [...] El Cuntio Magnifico", 2010[h]; Noel Edmonds: "cunt-bearded-cunt", 2009; Clarence: "Very-arrogant-for-a-cunt-in-a-freezer", 2012) continued unabated, as did the invective: "Cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunty McCunt" (2010[b]), "Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunt" (2010[g]), and "The cunt angers the cunt out of me and cunt cunt cunt" (2012). The asterisk in the title was replaced by a skull and crossbones in 2011. The magazine also created a picture of the car from the TV series Brum with a 'CUNT' number plate. Adam Renton (2008) discusses a similar enterprise by the Holy Moly website, originally known as "C[unt]'s Corner" though later toned down to "The Corner".
Cunt On TV
Whilst the earliest uses of 'cunt' on television - both live and scripted - were on ITV, it is Channel 4 that has subsequently virtually monopolised the broadcasting of the word. It has a deserved reputation as a broadcaster that pushes further than the others at the boundaries of acceptability, and thus regularly invokes the wrath of Mary Whitehouse, the Daily Mail, and the 'moral majority': "Channel 4 has the most liberal policy of all [...] a good example is the airing of [...] Saint Jack which left in two occurrences of the word 'cunt'" (Kevin Hilton, 1996).
The channel famously broadcast a recital by Tony Harrison of his poem V, in which he verbally attacks the vandals who desecrated his parents' gravestones:
"The prospects for the present aren't too grand
The Daily Mail, certainly the most right-wing of the national newspapers and always eager to campaign with vitriol against cultural liberalism, protested against "a torrent of four-letter filth [and] the most explicitly sexual language yet beamed into the nation's living rooms" (John Deans and Gary Jenkins, 1987). The Mail helpfully informed us that "The crudest, most offensive word" - our old friend, 'cunt' - "is used 17 times", in an echo of Mervyn Griffith-Jones's Lady Chatterley prosecution.
Ian Hislop wrote perhaps the most considered contemporary defence of the poem: "There are apparently 47 expletives [and] that more or less concludes the case for the prosecution. It obviously does not [take into account] that there might be a reason for putting in expletives and that the cascade of obscenity is sparked by the poet's own anger at seeing the words on a grave" (1987).
Other commentators were less balanced in their arguments, using sensationalist water metaphors such as "torrent of foul language" (Daily Express, 1987) and "stream of four-letter words" (Harvey Lee, 1987). Richard Brooks warned that the poem contained "the most sexually explicit language ever heard on British television" (1987) and The Sun similarly anticipated "the most explicit language ever broadcast" (1987). This media moral panic was accompanied by an early day motion tabled by Gerald Howarth in the House of Commons, in which he condemned V's "stream of obscenities" (1987).
Brenda Maddox, in an extremely lucid analysis of the poem's media coverage, noted that much of the 'outrage' was motivated less by genuine concern and more by a desire for publicity: "Politicians who call the poem "a torrent of filth" and "packed with obscenities" know more about getting headlines in the Daily Mail than they do about writing poems" (1987). Uniquely amongst the commentators of the time, she recognised that, underlying the debate surrounding obscenity, was a specific concern about the broadcasting of 'cunt': "the C-word [...] is still so taboo that it hardly ever reaches the air, even in films late at night. Its liberal use in [V] is probably the real reason for the current storm".
Channel 4's subsidiary, E4, inadvertently broadcast the c-word in the afternoon, during their live programme Kings Of Comedy (on 10th October 2004). The word was mumbled rather than spoken, and consequently the programme's producers failed to notice it. A viewer complained to the regulator, though the complaint was dismissed as the word was not spoken clearly enough to have caused offence to most viewers. Channel 4 continues to give writers consistently more freedom than other channels, as this extract from their comedy series The Book Group (Annie Griffin, 2001) demonstrates:
Other channels have generally been more linguistically restrained, though an exception was BBC1's QED documentary John's Not Mad (1989), featuring a young boy with Tourette's Syndrome who inadvertantly blurted out 'cunt' and 'fuck' in public. The programme gained a cult following, due to the sheer shock of hearing a child repeatedly saying 'cunt' on the BBC. In another documentary (The World's Best Sellers), BBC2 has even broadcast an unbleeped extract from the Derek And Clive sketch This Bloke Came Up To Me (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, 1976):
"I said, 'Who are you fucking calling 'cunt', cunt?!'"
True to form, Channel 4 then upped the ante by broadcasting Offensive: The Real Derek And Clive, a whole 'cunt'-filled documentary about the profane double-act.
Satirising TV's repressive attitudes towards swearing, Charlie Brooker's TV Go Home devised a spoof programme called "Cunt", starring the fictional character Nathan Barley. When Brooker's spoof programme was actually filmed in 2005, its title was changed from Cunt to Nathan Barley. Cunt was part of a confrontational collection of television listings, mocking presenters and viewers as "Grade-A fuckfaced cunthole[s]", "CUNTHEADS", "upper-middle-class cuntsack[s]", "mungo-headed cuntwits", and "cunt-chewing cunt-eyed cunt[s]" (2001). This profane surrealism also included obscene names such as "Mary Qunt" (a parody of 'Mary Quant'), and "Ray Diofour-Cunt", and song titles such as "Stop That Cunt!" and "Arise Sir Cuntmaker".
Brooker's aggressive comedy reached its zenith with this extended fictional programme title: "Look at the Tiger. Look at the Fucking Tiger. Stop Picking Your Nose and Look at the Fucking Tiger. It Took Us Ages to Film This, so the Least You Ungrateful Little Cuntsniffs Could Do is to Pay Some Fucking Attention for Once, Instead of Sitting There Slurping Your Fucking Sunny Delight and Fiddling With Your Shoelaces. Got That? Good: Now Stop Crying and Look at the Tiger, and You'd Better KEEP Fucking Looking at it or I'll Come Round and Belt-Whip You Into the Oblivion Ward of the Nearest Fucking Hospital, OKAY?".
No television station, not even Channel 4, is as gleefully obscene as TV Go Home, and, in practice, most televisual appearances of 'cunt' are censored before transmission. The commonest form of censorship is the electronic 'bleep', the aural equivalent of 'c***'. The other is a process called 'post-synchronised dubbing', whereby another word is dubbed over a swear word. For this to be successful, the swear word and its anodyne replacement must sound similar and contain the same number of syllables, so that the new word will synchronise with the actor's lip-movements. For example, in Bridget Jones's Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001) "ham-fisted cow" was dubbed over the original 'ham-fisted cunt' in order to avoid an '18' rating from the BBFC, and "You klutz!" was dubbed over 'You cunt!' in Monty Pythons Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979). Similarly, ITV's dubbing of Jonathan Demme's The Silence Of The Lambs replaced 'cunt' with "scent" (199-): "I can smell your scent".
The original line was replaced by "Fandabbydosey" in a TV parody of the film (Bob Spiers, 25/2/1993), and it inspired the song If I Could Smell Her Cunt, part of a musical adaptation of the film by Jon and Al Kaplan (2003).
'Cunt' caused a hullabaloo in 2004 when it was spoken by Sex Pistol singer John Lyndon live on ITV. The tabloids reacted with mock outrage (with headlines such as Johnny's F****** C**** On Live Telly), and the word briefly became the focus of a national debate. In general, public reaction appeared to be apathetic rather than apoplectic: "Despite the fact that the c-word is regarded as one of the last taboos of television, the general public appeared to be unfazed" (Rebecca Allison, 2004). Prior to his 'cunt' outburst, Lyndon was already infamous for saying 'fuck' on live television in the 1970s. In an article headlined C-Word Rant Is So Rotten, Ruth Hilton contrasted the two occasions: "While Lyndon's bad language in 1976 was enough to cause a genuine national scandal, his ripe choice of words [in 2004] prompted only 73 complaints from an audience of 10.5 million" (2004).
The Guardian went so far as to suggest that Lyndon had signalled "the end of the c-word taboo", asking rhetorically: "Is even the c-word acceptable now?" (2004). In that newspaper, Mark Lawson wrote a cover-story titled Is It OK To Use The C-Word Now? (2004), in which he suggested that the word's usage is increasing: "Anyone who has attended a big football match has become accustomed to the last great verbal taboo being chanted by thousands of people". However, the extensive press coverage about Lyndon's usage of the word demonstrates that 'cunt' retains its power to offend. Lyndon used the word only once, late at night (10:30pm), following an on-air announcement warning of potentially offensive language; if the word can still generate controversy despite these mitigating circumstances, it is powerful indeed. When Peter Serafinowicz used it as a fake TV programme title, it was written as "YOU'RE A C**T" (Becky Martin, 2007).
Until very recently, the American media simply did not use 'cunt' at all; even now, their newspapers do not print it, and their network television and radio stations do not broadcast it. As noted earlier, the word's American television debut came as late as 1994. Only cable TV dares to transmit this most tabooed word, a situation made possible thanks to the HBO comedy series Sex And The City: "HBO gives writers much more freedom than the conservative American networks, and [Sex And The City] took that freedom and ran with it, pushing back the boundaries" (Andrew Abbott and Russell Leven, 2003). Darren Starr explains that his aim with the show was to create a sense of realism through language: "I wanted to do a show where people use language that they actually use in life, not [...] sanitised for television".
Sex And The City's potential for unsanitised language was tested in its very first season, when the word 'cunt' was broadcast for the first time by HBO. The episode in question, The Power Of Female Sex (Susan Seidelman, 1998), discusses the limits of sexual politics and liberal feminism. It also features a male artist who paints large-scale close-up portraits of vaginas: "The cunt [...] The most powerful force in the universe. The source of all life and pleasure and beauty. I used to paint full nudes, but as I got older I realised that the truth was to be found only in the cunt".
Richard Brooks notes that the occurrences of 'cunt' in Sex And The City are anatomical rather than insulting. This, he suggests, may be deemed less problematic by the British regulators: "[it] may not break television guidelines because the word is used to describe female genitalia, not as a swear word" (1999). Guidelines issued by the Broadcasting Standards Commission state that "the Commission would expect the abusive usage of any of the synonyms for the female genitalia" - though, in practice, only 'cunt' - "to have been referred to the most senior levels of management" (1998).
The crucial word here is "abusive", highlighting the importance of context in determining obscenity, as 'cunt' is more readily permitted on television if it is used in an anatomical context rather than as a term of abuse. Katharine Viner condemns the word, though only in its abusive context: "The fact remains that when the c-word is used as abuse, the intention behind it is violent and contemptuous" (1992); indeed, for Georges Bataille, 'cunt', in the correct context, can be "by far the loveliest of the names for the vagina" (1928). Victoria Coren disagrees, citing 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' contexts yet concluding: "It doesn't add up. Surely these words are either rude or they're not?" (2003).
Since Sex And The City, Oz, and Deadwood (all of which are HBO dramas) have also occasionally included the c-word. This extract from Oz is especially 'cunt'-laden: "What a cunt. [...] I had to stare up at that cunt's face while she banged her cunt gavel and instructed the jury to fuck me over. I didn't have a choice. I had to see the cunt" (Keith Samples, 1998). HBO has also broadcast extracts from The Vagina Monologues, including the Reclaiming Cunt poem, accompanied for good measure by a montage of women saying 'cunt' both individually and collectively (Sheila Nevins, 2002):
Matthew Perry observes that 'cunt' is most offensive to American ears: "The c-word seems less shocking to people in London, but in America that word will stop the evening" (Jasper Rees, 2003). Masuimi Max makes a similar observation: "There are certain words that you guys in England say kind of loosely that you don't say loosely here [in America] without getting punched. Words like 'cunt'" (2008). Jonathan Wilson regrets the word's American suppression: "Cunt is the most powerful word in the English language. In the United Kingdom, however, it's pretty much defanged these days. [...] In the United States [...] it is THE WORST WORD IN THE WORLD [...] numerous American women of my acquaintance regaled me with the same criticism. "No woman," they said, "would ever say that." [...] In the UK, women have been calling other women and men who don't meet their approval cunts for as long as I can remember. The word scores about the same as fuck on the insult charts. [...] cunt reports the deep unresolved misogyny of American life as it persists amid a general horror of female anatomy below the waist. America has always been big on boobs and, until recently, reticent about vaginas. [...] we're still a cunt-crazy nation, getting shivers from that lethal combination of letters" (2008).
Discussing the word's usage in the film Atonement, Keira Knightley explained her attitude towards it: "I think in England it's not as big a deal as it is in America. I say it all the time" (Dave Karger, 2008). (She also recalled that, under pressure to remove the word, the director exclaimed: "The c[unt] stays in the picture!", a pun on 'the kid stays in the picture'.) Ed Vulliamy also contrasts British and American social usage, suggesting that 'cunt' is used a great deal more prolifically in Britain: "Not only do you never say ['cunt'] in America - you never even talk about why it is never used [...] In Britain, as we know, the taboo is rather weaker" (1999). In the same article, Thom Powers agrees that "In England or Ireland, the word has no power. It's c[unt] this, c[unt] that, he's a c[unt], she's a c[unt], my broken car's a c[unt]".
Jacqueline Z Wilson (2008[b]) makes a similar observation in relation to Australian usage, noting the "very free use of the word" among female prisoners, and the "quasi-friendly usage" of the word in suburban Melbourne: "cunt is so ubiquitous one learns and becomes inured to it at an early age as an everyday term. It that setting it remains on one level an abusive word, but is also used conversationally". In her essay "Cunt" - The Last Tabo (2008), Sarah Westlake notes the word's common usage in Australia and Ireland: "it is used extensively [...] as a replacement noun [and] does not necessarily imply contempt nor is intended to be offensive".
The vast majority of the population of Britain as of elsewhere still have many inhibitions about the word's use: "ring up some other English person, and say, 'I'm glad you answered the phone, ya c[unt], you.' I think they won't be very happy" (Ed Vulliamy, 1999).
In an interview with Madonna, Jonathan Ross asked her specifically about American attitudes towards the c-word, his question itself being evidence that the word is becoming a more acceptable discussion topic. Ross cited 'cunt' as a word "which the Americans don't use at all [but] which we [Brits] use with regularity" (Mick Thomas, 2003):
"Americans [...] want the smelling salts"
Madonna was also asked about her attitude to the word almost ten years later, this time by an American journalist: "we embark on a jolly discussion of the comparative merits of the C-word [...] Madge and I are big fans of the word. We are, however, sensitive to the fact that, while Brits love to sling it around like an old feather boa, it must be used with infinite caution on this side of the Atlantic" (Simon Doonan, 2008).
Michael Musto's article Sarah Silverman Is My Kind Of Cunt (2007), in which he interviews Sarah Silverman, also includes a discussion of the word:
"Do you favor the word cunt?
Cunt On The Radio
American media regulations regarding swearing date from 1973, when a New York radio station broadcast George Carlin's Filthy Words at two o'clock in the afternoon. The monologue was a comic assessment of seven swear words - 'cunt', 'shit', 'piss', 'fuck', 'cocksucker', 'motherfucker', and 'tits' - and its afternoon broadcast provoked complaints from parents. The ensuing controversy led to advertisers refusing to associate themselves with programmes which included strong language, thus, for commercial reasons, none of the seven words Carlin listed are permitted on either radio or network television: "Without advertisers to placate, writers [for HBO] can include bad language and explicit sex scenes [though they are] nowhere on network TV" (Grace Bradberry, 2002).
Radio in Britain is more liberal than in America, though even in Britain the word 'cunt' only rarely graces the airwaves. Its presence on the radio, however, causes significantly less controversy than its use on television. A good example is the Breakfast Show morning programme on Radio 1, which is regarded by its succession of presenters as a forum for uncensored, naturalistic repartee. Thus, Chris Evans invited listeners to suggest pet names for the vagina and reacted with mock outrage when one of his co-presenters posed as a caller and said "The cunt" (199-). In the same time-slot, a disc jockey who mispronounced The Cult Of Ant And Dec as "The Cunt Of Ant And Dec" (1999) simply laughed and noted his "Freudian slip". On Radio 3, Gilbert+George discussed their montage George The Cunt And Gilbert The Shit, by name, at six o'clock in the evening, during a pre-recorded interview in 2002.
Again, it is the context in which the word is used that dictates the level of offence it causes. The offensive potential of these two breakfast-time examples was diffused by humour, and the Gilbert+George example went unbleeped because Radio 3 is not felt to be a station listened to by children. Similarly, when a football referee explained live on Radio 5 that the word 'cunt' had been used to insult him on the pitch, a quick apology from presenter Allan Robb was sufficient. When 'cunt' is used aggressively, however, it causes considerably greater offence. In a live Radio 1 interview with Steve Lamacq, Liam Gallagher - renowned for his coinage of the insult "cuntybollocks" (Matthew de Abaitua, 1998) - threatened to "beat the fucking living daylight shit out of [any] cunts that give me shit" (1997). Though broadcast late in the evening, this angry outburst drew more complaints than any of the incidents broadcast in earlier time-slots.
As discussed previously with reference to the Lady Chatterley trial, simple tallies of swear words do not recognise the importance of context, though Lamacq has suggested that Radio 1 has a swear word hierarchy in which "one c[unt] is as bad as five f[uck]s" (2000). In his guide to English grammar, Practical English Usage, Michael Swan classifies swear words with a star-rating system: "a one-star word will not upset many people, while a four- or five-star word may be very shocking" (1980); 'cunt' is the only word given five stars. The British Board of Film Classification has a similar hierarchy, classifying swear words in ascending order as 'very mild' ('damn'), 'mild' ('bastard'), 'moderate' ('prick'), 'strong' ('fuck'), and 'coarse' ('cunt'). Television regulators also have a linguistic hierarchy: 'cunt' "tops the watchdog Broadcasting Standards Commission's list of most offensive words" (Tara Conlan, 2002).
Furthermore, there is an unwritten code which determines the warnings given by continuity-announcers before television programmes: a warning of 'strong language' implies 'fuck' and one of 'very strong language' implies 'cunt'. Channel 4's announcement, before a repeat of V, that viewers should prepare themselves for "the strongest possible language" (Gavin Weightman (1998) can be seen as both an over-cautious warning and a proud boast. Taking a more cautious approach, the BBC requires senior approval before any use of 'cunt' is permitted on any BBC television or radio station: "Any on-air use of a notorious four-letter word starting with "c," [BBC executive Jana Bennett] said, required her personal clearance" (Eric Pfanner, 2008).
Cunt On Film And Video
The word's first cinematic outing came in 1970, in two film adaptations of Henry Miller novels: Joseph Strick's Tropic Of Cancer and Jens Jorgen Thorsen's Stille Dage I Clichy. (The latter featured 'cunt' extensively in captions and graffiti.) In Nil By Mouth, one of the few films to include truly extensive usage of 'cunt', Ray Winstone, "spraying c-words like bullets" (Stuart Jeffries, 1997), brutally assaults Kathy Burke whilst shouting "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" (Gary Oldman, 1997). Peter Silverton describes the scene as "cunt-kick, cunt-kick, and so on and on" (2009). The lines would be familiar to Winstone, whose previous role in Ladybird, Ladybird involved a similar sequence in which he verbally abused Crissy Rock by calling her "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" (Ken Loach, 1994). Gary Oldman has said that the brutal language was an essential part of Nil By Mouth's authenticity: "I knew that I could give it an integrity and honesty [...] I'm not making the language more palatable [...] I want a bare knuckle film" (Ian Nathan, 1997). Winstone also starred in Sexy Beast, in which Ben Kingsley calls him "Fat, fat, cunt, cunt" (Jonathan Glazer, 2000).
The use of 'cunt' in film titles is reserved almost exclusively for pornography:
(The final title, Cunt Hunt, is also the name of a 2003 painting by Kristian von Hornsleth.) There is also a five-part pornographic TV series called Cunt Lust (2005). Deborah Strutt directed the film My Cunt (1996), in which Maude Davey delivers a monologue about cunt exhibitionism. The film Christmas On Earth was "originally known as Cocks and Cunts" (J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1983). The film Le Sexe Enrage, directed by Roland Lethem, was retitled The Red Cunt in 1970. The film Magia Verde was retitled Mondo Keazunt "to subliminally suggest the word ['cunt']" (Charles Kilgore, 1997). Rossella Schillaci's film Ascuntami (2001) includes 'cunt' in its title, though in this case (like that of the book Lo Cunto De Li Cunti) 'cunt' appears as a component of the Italian title rather than as a genital term. The magazine Lazy Frog created a poster for the fictional film "Cunty Elliot" (2001, a pun on Billy Elliot), and Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994) features the fictional porn videos "My Cunt Needs Shafts" and "Girls Who Crave Cunt". There is a German porn film production company called PiCunt Movie.
In the music industry, perhaps the most notable usage of 'cunt' does not technically involve the word itself. Instead, 'cunt' is strongly implied, by a forced pronunciation of 'vacant', in Pretty Vacant by The Sex Pistols: "Oh, so pretty vay-cunt" (1977).
This connection is used to more bawdy effect in the Rugby song Three Jews Of Norfolk (19--):
"there were no beds vacant,
In another example of The Sex Pistols almost-but-not-quite using the word, their song Silly Thing was "originally 'Silly Cunt'" (Alan Parker, 2001). The band's lead singer, Sid Vicious, did use the word in his solo single My Way, however:
"And now, the end is near
'Cunt' is very rarely used even by Hip-Hop performers: "Not even [...] the meanest-mouthed gangsta rapper would use it" (Ed Vulliamy, 1999), sadly undermining Matthew Norman's spoof Gangsta rap title "I'm a Motherf[ucking] Cop-Killing C[unt]" (2002). Even The 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989), often cited as the epitome of rap's violent and misogynist lyrical content, features 'cunt' only once. A notable exception is the computer game True Crime: Streets Of LA from 2004, in which 'cunt' features heavily as part of both the dialogue and the Gangsta rap soundtrack.
'Cunt' is primarily reserved for use by Punk, Grindcore, and Nu-Metal bands, ideally suited to record-labels such as Cunt Tree Records, Cunt Records, and Fucking Cunt Records.
The band Prosthetic Cunt have been played by John Peel on Radio 1, and the sound of Peel saying 'Cunt' (sampled from him announcing the band's name on air) was used by Sarah Nelson in her song Cuntry Music: "Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt" (2004).
Other 'cunt'-related band names include:
The material produced by bands such as these is often misogynist, homophobic, and deliberately offensive. There are exceptions, however, such as the instrumental Cunt by Aphex Twin (1993) and the camp Walk Runway Miss Cunt by Jay Karan Pendavis (2007). Perhaps the most mainstream band with a 'cunt' song title is Sleeper, who recorded Cunt, London as a B-side in 1997. There have been club nights called Alt.Cunt.Fest (in London, 2004) and Choice Cunts (in New York, 2007), and whenever John Peel appeared at British music festivals it was traditional for the crowd to chant 'John Peel is a cunt!' (he even wore a 'John Peel's A Cunt' t-shirt to acknowledge this, and versions of it were sold to festival-goers). There have also been some comedy tracks with 'cunt' titles: Howard Stern's Candle In The Wind spoof Candle In My Cunt (199-), Elisabeth Belile's My Country, My Cunt (1994), and KP Knowledge Is Power's C*nt 101 (2004).
The singer Plan B has become notorious for his usage of 'cunt', and has been accused of glamorising the word and using it only for shock effect. He insists, however, that his music has a social message which would be ignored by his jaded audiences if he did not attract their attentions with 'cunt': "It's the one word that still shocks some people. [...] all I had to say was 'cunt', and I had their attention [...] when they hear my music, like "Wow! He said 'cunt'! I'm into this['] But then when they listen to the music, then it has a message. So I use 'cunt' in a positive way [...] We live in a society where kids say 'cunt'. I might not like it, but they fucking say it" (Pete Woods, 2007). Plan B wears, and sells, a 'LISTEN UP... YOU CUNT' t-shirt, though he has no intention of deliberately mainstreaming the word: "if I did convert the whole world to the word 'cunt', and we all started using it, then we'd have to find a new word in place of it".
Private Eye invented the fictional song "Spiggy Is A Right C[unt]" (CD Rom, 2003), and Kevin Bloody Wilson wrote two comic songs exploiting the shock value of the c-word (both 2002). In Absolute Cunt Of A Day, he complains about everything going wrong:
"I've had an absolute cunt of a day.
and in You Can't Say Cunt In Canada he complains about Canadian censorship:
"You can't say 'cunt' in Canada.
The most prolific musical cunts are the band Anal Cunt, whose song You're A Fucking Cunt (1996) attacks a rival band's lyrics:
"you're a fucking cunt.
Anal Cunt's lyrics are sometimes self-parodic: the band is not afraid to mock itself, and its lyrics do at least have a rhyme scheme, unlike the angry rantings of most of the 'cunt'-related bands listed below. For example, in I'm Glad You Got Breast Cancer, Cunt (2001), the lyrics ridicule a woman who has undergone a mastectomy:
"Guys used to always buy you drinks
I always hoped you'd get AIDS,
There is no doubting the severe offence of a song such as this, though this offence is at least partially negated by the almost comic rhyme and structure.
The following is a selection of 'cunt' song and album titles:
Stewart Home has a permanent association with the word 'cunt', due to his short story pamphlet Cunt Lickers Anonymous (1986) and, especially, his novel Cunt (1999). Home admits that Cunt's title made it difficult finding a publisher, though this is, in fact, a massive understatement, as forty-three printers initially rejected it.
This troubled publication history led to several puns on the 'countdown' to Cunt's release, with headlines such as Final Cuntdown and The Final Cuntdown (both 1999). The 'cuntdown'/'countdown' connection has also been humorously exploited by Viz with their Cuntdown article featuring Countdown's "Cuntdown Conundrum" (2001), and accidentally by a Singaporean sign (1999) which was rendered as 'C untdown' thanks to a faulty lamp used to represent the 'o'. A punning headline, C_ntdown, was used for a spoof magazine article in 2004 (by Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson, both pseudonyms). Throughout Thailand, the common 'Counter Service' payment sign appears as 'C unter Service' as its 'o' is rendered as a yellow sun. Also, the mid-afternoon television programme Countdown once caused a stir when its host, Richard Whitely, "wore a tie made by a viewer with the show's name down the front. However, the "down" was obscured by the desk and the first letter "O" by his microphone" (Julia Stuart, 2004).
It was finally agreed that Home's title could not be printed on the spine of the book (so as not to offend bookshop browsers) and Cunt stickers were provided instead, to be stuck onto the spine after purchase.
Cunt's title is applicable in both the anatomical and abusive senses of the word, as Home explained in Will They Let Me Put Cunt On The Cover?: "[it] is called Cunt because it is narrated by a cunt in search of a cunt" (1999). Prior to its publication, Kim Fowley and Esther Wiggins from the pressure-group Women Against Violent Language wrote to Time Out to extol the traditional feminist position: "the title and content of [Cunt are] deeply oppressive to women. It [...] reduces this very personal and private aspect of women's bodies to an obscene insult" (1999). In reply, the liberal Feminists Against Censorship group stressed that "calling a book [Cunt is not] deeply offensive to women or to anyone".
Other 'cunt' book titles include:
Gary G Graham has written a series of books called Cannabis, of which volume I is subtitled Glasgow Cunt Sez Shite U No Like (1999) and volume V is subtitled More News From The Home Cunt? (1999). Peter Silverton's Filthy English had the working title "Arseholes, Bastards, Fucking Cunts and Pricks" (2009).
Viz created the fictional books "NEW CUNTS" (2001) and "You Bunch of Cunts - My Life Behind the Scenes at Top Gear" (2011[b]) (and the fictional commemorative plate "Bernard ~ Fat Racist Cunt Of Hearts"; 2012). Cassetteboy's album The Parker Tapes (2002) features a fictional Harry Potter book titled "Harry Potter And The Black Leather Cunt". Almost a 'cunt' title is Lawrence Durrell's book Tunc (1968), an anagram of 'cunt' that means 'next' in Latin. Gregor Muir's book Lucky Kunst (2009) is a pun on 'lucky cunts' (and is also the name of a record label established by the Pet Shop Boys in 2003).
The introduction to an anthology of lesbian erotica was published in 1987 as The Edge Of Cunt, by Pat Califa. Yoav Rinon wrote a feminist analysis of de Sade titled Cunt And Female Sexuality in Sadian Reflections (2005). Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint (1969) includes a chapter titled Cunt Crazy which includes inventive insults such as "Betty-Boop-dumb-cunt" and "Commissioner of Cunt". Maxim Jakubowski's Life In The World Of Women includes a chapter titled Kate's Cunt (1996). Angela Y Davis wrote a chapter titled Why Did Jennifer Scala Bring Cunt Into The Courtroom? in One Of The Guys (2007). The underground comic Snatch published a cartoon-strip titled Cunt Capers by S Clay Wilson in 1969. Kono Yaro's The Sexual Misadventures Of Kung FU Girl includes a comic-strip called Cunt Slaves (2002).
David Wagonor wrote a poem titled For A Man Who Wrote CUNT On A Motel Bathroom Mirror (2005). John Updike wrote the poems Two Cunts In Paris in 1997, and Cunts in 1973:
"your underpants cry cunt CUNT there is almost
A 1973 poem by Allen Ginsberg is titled Under The World There's A Lot Of Ass, A Lot Of Cunt. Lisa Williams wrote a poem titled On Not Using The Word "Cunt" In A Poem, which included explicit descriptions and words with phonetic similarities to 'cunt' ("must I count my kind of cunning out?", 2006) though did not actually include 'cunt' itself. The Pearl printed a poem titled Cunt in 1879. Other cunt poems include Cunt Candy (Ron Androla, 19--) and Woman's Cunt (19--).
Several magazines have published 'cunt' short stories, such as Charles Bukowski's Love Makes Its Gun Into The Horrible Cunt Of Life in Ole (1967) and Robert Coover's Lucky Pierre And The Cunt Auction (1974) in Antaeus. (A 1986 analysis of Coover's work by Ann Morris is titled Death-Cunt-And-Prick Songs). Subsequently, Brat Attack published Why I Play With My Cunt (199-) by Lovechild 93, Quim printed Greedy Cunt (2001) by Linda Sanchez, Bust published Me And My Cunt by Janine Guzzo (199-), The Review Of Contemporary Fiction printed Rikki Ducornet's The Death Cunt Of Deep Dell (1998), and Chocolate Impulse printed Pot-Smokin' Cunt-Lickin' Lesbian Kentucky Weekend! by 'Faith Impulse' [Jim Goad] (199-).
We have seen how cable television has challenged America's 'cunt' taboo, though there is something more intrinsically shocking about hearing an actor in the theatre using the word. On television, we can channel-hop at will, though in the theatre the audience has no such control. Thus, Patrick Marber's play Closer, despite featuring 'cunt' merely in a throwaway line, opened on Broadway to a great deal more controversy than Sex And The City's 'cunt' episode. In Closer, a male character uses 'cunt' in the presence of a woman and instinctively apologises. She is not offended, and replies: "I'm a grown-up. Cunt away!" (1997). Prompted by the fuss surrounding this anodyne dialogue, Andrew Goldman noted America's "grudging acceptance [and] unease with the word" (1999).
As Closer demonstrates, what is unremarkable in Britain can be highly controversial across the Atlantic. Patrick Marber himself advises caution with regard to the word: "In England, you can call another man a c[unt] but you should know him quite well. It's not a good idea to go c[unt]ing around in London".
Even in Britain, "there was a gasp when [Chris Klein] said the c-word" during the play This Is Our Youth (Steve Smith, 2003), according to Graham Norton who interviewed the play's cast. Freddie Prinze was unfazed: "It's a funny word!", and Norton agreed: "We say it a lot [...] Driving, I hear it a lot!". The gasp from the British audience was perhaps an expression of surprise that the word was spoken by a young American actor, rather than an expression of shock at simply hearing the word itself. Lynn Gardner reported a similar situation during a British performance of The Vagina Monologues: "When the word ['cunt'] was first said a little gasp rippled through the audience, but within 90 seconds most of the audience were chanting the word" (2002).
One play whose language has genuinely shocked British audiences is Stitching, by Anthony Neilson (2002). A raw and brutally honest examination of the rebuilding of a miserable relationship, the play's most graphic language comes when its central couple exchange insults:
"If you'd turned out to be a total cunt I wouldn't [be here]."
Johann Hari complains of Stitching that "Some lines are deliberately provocative and offensive" (2002), and Sarah Burrell is concerned that the viciousness of the play's dialogue jars with the reconciliatory plot: "That this is a world where female genitalia cannot be referred to enough, and never without the C-word, is understood, but matching the sadomasochistic language of the couple's past with the Relate-style counselling of the play's present is something of a challenge" (2002).
There is a play titled L'Amur Et Moardt Desperattium Dalg Cunt Othavo Et Quella Cun Ottras Chiosas Da Spass Et Biffunarias Traunter Aint, credited to Fadrich Viezel (whose name is also spelt Fadrich Weitzel). It was first performed in 1673, though remained unpublished until 1885. It was printed as part of an anthology (Un Drame Haut-Engadinois: Tragicomedia) which was itself seemingly extracted from another source (Revue Des Langues Romances). Notwithstanding its complex history, the play not only includes 'cunt' in its title it also features a character called Cunt ("Ais foarza all Cunt mieu bain mieu cour").
There is also a character called Cunt in Jeff Goode's 1999 play Poona The Fuckdog. Judy Chicago wrote a play titled Cock And Cunt in 1970. Esther Newton gave a lecture titled Cohen, Coon, And Cunt: The Geometry Of Gay Prejudice in 1992. A performance by Gelitin, consisting of the repeated digging of a hole, was titled The Dig Cunt (2007).
Innuendo: Bunt, Lunt, Punt...
Broadly, contemporary appearances of 'cunt' in the media can be categorised as either euphemistic or repetitious. That is, 'cunt' either appears obliquely (in a disguised form) or repeatedly (uttered over and over again). The former is popular in contemporary comedy, while the latter is largely confined to less mainstream arenas. The euphemistic appearances in contemporary comedy are an indication of the word's increasing mainstream acceptance. In these instances, the word is never used directly; rather, it is humorously implied, with the humour reducing its potency and the euphemism removing its shock-value.
There are many examples of the 'cunt' taboo being challenged by this comic, euphemistic usage. The Monty Python sketch Crunchy Frog, for instance, includes a character called "Constable Kuntt" (1976). (Compare this to "Phil MaC[un]ttup" - 'Fill My Cunt up' - from Oooer Surgery, 2001). Another tactic involves teasing the audience by alluding to the c-word and then not using it: in To Die For (Gus van Sant, 1995), a female character is described as "A four-letter word starting with 'c'", though the word is "Cold" rather than 'cunt'.
An earlier Python sketch, Travel Agent, features a character who calls himself a "silly bunt" (1972) after establishing that he always replaces the letter 'c' with 'b'. The 'bunt'/'cunt' link was also employed by Tim Dowling in this fictitious chat-room transcript (2002):
"I'M A (FILTERED) SALESMAN"
After 'bunt' came 'Lunt': Jack Dee joked about a schoolteacher who was teased because "his name was Mr Lunt" (Juliet May, 1992). There is an English village called Lunt, whose sign has been "defaced by mindless yobs who change the L to a C", prompting calls for "Launt to be used as an alternative name" (Natalie Paris, 2008). Clearly a pattern is emerging: after 'Lunt' came 'Punt', as Dan Antopolski suggested "There once was a woman called Punt" as an ideal first line for a limerick (Becky Martin, 2000). There was even a BBC Choice panel-game titled Stupid Punts (2001), punning on 'Stupid Cunts'. Finally, a Private Eye cartoon (Cornwall, 2004) used "GUCKING GUNTS" to imply 'fucking cunts'. Like earlier Cockney rhyming slang such as 'Berkshire Hunt', 'bunt', 'Lunt', 'Punt', and 'gunt' all rhyme with 'cunt' - explaining Richard Adams's insistence that 'punt' "rhymes with bank manager" (2001). Similarly, Gareth McLean suggested that "there are only so many rhymes you can do with "shunt" before you reach Margaret Thatcher" (2001[b]) and Private Eye punned on "political stunt" being "misheard" (Grayling's Gaffe, 2009).
Kenneth Williams has declared: "I'm a cult figure, you see. I'm an enormous cult. I am!" (Wogan, 198-), punning on the similarity of 'cult' and 'cunt'; likewise, a headline in Bizarre read Bunch Of Cults (2000). Paul Merton has used 'Celt' to the same effect: "Look at that Celt over there!" (Janet Staplehurst, 2004). Frank Skinner made a similar joke about 'Kent': "I went out last night to a golf club in Kent. I knew where I was [because everyone] shouted 'Kent!' when I [arrived]!" (Peter Orron, 2001), and the 'Kent'/'cunt' similarity caused a problem when presenter Nicky Campbell tried to say 'West Kent Hunt' on Radio 5 and instead managed to say "West C[un]t...er, hunt!" as reported by The Sun, which headlined the story You Kent Say That On BBC! (2004).
In The League Of Gentlemen, the line "Sit up straight, you bone-idle, lazy cun-" (Steve Bendelack, 1999) was cut off before the final 't' could be heard. Similarly, on The Eleven O'Clock Show, Ricky Gervais turned "you stupid c-" (2000) into a running joke, always being interrupted before he could say 'unt'. Ian Hislop's comment "What a c-" was followed by "What a cad" and "What a coincidence" (John FD Northover, 1992[a]). In Ho, Ho, Ho Selecta! (Ben Palmer, 2003), 'cunt' was obscured by the first line of a Christmas carol:
"Fuck off, you skinny c-"
The same device was employed in an episode of 30 Rock titled The "C" Word (Adam and Andrew Bernstein, 2007), when 'cunt' is interrupted by a homophone:
"Liz is a grade-'A' -"
(In the same episode, 'cunt' was described as "rhym[ing] with your favourite Todd Rundgren album", a reference to Rundgren's album Runt.) A similar tactic was used in Star (Guy Ritchie, 2003), when a highly unflattering description of Madonna was interrupted by the woman herself:
"she's a complete cun-"
An episode of Hippies featured a speech-bubble reading "I AM A CUN" (Martin Dennis, 1999). The 'T' was obscured by a character's finger and a piece of paper, and, when spoken aloud, the word was drowned out by the sound of a gavel. In the programme, 'cunt' was described as "[THE] WORST WORD IN [THE] ENGLISH LANGUAGE".
A song by Grace Petrie (Colin Anderson, 2013) includes a pun on the c-word, rhyming "Hunt" with "completely" by extending the schwa sounds in both words:"When we've got those of Mr Hunt?"
"When every doctor and every nurse that I've spoken to
Seems to think that he's a completely inappropriate choice for the job".
Little Britain punned on the similarity between the sound of the letter 'c' and the word 'sea'. In their sketch, a customer in a card shop is trying to buy a card for his brother, whose interests he describes to the shop-keeper: "He likes the c-". On hearing this, the shop-keeper shows him a nautical card, whereupon the customer finishes his sentence: "word" (Matt Lipsey, 2004).
In Goodness Gracious Me, "FUKCNT" (Nick Wood and Christine Gernon, 2000), which can be rearranged to form 'FUCK' and 'CUNT', was shown on a series of Scrabble tiles. In Let Them Eat Cake there were several references to "the old Comte" (Christine Gernon, 1999), which, like 'Count', bears a phonetic similarity to 'cunt'; co-writer Jennifer Saunders has said of 'cunt', "because it's still the only taboo word, it's the funniest word" (Peter Higgins, 1999). In I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, 'cunt' was suggested by the line "Dear Clint, sorry about the spelling mistake in my last letter" (John Naismith, 2001). The phrase 'black cunt' was hinted at on Have I Got News For You: "It's a black cat. At least, I think that's what John Terry called it" (John Spencer, 30/11/2012).
In a particularly subtle reference, at the British Comedy Awards Jonathan Ross obliquely described 'cunt' as "consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant" (1998). Marcus Brigstocke made a similarly oblique pun on the word 'cunts': "it's not strictly true that nothing can rhyme with 'month'. My brother has a lisp, and doesn't like the people he works with!" (Tilusha Ghelani, 2011). The Fast Show recited a list of alliterative vaginal synonyms, including "mountain of minge" (Mark Mylod, 2000), though "a cornucopia of" was followed by a suggestive pause, requiring as it does a vaginal term beginning with 'c'.
The proximity of 'cunt' and 'can't' was exploited in a newspaper reference to Stewart Home's novel Cunt: "[the] book has such a rude, albeit brief, title that one "can't" print it in a family newspaper" (Mark Sanderson, 1999). Emma Rees employed a similar tactic in the title of her conference paper Beneath Is All The Fiends': Lear's Vaginas Or Cordelia's Can't (2005). A very similar instance is that of 'cant', as in this pun on 'cunt' and 'cigar':
All of these various 'cunt' euphemisms demonstrate an increasing willingness to acknowledge the word's existence and an attempt to belittle the taboo against it. By laughing at our inability to utter a forbidden word, we recognise the arcane nature of the taboo and begin to challenge it.
For instance, Ian Hislop, in a speech at Coventry Cathedral, joked about "a four-letter word beginning with 'cu' [that isn't] 'cute'" (2000). This example is especially interesting, due to the context in which it was spoken. Hislop's speech was addressed to a primarily middle-aged audience at Coventry Cathedral, and he was introduced by the Bishop of Coventry. That 'cunt' could be joked about in such circumstances is a clear indication of the public's increasing tolerance towards it.
Repetition: Cunt, Cunt, Cunt...
In tandem with the trend towards 'cunt' euphemism is a significant, though less prolific, trend towards the over-use and repetition of the word, as in Stephen Fry's delicious phrases "cuntly cunt" (1991) and "fuckety-cunt" (1994), David S Goyer's "cock-jiggling thunder-cunt" (2004), Louis CK's "You're a cunt! Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt!" (Andrew D Weyman, 2006), Russell Howard's "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" (Geraldine Dowd, 2010), and this extraordinary moment in Jerry Springer: The Opera (Stewart Lee, 2002):
"In fact he's a total cunt!"
In The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2004), Howie Mandel bases two entire comedy routines around the word (involving "cunt snot", "cunt juice", and "cunt loogies"), on the basis that it was the only English word that his Polish grandmother ever knew; Penn Jillette summarises Mandel's routine in his commentary as "cunt, cunt, cunt". Less provocatively, Drew Carey chose a particularly easy target when he said: "Osama bin Laden's a cunt. Cunt, cunt, cunt" (Paul Miller, 2001).
Comedian Will Smith notes the increasing usage of 'cunt' amongst his contemporaries: "I use the c-word on stage, and I've watched other comics throw the word around willy-nilly [...] Today in comedy, there's nothing alternative about the c-word. It's out and proud" (Pete Woods, 2007). Another comedian, Jim Jeffries, explains that 'cunt' is often essential in a punchline: "I've got certain jokes that if I don't say the word 'cunt' it ceases to be a funny joke".
Surely the most extreme example of 'cunt' excess is this song performed by Sarah Silverman on an independent Los Angeles radio station (Scott Aukerman, 2009):
"If you're selfish and you're thoughtless,
The genesis of this 'cunt' overkill can be traced back to a series of improvisations by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the Derek And Clive recordings, as David Baddiel explains: "The use of the word now is related to the fact that people like me, and other people, grew up with Derek And Clive, and it's filtered into popular consciousness" (Pete Woods, 2007). Cook and Moore's earlier collaboration Not Only... But Also... (James Gilbert, 1970) was restricted by television regulations regarding acceptable content; using alliterative substitution, it coined the phrase "fish off, chip chips" to pun on 'fuck off, cunty chops', the reference being permitted by virtue of its convolution. The Mary Whitehouse Experience (Armando Iannucci, 1990) devised a similar code, using "Henry Kelly" in place of 'cunt', and thus referring to Steve Punt as "Steve Henry Pelly".
By contrast, Derek And Clive avoided any form of subtlety or euphemism: the sketch You Stupid Cunt sets the tone, beginning with the words "Hello, cunt! You stupid cunt!" (1977); Cook's "cunt-kicking" monologue (Adam Smith, 2011) is particularly extreme in its misogynism. What is remarkable about these recordings, sustained attempts to express "every idea and emotion through swearing" (Francis Hanly, 2002), is that they are completely unrestrained and yet have been censored neither by the artists themselves nor by their record company.
Indeed, so uninhibited were the dialogues that Moore later attempted to distance himself from them, attributing their extreme content to Cook and not himself: "[Peter] made my jaw drop a couple of times. I thought, 'Are you really saying that?' [H]e probably wanted to shock people, and he did, you know, he shocked me" (Louise Heaton, 1995). In fact, it was Moore who made the most frequently obscene contributions, often punctuating Cook's streams of inventiveness with a token 'cunt' or 'fuck', as Francis Hanley confirms: "In order to keep up with Peter, Dudley would often result to pure smut" (2002).
Moore was more candid with his biographer, Douglas Thompson, and admitted that his mother thought 'cunt' was "the filthiest word that had ever been invented" (1996). His obscene sense of humour was revealed during a stage show in the 1970s when he "bared his arse [to the restless audience], while exclaiming 'I'll tell you why you're waiting. The cunt's drunk! The cunt's drunk! The cunt's drunk!'" (John Hind, 2002). Years later, while discussing alternative names for 'Tesco' on Clive Anderson Talks Back, he suggested "Tescunt" (199-).
The Derek And Clive recordings prefigured the 'four-letter fury' headlines later accorded to V; even the water metaphors were the same, with Derek And Clive being described by William Cook as a "profane stream of semi-consciousness" (2002) and, in Peter Cook's parody of a fulminating tabloid, "a shower of filth" (1976). James Ferman, in banning the Derek And Clive film, cited their raison d'etre as "to be as offensive as possible and to break every taboo the performers can think of, however outrageous" (William Cook, 2002). Moore's biographer agreed, dismissing them as "schoolboy lavatory language zipped up to the nth degree" (Douglas Thompson, 1996).
While the Derek And Clive recordings set the benchmark for comic offensiveness, their album sleeves were less explicit. Their first, most graphic recording, Come Again, featured "SEE YOU EN TEE" (1977) on its sleeve, a phonetic rendering of the letters 'C U N T'. This recalls the popular euphemism 'see you next Tuesday', and was copied virtually verbatim many years later by It's Only TV But I Like It (Ian Lorimer, 1999):
Another notable over-exponent of 'cunt' is Alexi Sayle, one of whose stage characters, 'Mr Sweary', used to shout "Fucking c[unt], you wanker. Fucking c[unt], you wanker. Fucking c[unt], you wanker" (Peter Higgins, 1999) and "Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt. Fucking cunt. Quelle cunt, if you'll pardon my French" (Pete Woods, 2007). For Sayle and other alternative comedians, 'cunt' became a symbol of anti-mainstream rebellion, as Rik Mayall remembers: "[when] we weren't allowed to say the c-word, for example - the four-letter word that begins with 'c' that's even ruder than the f-word - that was it, even for Alexi. That's when we said 'Fuck this!' [...] So that's when we started using the c-word as much as possible!".
Two comedians - Jerry Sadowitz and Matt Lucas - became indelibly associated with 'cunt' on the comedy circuit, due to their frequent usage of the word. Sadowitz, whose unique brand of ironic homophobia is demonstrated by his fictional booklet titled "DON'T PUT YOUR COCK IN ANOTHER MAN'S ARSE, YOU STUPID CUNT!" (2003), was "famous for being the bloke who said "c[unt]" on stage" (Ben Marshall, 1998) and has been called "a man who seems to have dedicated his life to destigmatising the C-word" (Richard Vine, 2001). Lucas admits to being styled "the c[unt] comedian" (2000) for much the same reason. On television, however, Sadowitz was usually more restricted, describing "the word 'unt'", for example, because he was forbidden from saying 'cunt' (Stephen Stewart, 1992).
More surprisingly, Stanley Kubrick also used the word a great deal, according to Frederic Raphael: "As if to prove what buddies we now are, he uses the word "cunt" a lot. He talked of a "shaggy-cunt story" when I outlined my role-playing scenario for the orgy" (1999). Another unlikely exponent of the word is Paul Dacre, editor of the censorious Daily Mail newspaper: "Dacre, whose paper bemoans the coarsening of British culture [is] prodigal in his use of the c-word" (Street Of Shame, 2005[a]). Dacre's outbursts are known as "double-cuntings" (Street Of Shame, 2005[b]), and Daily Mail journalists greet each other by asking: "I say, have you been double-cunted yet?" (Street Of Shame, 2005[a]) which is defined as "[being] called a cunt twice in the same sentence".
The Vagina Monologues "regularly got theatres full of women, and celebrities like Melanie Griffith and Gillian Anderson, to chant "C[unt]!" over and over again, as a way to exorcise the venom from the word" (Andrew Goldman, 1999); indeed, Glenn Close encouraged "18,000 people to stand and chant the word cunt at Madison Square Garden" (Eve Ensler, 2001) and "Hundreds of international women trade unionists [screamed] "cunt" in Melbourne, Australia" (Eve Ensler, 2005). During Safer Sex Week at Columbia University, students were urged to shout "Cunt, cunt, cunt!" (Sally Cohen-Cutler, 2005). With less noble intentions, "a woman [spent] an hour shouting the word "cunt" at the top of her voice" (Jon Wilde, 1997) as part of the performance art event Art Shock Blowup. In his song I'm A Cunt (1993), Roy Chubby Brown exclaims (to little disagreement) "I'm a cunt, I'm a cunt, I'm a c-u-n-t cunt". The lesbian band Rockbitch (profiled by Channel 5's This Is Rockbitch) urged the audiences at their concerts to chant "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" (Norman Hull, 2003) in celebration of the vagina's capacity for sexual pleasure. Sarah Kane's play Blasted (1995) includes a scene in which a character (Ian) repeats the word eleven times while masturbating: "Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt". A character in Fidelis Morgan's novel Unnatural Fire also uses the word repeatedly: "'Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt,' she shouted, and meant every word of it" (2001).
Irvine Welsh, who chanted "cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt" (1996) during a Primal Scream single, has become one of the most prominent over-exposers of the word 'cunt', which he describes as "the all-purpose term for someone else, either friendly or unfriendly" (Ed Vulliamy, 1999). Along with James Kelman's How Late It Was How Late, Welsh's novel Trainspotting ("That cunt, that cunt 'n' his fuckin' mates back thair, that's the cunts thit fuckin' stabbed ma brar!", 1993) and Danny Boyle's film of the novel ("That lassie got glassed and nae cunt leaves here 'til we find oot what cunt did it!", 1996) introduced mainstream audiences to gritty contemporary Scottish fiction, as characterised by Private Eye: "So what is that generation saying? "Yacuntya!" on every page" (Bookworm, 2002).
Welsh's novel Glue includes a section called Young Cunts ("The definition of 'young cunts' covered everybody younger than himself", 2001), and his novella A Smart Cunt includes a chapter titled Christmas With Blind Cunt ("even more of a cunt. Like Blind Cunt", 1994). In his novel Porno (2002), Welsh has fun repeating the word ("CUNT... CUNT... CUNT... CUNT...") and creates the evocative alternative "CAHHNNTTT".
Maya Baran describes Welsh's attitude to 'cunt': "For Irvine, saying c[unt] was like Americans saying the word 'like' [...] We would have to send him to a speech therapist and a hypnotist to make him stop" (Andrew Goldman, 1999). Constant repetition of 'cunt' in this way - "to repeat the word until it [is] evacuated of its power" (Simon Carr, 2001) - serves to reduce its offensive potential, as we become desensitised and conditioned to its use: "to be shocking relies on being inappropriate to the context [so] as soon as the shocking becomes familiar, it's no longer shocking [...] What was originally shocking because it was inappropriate to the context has ceased to be so because it has become the context" (Hermann Vaske, 1999). Sometimes, however, even a single usage is one too many: Welsh recalls that his most embarrassing moment was when he described a female colleague as a "poisonous cunt" to his employer, not realising that the woman in question was the employer's wife (2003).
For Sally Vincent, Welsh's frequent usage of 'cunt' can still retain its shock-value in certain contexts: "if [Welsh] says, "I got completely cunted in the pub last night", it means he got plastered rather emphatically. The point is, where he comes from it would be offensive to use the term to mean female genitalia. Apart from that, it's a good, blunt word, a cosh of a word. Unlike prick, which is so insubstantial" (2002). This view is supported by a female interviewee of John Doran, who feels that, if 'cunt' is used endlessly, its literal meaning ('vagina') is devalued: "If your boyfriend has been spending all day calling his car a cunt, calling the referee a cunt, calling the dog a cunt... it's the last word you want to hear in relation to yourself" (2002).
Will Self, like Irvine Welsh, writes novels which are liberally sprinkled with 'cunt's. He explained why to Michael Odell: "they are necessary cunts. It's not that I am addicted to shocking my readers. When cunt is the right word, the mot juste, what can I do? I have to use it. I am a prisoner of cunt. I am not particularly enamoured of the word myself" (2008).
The result of this repetitive usage of 'cunt' is that the word's power to shock is diminished. 'Cunt' is regarded as the ultimate lexical taboo, and is therefore seldom written or spoken, therefore repetitive usage of 'cunt' will, after an initial shock, eventually neutralise the word: "If the word continues to be used in the same context, the shock value starts to wear off. [An artwork titled My Cunt] was being discussed on ABC radio [and during] the interview-discussion, the word was used so many times - hundreds in fact - that by the end the participants were quite inured to its power and effect. CUNT had assumed, through over-exposure if you like, the character and timbre of an ordinary word" (Ruth Wajnryb, 2004). Similarly, Susie Dent notes that the word's over-exposure is also gradually weakening its toxicity: "Terms such as 'silly old cunt' [...] are used today without, for some at least, striking any discordant note of abuse" (2004).
Using a diametrically opposite tactic, Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, which "hinges on its hero's use of [...] the C-word" (A Father, 2002), includes a long description of the word though rarely employs it directly: "The word: she tried to prevent it sounding in her thoughts, and yet it danced through them obscenely [...] Rhyming words took their form from children's books - the smallest pig in the litter ['runt'], the hounds pursuing the fox ['hunt'], the flat-bottomed boats on the Cam by Grantchester meadow ['punts']. Naturally, she had never heard the word spoken, or seen it in print, or come across it in asterisks. No one in her presence had ever referred to the word's existence, and what was more, no one, not even her mother, had ever referred to the existence of that part of her to which - Briony was certain - the word referred. The context helped, but more than that, the word was at one with its meaning, and was almost onomatopoeic. The smooth-hollowed, partly enclosed forms of its first three letters ['c', 'u', and 'n'] were as clear as a set of anatomical drawings" (2001). In the film of the novel, 'cunt' is called "the worst word in the world" (Joe Wright, 2007), and is seen being typed in close-up.
Cunt As The New Fuck
'Cunt' is making tentative, and frequently euphemistic, appearances in the contemporary media, though, by contrast, 'fuck' seems omnipresent, its taboo having largely been eradicated: "it is becoming more and more acceptable to use fuck in social contexts that would have been unthinkable even a generation ago" (Jesse Scheidlower, 1995). As 'fuck' becomes increasingly acceptable in mainstream popular culture, 'cunt' is left as the last swear word with any true power to shock: "Swear words are no longer truly obscene [...] only the c-word has any real shock value" (Tom Shone, 1994). Charlie Brooker observes how 'cunt' has replaced 'fuck' as the swear word du jour: "It's the last remaining taboo word [...] because fuck's been neutered [so] you have to reach for the next thing, which is 'cunt'" (Pete Woods, 2007). Peter Silverton (2009) agrees that the potency of 'fuck' has now been usurped by 'cunt': "the power of fuck has definitely waned and cunt has certainly taken its place as the most offensive of sexual swear words". In The C-Word, her article for Vogue magazine, Deborah Orr cites 'cunt' as the only truly potent profanity: "swearing is part of the everyday vernacular. But one word in particular still guarantees a reaction. ['Cunt' is] the mother of all put-downs" (2006).
'Fuck' is used only once in films with 'PG-13' classifications and, likewise, 'cunt' is gaining mainstream acceptance through single appearances in many film scripts. Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is a classic example: "Here is someone who stood up against all the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit" (1976). Several novels and plays also include a single 'cunt', and a solitary usage of the word has great dramatic effect at the end of David Mamet's play Oleanna: "You vicious little bitch [...] I wouldn't touch you with a ten-foot pole. You little cunt" (1992). Stephen Armstrong notes that television producers use 'cunt' as an indicator of cutting-edge drama: "swapping 'fuck' for 'cunt', just to prove they've still got their finger on the pulse" (Pete Woods, 2007).
Chris Morris, in his television satire Brass Eye, flashed an "obscene subliminal message" (Jade Garrett, 2001) that read "[Michael] Grade is a cunt" (Michael Cumming, 1997) and appeared for only a single frame. Grade was Chief Executive of Channel 4 at the time, and had delayed broadcasting Brass Eye; the subliminal insult was Morris's angry reply. He was recommissioned by Channel 4, however, and his next series, Jam, featured a t-shirt with the slogan "LITTLE CUNT" (2000). Morris's subliminal stunt had a predecessor some ten years older, as, in the 1980s, 'cunt' made a subliminal, subversive appearance when "an issue of International Musician had a big feature in which emboldened drop letters spelled ['MARTIN ELLIS IS A CUNT']" (Street Of Shame, 2001). In Gardener's World (2006), a puzzle's supposedly random letters were arranged to form "DYFATCUNT". A similar ruse was employed by the Peterborough Evening Telegraph newspaper page in 2004, with the text formatted so that the first letter of each line spelt 'Cunt':
"CAN anyone tell me why the council
"CAN'T Mr McDowell [...]
Such techniques are hardly new. Ronald Pearsall (1969) cites a very similar Victorian example:
"Come love, and dwell with me
In his Innit video, 'Ali G' (Sasha Baron-Cohen) discusses the tape's classification: "to get it an '18' I is gonna 'ave to use a word which I 'as never used before [...]: 'cunt'" (James Bobin, 1999). The irony here is that it was actually classified '15', indicating that the word is becoming more acceptable to the censors. When it is used insultingly, however, that acceptance is rescinded, as Ken Loach discovered when his Sweet Sixteen was given an '18' certificate due to its "aggressive use of the c-word" (Fiona Morrow, 2002).
Sweet Sixteen's screenwriter, Paul Laverty, put it more succinctly - "we get an 18 because of the c-word" (Dayle Crutchlow, 2002) - and complained bitterly about the decision: "I'm furious about it [...] It's like, this is an aggressive word which really gets up the nose of polite society. Just like it would get up her nose if you tried to use it in front of your working-class granny, but [...] the kids on the street corners use it all the time. [...] We let the kids speak the way they actually speak. Can you imagine saying to the kids, 'OK, you can swear and curse - just don't say that word'?".
Laverty was especially angry that the BBFC should find 'cunt' unacceptable in the context of his film yet permissible in other contexts: "I think there is [a] very important point of principle here; it concerns the world of the story. "Cunt," as used in polite Manhattan society [...] is of a totally different nature to the word as used by these kids on street corners in the west of Scotland. In many ways all they have in common is the spelling. In terms of its resonance, its rhythm, its acceptance, and many other cultural subtleties I genuinely do wonder if it is even the same word" (2002).
Swearing Chic: The End Of The Cunt Taboo?
'Cunt' is currently undergoing a period of transition. Feminist attempts to reappropriate it have so far achieved only limited success, and liberal attempts to ingratiate it into popular culture have not yet seen it accorded the same ubiquity as 'fuck': "the c-word has seemed safely on the other side of propriety. [...] The real question is whether or not c[unt] is going to lose its taboo" (Andrew Goldman, 1999). In a Channel 4 documentary ('X'-Rated) which devoted some ten minutes to the word's televisual history, Sebastian Scott complained that "There seems to be this bizarre world where, you know, every other word is fine to say, except the word 'cunt'" (Syeda Irtizaali, 2005).
For the time being, however, 'cunt' stands alone: whilst 'fuck' is everywhere, 'cunt' is conspicuous by its absence: "The word 'cunt' has undoubtedly retained a stronger shock value than 'fuck'" (Susie Dent, 2005). The drama Never Never, for instance, runs through the full gamut of profanity, with one notable exception; it has been described as "probably the most swearisome broadcast of the year. Someone says "fuck" every couple of seconds. [...] All your other slang favourites put in an appearance too, with the exception of the "c" word" (Charlie Brooker, 2000). James McDonald notes that 'cunt' "is much less likely to be heard on the wireless or seen in newspapers than the word fuck" (1988), though standards of acceptability are in constant flux. What is unacceptable to one generation becomes acceptable to the next. Tony Thorne is correct that 'cunt' remains "the most obscene of the [...] sexually-related taboo words" (1990), though his further claim that it is "probably the only word that is still banned from British newspapers and television" is already out of date. Its position as "the most taboo and insulting word in the English language" (Catherine Blackledge, 2003) will not last forever. Indeed, Jonathon Green notes that "In some circumstances cunt [...] is so frequent and so repetitive as virtually to lose its shock or taboo value" (1998); and Will Smith wonders if young people have "become c-word-proof" (Pete Woods, 2007), attributing the vogue for 'cunt' to gangster films such as Sexy Beast: "it's now trendy for the middle classes to use the word [...] due to an adopted working-class chic that's come from the big screen". Peter Silverton dates this trend to circa 2005: "By the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century [...] its toxicity was weakening".
Gilbert Adair accepts this notion, though he is disturbed by it: "Nowadays, with fewer and fewer exceptions, print journalists are free, should the context require it, to bandy about [...] all four-letter words, not excluding the last to resist common usage, "cunt" [...] Thus individuals who would never dream of using the word "cunt" in their private verbal exchanges now risk finding themselves confronted with it on the printed newspaper page" (1999). (Paradoxically, in the process of writing a newspaper article condemning the use of 'cunt' in newspapers, he himself uses the word twice.)
Neil Lyndon also problematises the increasing popularity of 'cunt': "Today there is just one word - describing female genitalia - which is still considered taboo and is as unacceptable on television as the word f[uck was] 20 years ago. F[uck is now] constantly in use [...] so you can see what will happen next" (2000). Diantha Parker suggests that "If history is any guide, eventually they'll bleach all the shock out of the c-word" (Brooke Gladstone, 2004). In a surreal exchange during the Oz obscenity trial, George Melly insisted that many liberated people use swear words quite openly, even amongst their own children. The prosecutor, amazed, asked him: "Would you call your eight- or ten-year-old daughter a little cunt?" (Sheree Folkston, 1991), to which Mellie replied: "I don't think she is one, but I might refer to a politician as one [...] these words have lost a great deal of their ability to shock".
This form of cultural liberalism is as distasteful to some as it is revelatory to others: "There are many who would say [the old] days were better [and] that as a society we've become more coarsened, and that our freer use of "rough" language is one indicator" (Tom Aldridge, 2001). Rather than condemning it as a coarsening of the language, however, we should celebrate it as a symbol of our collective liberation from cultural repression.
Adair and Lyndon both wrote lengthy, despairing (though also exploitative) articles criticising a cultural liberalisation that has led to the end of linguistic taboos and the sexualisation of popular culture. Perhaps the most famous example of this (by Cole Porter, 1934) is, fortunately, more comic than condemnatory:
"In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Good writers too
How might 'cunt' increase its mainstream acceptability? David Crystal expresses surprise that it has not yet done so: "The f-word very quickly became widely used and now you hear it all over the place. I expected that the c-word would follow suit, but it hasn't" (Anthony Barnes, 2006). He suggests that usage by a celebrity in a non-abusive context may be sufficient to defuse the taboo: "It would only take a famous person in the public eye to use the c-word in a way that was perhaps jocular and acceptable". John Sutherland, however, believes that it must be demonstrably reclaimed by women before it becomes socially acceptable: "It is still the unmentionable word in public conversation. The taboo will only be broken when women start using it freely".
Speculation surrounding the reappropriation of 'cunt' must necessarily encompass both the word itself and its power as an insult. Lucas M McWilliams argues that, while it is loaded with excessive pejorative cultural baggage, the word itself need not be intrinsically offensive: "There are few words that garner the sort of ire that cunt does. As an insult, it is second to none. It has come to signify the nastiest of insults that can be hurled around a room, and is absolutely venomous when snarled properly. It is, however, just a word" (2006). His commentary ends with the realisation that it is misogynistic ideologies that we should fear, not words themselves: "Cunt is a word [...] and nothing more. The meaning is entirely what you make of it, and by hiding it in a corner and shuddering whenever it is pulled to light you empower it. [...] I am not saying that you should not be offended if someone calls you a "raving cunt," but be offended by the hate behind it, not the word itself".
Paradoxically, 'cunt' is one of our greatest linguistic taboos yet it is unknowingly referenced whenever we say 'queen' or 'berk'. It can be heard whenever we say 'country' or 'constable', and there is merely a single letter differentiating it from words such as 'hunt' and 'punt'. Less obviously, because it does not rhyme with 'cunt', the word 'aunt' is also only one letter away from the c-word, as HBO's Curb Your Enthusiam demonstrated in its hilarious episode Beloved Aunt with a mistyped obituary reading "beloved cunt" (Robert B Weide, 2000). The 'aunt'/'cunt' link was first exploited in an episode of Family Guy (Monte Young, 1999), in which a Wheel Of Fortune-style word-puzzle "MY HAIRY UNT" appears. (The missing letter is, of course, 'A' as in 'AUNT'). An accidental example occurred in 1972, when a French newspaper misprinted Travels With My Aunt as 'Travels With My Cunt' (an error noted by Patricia Highsmith).
'Cunt' is forbidden yet it is all around us. It should be used openly and freely, without censorship, euphemism, or innuendo. Only then will its power as a misogynist insult will be diminished, will our language become more inclusive, and will outdated notions of sin and obscenity be discarded. In the words of Stephen Fry: "there won't be any swearing [in the future], because [...] almost every swear word now is more-or-less acceptable in broadcasting and every other form [therefore] it is impossible to imagine that there will be any taboo words which are unsayable, unless you invent new disgusting parts of the body that we haven't thought of yet!" (Simon Elmes, 2000).
'Fuck' is now ubiquitous on badges and t-shirts, and 'cunt' is catching it up. In The C Word (2005), Hanna Cormick notes the availability of "badges, tshirts, mugs etc all proclaiming you to be everything from a 'fucking cunt' to a 'cunt lover'". As mentioned earlier, Cafe Press distributes a wide variety of 'I Love My Cunt', 'I LOVE CUNT', 'LOVE IS A CUNT', and 'C.U.N.T.' items, though this is merely the tip of the iceberg and there is a great deal of other 'cunt' merchandise on sale (all 199- unless stated otherwise). The band Vaginal Incest sells a t-shirt with the slogan 'Treating cunts like cunts' (2006). T-Shirt Hell sells a t-shirt proclaiming 'GUYS LiKE YOU MAKE ME WANT TO STAPLE MY CUNT SHUt!' (2007). Etsy sells a t-shirt with 'CUNT" spelt in both letters and sign language (2009). A student at Oregon State University distributed 'slip into the cunt' t-shirts in 2008. The Brighton stationer Kiss Me Kwik produces 'Happy Birthday Cunt', 'Oh. There's just one more thing. You're a cunt', 'I don't have Tourettes. You're just a cunt', 'Jesus Loves Everyone Except For You You Cunt!', and 'Oi! you fucking CUNT' greetings cards (the latter of which features a 'CUNT' badge). They also sell 'cunt' wrapping-paper. Cunts Count sells 'CUNTS COUNT!' bumper-stickers (2007). SmellYourMum sells a Christmas card that says "YOU'RE A CUNT - SORRY, I MEANT TO SAY "MERRY CHRISTMAS"" (2012). Bizarre magazine has launched a wrapping-paper range including 'You Cunt', 'Cunt Cuntface Cunting Motherfucker', and 'Merry Christmas You Cunt'. One can buy 'You Fat Cunt' (2004) and 'ABSOLUT C*NT' (by Xcite, 2005) telephone screen-savers, and a 'CUNT' screen-saver by Bangbabes (2004) has its 'C' formed by the copyright symbol. Shock Horror has produced four 'cunt' t-shirts: 'I HAVEN'T GOT TOURETTES, IT'S JUST THAT YOU'RE A FUCKING CUNT' (2005), 'I'M A CUNT', 'I'M A C**T', and 'Jesus Loves You Everybody Else Thinks You're A Cunt'. Army Clothing (at Cafe Press) sells a t-shirt with the slogan 'Jesus loves you! But I think you're a cunt' (2005). Monster, in Thailand, manufactured a t-shirt with the slogan 'KEEP CALM YOU C*NTS' (2011). Married To The Mob sells 'Cunt Cunt Cunt' t-shirts (2012). A t-shirt featuring a drawing of a girl painting the word 'cunt' was used to promote the Hot Damn! club night in 2008. The Deadly Pretty website sells two 'Cunt' badges. There is also a range of 'Cunt' badges by Almighty Marketing: 'Cunt', 'Got Cunt?', 'I'm Pro-Cunt and I Vote!', and 'Cunt Is My Co-Pilot' (the latter being a pun on the novel God Is My Co-Pilot). Jeffree Star was photographed wearing 'Cunt' y-fronts in 2008. Zazzle sells an 'I'M A CUNT' mouse mat, a 'STOP BEING A CUNT' t-shirt, and 'I [heart] CUNT' magnet and sticker (all 2000). The bands Amen and Blood Duster have both worn 'Cunt' t-shirts at their concerts, and the band Jack Off Jill's merchandise also includes a 'Cunt' t-shirt. An online Japanese sex shop sells a honey-based aphrodisiac called Cunt. Mullet Mojo sells a t-shirt with the slogan 'I'd call you a cunt, but you don't have the depth or warmth' (2007). Printed Clothing sells a t-shirt with the slogan 'I cun't believe you can sneak swear words onto t-shits' (a pun on 'can't', 2000-). 'SARAH PALIN IS A CUNT' t-shirts were available in 2008. SmellYourMum sells t-shirts with the slogans 'I AM A CUNT' (2005) and 'I'm with Cuntface' (2007), and t-shirts sold by FoulMouthShirts proclaim 'LOOK AT MY SHIRT! Fuck, Shit, Cunt, Balls' and 'FUCK YOUR TITS SHOW ME YOUR CUNT!' (2005, a variation on the common 'show us your tits' crowd heckle). Nihil Clothing sells a 'CUNT' t-shirt (2009). Corpse Clothing (2005) sells t-shirts featuring the confrontational slogans 'cunty bollocks!', 'When you positively have to shoot some cunt in the face!' (paraphrasing the film Jackie Brown, replacing 'motherfucker' with 'cunt'), 'I'M THE ONLY CUNT IN THE VILLAGE' (a pun on a Little Britain catchphrase, replacing 'gay' with 'cunt'), 'FUCK OFF BARNEY YOU ANNOYING PURPLE CUNT' (criticising Barney, a children's TV character), and 'WARNING THIS T-SHIRT MAY CONTAIN THE WORD CUNT'. Vanessa Fristedt (2007), in a campaign against politician Ken Livingstone, designed and sold 'KEN THE CUNT' badges and t-shirts and 'CUNT' bumper-stickers, with the 'C' formed from the London congestion charge logo. The latter design is also featured on a t-shirt by Jamrags (2009), and another t-shirt from the same company features a drawing of Gordon Ramsay with the slogan 'THE C WORD' (a pun on The F Word).
Body Punks have produced a 'CUNT' belt-buckle (200-). Genesis P Orridge wears a 'Cunt' ring, and a 'CUNT' ring is available from Marche Noir (both 200-). In 2003, Mahogany Central produced a 'Cunt' necklace, which was worn with pride by Janet Street-Porter during her Edinburgh Festival Fringe show of that year. In the same year, Sam Taylor-Wood created Cunt (Necklace), spelling the word in rubies, and Paramorj Jewellery produced a 'Cunt' necklace in 2006. Two Hollywood actresses have worn 'cunt' necklaces: "Julia Roberts isn't as clean cut as we thought. According to reports, while filming the hotly-tipped film-of-the-play, Closer, her co-star Natalie Portman brought her a little silver necklace. But inside was the word 'C[unt]'. "Julia was enchanted and loved it and said it was the sweetest present she'd ever had," gushed the director Mike Nichols. "Then, on the last day of shooting, she had a present for Natalie and it was a silver necklace and it spelled out 'L'il C[un]t'. "That's how free they are and what good friends they were." Blimey!" (Daisy Kay, 2004). Also, Lady Gaga carried a 'CUNT' clutch bag at London Fashion Week on 17th September 2012.
This increasing cultural (and ambient, or environmental) presence of the word 'cunt' represents a contemporary cultural trend that can be termed 'swearing chic': "swearing and obscenity [have] achieved a kind of folk-heroic position within contemporary culture" (Michael Bracewell, 2002). Unsurprisingly, this situation does not please everybody: campaigning against swearing in the media, Lady Olga Maitland has called for a return to "good, clean entertainment, which is a pleasure for us all [...] and high literature provides all of that" (Kerry Richardson, 1994). In fact, "high literature" is far from 'cunt'-free. The word appears in Ulysses, one of the greatest modern novels. It is hinted at in Hamlet, perhaps the greatest example of dramatic literature. It also appears in modern editions of classic reference books, notably the Oxford English Dictionary and Peter Mark Roget's Thesaurus.
It is not hard to imagine a future in which our cultural, audio-visual, and literary ambience is completely surrounded by the word. Jacqueline Maley believes that, for young people, 'cunt' has been completely neutralised: "the younger generations, at least, are living in a post-c[unt] world" (2012). Imagine the scene: wearing an 'I Love My Cunt' t-shirt and reading Cunt by Stewart Home whilst listening to Cunt by Aphex Twin on the hi-fi. With, for good measure, some of Judy Chicago's cunt-art on the wall. Or perhaps, on your birthday, receiving a 'Happy Birthday Cunt' card and a 'Cunt' necklace wrapped in 'You Cunt' paper. Welcome to Cuntland!