15 June 2021
01 June 2021
Categories: the c-word
21 January 2021
22 March 2020
A Curious History of Sex, published last month, is a fascinating guide to sexual attitudes and rituals. As author Kate Lister explains in her introduction, the book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of sex, offering instead “a paddle in the shallow end of sex history, but I hope you will get pleasantly wet nonetheless.” Lister provides potted histories of a wide range of often-overlooked sex-related topics, including a chapter on the c-word that’s the most detailed study of the word in print. A Curious History of Sex is impressively scholarly (with eighty pages of notes and references), and has plenty of extraordinary historical illustrations.
Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs (edited by David Sosa), was published in 2018 as part of a series titled Engaging Philosophy. The final chapter, Nice Words for Nasty Things by Laurence R. Horn, takes its title from an infamous definition by lexicographer Francis Grose in his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Grose defined the c-word as “a nasty name for a nasty thing”. In his essay, Horn discusses the euphemisms devised to avoid not only tabooed words themselves but also their otherwise-unrelated homophones: “taboo avoidance occurs more broadly, even in the absence of phonological identity between the taboo and innocent items, the latter of which may suffer a kind of contagion or guilt by association”.
Horn cites an interesting French example, que l’on (‘that one’), which is regarded as more polite than the contraction qu’on due to the latter’s homonymy with con (‘cunt’). He also identifies what is surely the earliest instance of the practice, a comment by Cicero in his treatise on rhetoric, Orator. Cicero writes that the Latin cum nobis (‘with us’) should be rendered as nobiscum, to avoid an obscene juxtaposition (“obscænius concurrerent litterae”). The unspoken reference is to cunno bis (‘into the cunt twice’), which supports the (increasingly contested) etymological connection between cunnus (‘vulva’) and ‘cunt’.
20 December 2018
The adult comic Viz published its first Profanisaurus as a cover-mounted booklet in 1997, and the title was later expanded to Roger's Profanisaurus. Various updated editions followed, including Profanisaurus Rex, The Magna Farta, and Das Krapital. The latest edition, War and Piss, features more than 20,000 swear words and sexual slang terms, including more than 60 variants of the c-word.
Entries are submitted by Viz readers, and the book was edited by Simon Thorp and Graham Dury. Green's Dictionary of Slang is the definitive slang dictionary, whereas the Profanisaurus has more in common with the online Urban Dictionary, though its neologisms and definitions are funny and inventive.
28 February 2018
The Jim Jefferies stand-up show Freedumb was released on Netflix on 1st July 2016, and on CD and LP in 2017. The album's highlight comes when Jefferies explains how his extensive use of the c-word led to a loosening of the taboo against it on the American stand-up comedy circuit: "I say 'cunt' more than anyone else. I'm sort of known for saying 'cunt'. Seven years ago, when I did my first comedy special in America, the word 'cunt' was banned in every comedy club in America. And then I said 'cunt' loads on television and now people can say 'cunt' in comedy clubs. Basically, I'm the Rosa Parks of 'cunt'!"
19 January 2018
Vasan Sitthiket's Bangkok gallery, Rebel Art Space, is currently hosting an exhibition by Dutch artist Peter Klashorst. Many of the paintings feature sexualised female nudes, including Fuck the Police, a literal interpretation of the NWA song Fuck tha Police. (Vasan has previously incorporated the slogan "FUCK THE POLICE" into his work.)
The exhibition is titled Cunt and Cock Show (ลึงค์แลโยนี). Similarly, Judy Chicago wrote a feminist play called Cock and Cunt, which featured dialogue such as "a cock means you don't wash dishes. You have a cunt. A cunt means you wash dishes." (I performed this scene at university in 2001, while I was researching the c-word.) Cunt and Cock Show opened today, and closes on 3rd February.
01 May 2017
Veep, created by Armando Iannucci, stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as US Vice-President (and subsequently President) Selina Meyer. The fifth season of the sitcom, released on DVD last month, includes an episode titled C**tgate, in which a White House staff-member causes a minor scandal by calling Meyer the c-word.
C**tgate (a pun on Watergate) was broadcast by HBO on 29th May 2016. It was co-written by Will Smith, who presented The C Word (2007), a documentary about the word 'cunt'. In the DVD audio commentary for the episode, director Brad Hall says: "I have a feeling this particular episode is going to set a record for the amount of times the word 'cunt' has been said in an audio commentary!"
The plot of the episode, with Meyer trying to identify the person who called her a cunt, is similar to an episode of 30 Rock (2007), in which the main character overheard one of her staff calling her the same word. Iannucci's UK series The Thick Of It (2005) also included a similar plot device in one episode, with an investigation into which staff-member called another a cunt in an email.
09 February 2017
An injunction against The Sunday Times has been partially lifted after details of the case appeared in other publications at the weekend. The injunction, granted in December 2016, prevented The Sunday Times from revealing that David Beckham's email account had been hacked. On 5th February, the newspaper printed a brief notice on its front page: "The Sunday Times has been gagged by an injunction preventing it from reporting details about a celebrity's personal and professional life. The judge anonymised the individual using initials."
Beckham's emails were among thousands leaked to the German news magazine Der Spiegel earlier last year, and Beckham's publicist applied for an injunction after The Sunday Times planned to publish them. Like other anonymised injunctions (such as those relating to PJS, NEJ, RA, and D), the restriction applied only in England and Wales. Unusually, the injunction was granted solely against The Sunday Times, enabling The Sun (despite being owned by the same company) to publish the story on 4th February.
On its front page, under the banner headline "BECKS C-WORD FURY AT 'SIR' SNUB", The Sun wrote that Beckham had criticised the committee recommending new year's honours as "a bunch of cunts" and "unappreciative cunts". This was then reported by other UK and European news websites later that day. The terms of the injunction against The Sunday Times were subsequently relaxed, allowing it to report information already in the public domain.
31 December 2015
Hua Hin, a seaside town south of Bangkok, is holding a new year's eve countdown tonight. However, one of the posters advertising the event used a mirrorball to replace the 'O', thus inviting people to a "C UNTDOWN".
A missing 'o' has caused unintended amusement on various occasions. Some previous examples from Bangkok: "60 C UNTRIES" (Royal Porcelain billboard, with a globe replacing the 'O'), "A C UNTRY WIFE" (Bangkok Community Theatre poster, with a lemon replacing the 'O'), "C unter Service" (retail sticker, with a sun replacing the 'o'), and Bangkok University's "School of Acc unting" (with a ship replacing the 'o').
01 December 2014
Gang Bang, a group exhibition of erotic illustrations, opened at the Toot Yung Art Center in Bangkok on 8th November and will close tomorrow. The exhibition includes two representations of vagina dentatas, both by TRK: an ink drawing titled Cunt Face, and an untitled woodcut print. The woodcut is similar to Roberto Matta's cover illustration for the Surrealist journal VVV (1944).
13 October 2014
More Fool Me: A Memoir is the third volume of Stephen Fry's autobiography, after Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. Moab remains one of my favourite books, and Fry is always an engaging, candid, and witty writer, though More Fool Me is surprisingly disappointing.
The Fry Chronicles explored "the C-words that have dominated my life", from college to comedy, though More Fool Me is largely concerned with a single c-word: cocaine. Thus, there are recollections of nights at the Groucho club with Damien Hirst et al., and revelations of snorting coke at the Houses of Parliament. (Unlike Will Self, who took heroin while covering John Major's 1997 election campaign, Fry's drug habit wasn't exposed at the time.) There are moments of banality ("unexpected item in the bagging area again") and condescension ("The chances are that you have not been as lucky with the material things in life as I have"). The anecdotes are juicy, of course, though there is more gossip and less introspection than in previous volumes.
Moab Is My Washpot covered Fry's childhood and adolescence, and The Fry Chronicles dealt with his early adulthood, though More Fool Me spans only six years. It also contains substantially less new material than the previous books, as it begins with a completely un-necessary recap of the events covered in the earlier volumes, "to fill in the newcomers on the subject of La Vie Fryesque", and it ends with a long, verbatim extract from Fry's 1993 diary. The recap and diary seem too much like padding, and they take up half of the book's contents.
01 April 2014
Language!: 500 Years Of The Vulgar Tongue is a history of slang written by Jonathon Green. The book is organised thematically, with chapters on slang topics (crime, sex, and sport), the development of slang in Anglophone territories (Australia and America), and the slang subsets of various minorities and subcultures (Cockney, teenage, gay, and African-American). As Green writes in his preface, the book tells "the story of the language, its development and proliferation".
There are also chapters on slang lexicography, a subject that Green first covered in Chasing The Sun. Green himself is a leading slang lexicographer: his Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang was a worthy successor to Eric Partridge's Dictionary Of Slang & Unconventional English, and his exhaustive Green's Dictionary Of Slang is the definitive slang dictionary.
For its American edition, Language! has been retitled The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History Of Slang. Green's previous books include The Encyclopedia Of Censorship, All Dressed Up, Getting Off At Gateshead, and Slang Down The Ages (which, like Language!, charts the development of slang's major themes, though with less historical context). His essay on the adjective 'cuntal' appeared in the journal SEx [sic], and he has contributed to various TV documentaries including Without Walls: Expletives Deleted.
02 December 2013
The Vagina: A Literary & Cultural History, by Emma LE Rees, is a study of cultural representations of the vagina in literature, the visual arts, and the media. Coincidentally, Naomi Wolf wrote a book on the same subject earlier this year (Vagina), though Rees began researching and writing The Vagina several years before Wolf.
Just as this year saw two cultural histories of the vagina, by Rees and Wolf, a decade ago there were two other vagina books published almost simultaneously: Catherine Blackledge's The Story Of V and Jelto Drenth's The Origin Of The World. Rees's book is superior to all three previous works; its scope incorporates linguistics, mythology, feminist theory, art, literature, and popular culture.
Rees observes that the vagina and the c-word exist in a paradoxical state of "covert visibility". They are familiar, yet unseen. Their cultural representations often take the form of thinly-veiled allusions, indirect references that the audience understands without making them explicitly visible. The euphemistic phrase 'the c-word' itself depends upon such collective understanding: its true meaning is hidden in plain sight. Rees calls it "the don't-see word", and argues that "if we make the c-word seen, might we fundamentally reclaim the right to talk about the significant issues it currently eclipses?"
Rees (like Marina Warner in Phantasmagoria and other books) draws on a wide range of cultural reference points, from mythology and folklore to pornography and sitcoms. Her background is in Shakespeare studies, although she makes no distinction between literature and popular culture. Consequently, her book is the first truly comprehensive cultural history of the vagina.
01 December 2013
Vagina: A New Biography, by Naomi Wolf, is a history of attitudes towards the vagina in ancient and modern culture. It follows Catherine Blackledge's The Story Of V and Jelto Drenth's The Origin Of The World, and was published shortly before Emma Rees's The Vagina: A Literary & Cultural History.
While Blackledge and Drenth were more scientific in their analysis, and Rees takes a more cultural approach, Wolf's book is broadly spiritual. Of the book's four main sections, two are echoes of 1970s consciousness-raising ("Does the Vagina Have a Consciousness?" and "The Goddess Array"). These chapters are largely anecdotal and feel pseudo-scientific.
At times, Wolf sometimes seems almost self-parodic. She attends a dinner party at which the host serves vagina-shaped pasta nicknamed "cuntini", and this minor incident has dire consequences: "after the "cuntini" party, I could not type a word of the book - not even research notes - for six months, and I had never before suffered from writer's block". If Wolf was so traumatised by cunt-shaped pasta, perhaps she's not the ideal author of a book called Vagina?
01 October 2011
Adult comic Viz originally issued Profanisaurus in 1997 as a cover-mounted booklet, credited to the pseudonym William H Bollocks. It was later retitled Roger's Profanisaurus, in reference to Viz's profane character Roger Mellie (and punning on Roget's Thesaurus). The Profanisaurus entries, collated in Das Krapital, are all slang terms for bodily functions, and are submitted by Viz readers. As such, the terms defined within are comical nonce words rather than genuine neologisms.
Das Krapital (with an anti-intellectual title punning on Das Kapital) is an expanded version of previous editions, Profanisaurus Rex and The Magna Farta. It's unashamedly (and post-ironically?) sexist, and full of inventive invective.
12 November 2010
Green's Dictionary Of Slang, by Jonathon Green, is the most comprehensive dictionary of slang ever published. It traces English slang from 1500 to the present day, and includes full etymologies and citations for over 100,000 headwords.
The Dictionary is published in three volumes (A-E, F-O, and P-Z), and is an expanded version of Green's single-volume The Cassell Dictionary Of Slang (subsequently revised as Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang; further revised as Chambers Slang Dictionary). Green has also written Getting Off At Gateshead and other thematic studies of slang.
17 September 2010
The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography, by Stephen Fry, covers Fry's life in the 1980s, including his time at Cambridge University with Hugh Laurie and his nascent comedy career. The book feels more mainstream than his previous autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot: it's less rude, and its title is as bland as Moab's was obscure.
As Fry explains in his introduction, the book explores "some of the C-words that have dominated my life", and every chapter title begins with 'c'. So, The Fry Chronicles is captivating, clever, and comical, though also a bit conventional.
16 April 2010
Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is an action comedy in which a teenager decides to become a real-life superhero. There is a refreshing lack of stars, with most leading roles played by relatively unknown and average-looking young actors. The violent action sequences and comic-book references are rather Tarantino-esque, with Kill Bill presumably a key influence. The arch-villain's HQ is adorned with artworks by Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst, and Andy Warhol.
The character attracting most publicity is Hit-Girl, played by pre-teen actress Chloe Grace Moretz; she is a deadly assassin (like the pupils in Battle Royale), and her use of strong language has provoked controversy in the media. In the Daily Mail, Christopher Tookey even called the film a "crime against cinema", but it's really no different than thirty years ago when child-actress Linda Blair played the violent, profane Regan in The Exorcist.
One word in particular, spoken by Hit-Girl in the teaser trailer for Kick-Ass, was used by an equally surprising character in Legion, also released this month. In that film's most (or only) enjoyable scene, Gladys, who appears to be a sweet old lady, turns into a foul-mouthed demon.