Friday, March 25, 2005


My new discovery, the excellent Miss Badger blog, has pointed me towards a recent Guardian article called The Vagina Dialogues about the problem of finding a useable word for female genitals.

The linguistic differences on this subject are indeed huge. It's not just that mens bits have the 'short strong words' mentioned in the piece, but they have so many different words suitable for different occasions. There are several to choose from, whether you're being strident, practical, comedic or clinical.

Whilst we have a great many words for female genitals, the crucial reference bracket - terms you can use in everyday conversation with mates or, as the article discusses, for kids - are simply not there.

As one of the creators of Newspeak, Syme, said plainly, the lack of words to talk about a subject disarms people of the very ability to discuss it.

There is no ready option for female bits. Fanny has the transatlantic problem (in America it means bum. And bum means vagrant, but that's by the by). And frankly 'fanny' still sounds a bit cutesy.

The suggested yoni is ridiculous. Adopting other language's words is fine if we have no equivalent - as with zeitgeist or chic - but using a word from another language when we already have our own is a form of euphemism, it denotes embarrasment.

Cunt has a bluntness to it, an unashamedness like fuck or shit, that make all other words for the same thing seem a bit daft.

Furthermore, its supposed obscenity is a relatively recent contrivance. Deciding that certain common words were unseemly was a very effective instant way to draw class differences. The idea that a word, especially a word for a common item or function, could be obscene serves no positive purpose. These words were made obscene by those who wished to see themselves as above those who used them.

Cunt was once relatively harmless. Chaucer dropped it casually and severally into The Canterbury Tales, spelling it variously queynte, queinte, and even Kent. The City of London once had an alley favoured by prostitutes called Grope Cunt Lane. It was not until the early eighteenth century that the word became indecent.

Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue: The English Language

Cunt has a great etymology. It's the same root as cunning, the Scots word ken (meaning 'know'), and also the Wiltshire/Berkshire waterway the River Kennet which uses the name because its spring and early course are on the Marlborough Downs beside the great neolithic goddess monument Silbury Hill. (Visiting Newbury's generic 1980s shopping mall The Kennet Centre is made almost tolerable if you remember it's effectively called The Cunt Centre). There is also some evidence that it's the same root as Kent and country, used in the sense of being the land that birthed you.

All of these words have meanings around 'giver and preserver of life/wisdom'. Not quite as sexy as it could be, but a lot more honouring.

Incidentally, there's another level of liguistic patriarchy that I rarely see mentioned. The term wanker or tosser is never used in its literal sense, it's used to mean a man who is an irrelevant fool. The word is never used against women. The equivalent word, both in its severity and its use, is slag.

In literal terms, a wanker is someone who doesn't have sex with anyone else, whilst a slag is someone who has sex with lots of people.

In using these words, we reinforce the idea that men should shag everything (female) that moves, whilst women should stay untainted and virginal.

1 comment:

zoe said...

"The term wanker or tosser is never used in its literal sense, it's used to mean a man who is an irrelevant fool. The word is never used against women"
heh it is by me...