Much hilarity caused this week by James Naughtie and Andrew Marr using the correct term for a Tory Minister…
Yes, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt (sic) had his name and title mixed up in a repeated gaffe on BBC Radio 4. It was worth the licence fee on its own. It also reminded me of Sir Trevor McDonald (then head of the Better English Society) doing the same thing with “The Kent countryside” a decade or so ago.
Malapropisms and Spoonerisms like these tend to get the Daily Mail reader very cross indeed, but hardly fall into category of real obscenity, although it got me thinking about how we treat this fine old Anglo-Saxon word.
“Cunt” is a word, unchanged in its meaning since at least the Middle Ages, and is to be found in Chaucer ( “quente”). It is virtually the last taboo word in our language, heading the list of officially bad words at the BBC. it is also fittingly rhyming slang for James Blunt, so I guess poor Jeremy will have to be nicknamed Mr C.
The reason for its lasting shock value may have something to do with its low origins, and the fact that at the lower end of the scale I have heard it used almost as punctuation. As a description of the Vagina, it is certainly nasty, but as a description of a woman, it is truly dehumanising. Think about it for a moment – and compared to the male “dick”, it is so much worse – now think about why this is the case.
In The City of London, there used to be a short road named Gropecunt Lane, where centuries ago brothels had flourished. Around ten years ago, some Multinational moved in, and the supine Burghers duly changed the name, something I regret, as the oldest profession, unlike banking, can at least be an honest trade. Perhaps they should have just omitted “Grope”?
I once went out with a strident feminist who was waging a one-woman campaign to reclaim “cunt”, in the same way gay activists reclaimed “queer”, and some black nationalists tried to reclaim “nigger/nigga”. I have to say that I dont think this really works in these three cases, but it is certainly better to have the honest words out there rather than Bowdlerise the English Language, thus making discourse into a minefield, negotiable only with a PC map.
So heres to “the C-word” and all good honest obscenity. No apologies to James and Jeremy – both of them are utter Hunts.