Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reclaiming the C Word

By December Quinn

It's a perfect word.

It's evocative. It's short. Its roots go back more than 15,000 years. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Casanova were among its most famous literary champions. And yet, “cunt” still gets the short end of the stick. So to speak. Studies have shown that women find "cunt" the most offensive word in the English language. (Seriously.) It's forbidden. It's absolutely taboo.

But what is forbidden is often what is most erotic, as well. I never used to write it. I didn't like to read it. Then, thanks to Ellora’s Cave, I found a few erotic romances that did. My dislike of the word changed to--not indifference, because I don't feel a word like cunt can ever inspire indifference--but more like approval. The word was forbidden. The word was direct. The word was a little shocking. In short, the word was pretty hot.

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte is trying to woo that painter to her gallery? He's an old man, and he proudly informs her that he's been doing a series of paintings of cunts. Charlotte is, of course, stunned by this. He asks her to sit for him, and you can see she's about to refuse when the old man's wife enters the studio. She's holding a tray of lemonade and says sweetly, "I bet you have a beautiful cunt, dear."

Hey! That word isn't so bad after all! In fact, it's kind of...dare I say...cute? Maybe if we think of cunt as a nice word, a sexy word, a descriptive word, instead of a nasty one, we can replace it in our vocabulary and our books and hold our heads high. Just hearing the phrase "beautiful cunt" made a difference to me, since we so often associate the word with less pleasant adjectives. But if we think of the word--and that which is names--as beautiful…

Chaucer used it in The Canterbury Tales, spelling it "queynte." According to Charles Panati's Sexy Origins and Intimate Things, "Chaucer believed the word was derived from “quaint,” which meant “a many-layered, in-folded mystery.” What better description of a woman's sexual organs than that?

Pre-Chaucer, cunt was a name. There are many families on the rolls in 13th-century England named Cuntles or Clawcunte, or many variations thereof. There were Gropecunte streets and Cunte lanes in medieval England as well. Clearly, the word's meaning was fixed even over 700 years ago. It first appears in written record in 1066 but seems to have had a different meaning then, although "cunt" is derived from early language, when "kuni" or words like it were used simply to mean "wife" or "woman."

I decided to try using cunt. I wanted to see what t felt like to write it, to put that forbidden word on paper. Could I still turn people on when I threw a cunt bomb into my work? Could I still write scenes people would enjoy, even if a cunt bobbed up at them from the page?To my surprise, it worked. And it wasn't too bad. It was actually pretty sexy. And so exact! And it gives the reader a distinct message: This is going to be pretty graphic. This will be pretty hot.

I don't use the word much (and never, ever in dialogue. I know I'm trying to be Miss Open-Minded and Miss Use Cunt, but I don't like it in dialogue. Cunt is a private thing, to be shared only with our readers through our voices, not those of our characters.) But of late I've been abstaining, and I have missed it. All those folds and entrances just can't compensate for the brevity and clarity of cunt.

Isn’t it time we took back that word? Isn’t it time we allowed ourselves to think of our sexual selves as deserving of an adult word (rather than the kittenish “pussy”)? Shouldn’t we be able to see that some words have more than one meaning, and there’s nothing shameful in reclaiming such a rich history?

Say it loud, sisters. I have a cunt and I’m proud.

December Quinn is the author of five books published by Ellora’s Cave, including BLOOD WILL TELL. To learn more about her, visit her website .


Ashlyn Chase said...

Great article! I've had the same experience writing and reading it as you have. But when I found out my favorite review site looked for the 3 C's 'cock, clit and cunt' and wouldn't review a book with out all the forbidden words, I began slipping it in. LOL. That sounded a little dirty, huh?

What's funny is that I have a Boston accent and sometimes when I say the word, can't (pronounced Cahnt) people's eyes widen and they say, "Excuse me?" LOL. I know what they think I said and I just say it the same way all over again without blushing.


Anonymous said...

That's hysterical, Ash! Spoken like a true Romantica author.