I believe you, this is Ted talks daily, today's talk contains explicit adult language and may not be suitable for all listeners.
In fact, the whole talk is about the history of a word that can immediately offend or make us cringe. How did things get this way? What's the story behind a four letter word? I'm purposely not saying in this intro?
Kate Lister's 20 20 talk from Ted University of Glasgow is a fascinating history.
Support for TED talks daily comes from Spotify, President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen have a new podcast. And right now you can listen to renegades born in the USA exclusively on Spotify. In the podcast, longtime friends President Obama and Springsteen sat down to discuss the country that's given them both so much, chronicle the stories of its people and connect their own search for meaning, truth and community. With the larger story of America, listen free only on Spotify. First, a warning.
As far as offensive words go, you are now entering a hard hat area. We're going to be unabashed in this. I am talking to you about a very particular word, a very powerful word, a very. See you next Tuesday word.
I love this word, oh, my God, I love everything about this word, not just what it signifies, but the actual the actual sound of it, the fact that the C and the T just just Kushan that sound into this monosyllabic that you can just spit like a bullet or you can extend out and roll it round your mouth.
I love its dexterity. I love the fact that in Scotland it's a term of endearment, but in America it's horrendously offensive. I love it means something different with your friends than it does.
If you said it to your boss, it would probably cost you your job. I do not recommend it.
I love this word.
I love the fact that the first three letters are still the same chalice shape all rolling through the word to let's stop to not plosive tea at the end. I think the thing I love most about it is its status as the nastiest of all the nasty words, although that title is under some contention now. There are other obvious heavyweight contenders for the most offensive word, the N word, for example. But here's what I would say to you. I know why that word is offensive.
I can look at the history that word enabled the brutalisation and racial genocide of an entire group of people. It played its part in dehumanizing black people. What did couldn't do?
Does it not strike anyone else as odd that a word just means the vulva could even be regarded in the same league of offense as the N-word? Are we saying that vulvas of that offensive? Surely not. But what I want to talk to you today about is how did we get here? Has it always been this offensive and how did it come to be? So the answer is no, it was not. But let's look at the history of it.
First of all, where in the US couldn't come from, and it's one of those words that's so old etymology and linguist can lose sight of it eventually.
It's the oldest word for the vulva that we have in the English language. It might even be the oldest in the world. There are some theories. There are also similar conditions in Germanic languages all across Europe. The Vikings, we're be talking about countries the Germans had Canuto, Dutch, Kont, Germanic cut. And I think at one point we had Kott, which I think may be due for a revival.
After that, it gets a bit confusing as to what this word actually means.
One of the leading theories is that it shares this root, this proto Indo-European root with this Djenne sounds, which you also see in genetics, Gene. And that means to create another theory is that it comes from this sound, Goong, which gives this woman gynecology, create woman. But what really fascinates linguists is this sound, the cool sound, because that gave us and it also gave us kerning.
Kerning originally didn't mean sneaky. It meant you knew something cunning folk, cunning women were wise women.
And in Scotland still today, if you can something, it means you know, something I can this it also gave us queen and cow, slightly bizarre, which is slightly less highbrow, but. It turns up again in the Middle Ages in Quent, which means knowledge and also means it has a lot in variation as well. Kunis, which also means Kunt, which it turns up all over the Roman world, including in graffiti in Pompeii, some of my favorite Roman graffiti from the city of Pompeii.
I want to do the Latin, but it's translated To be a hairy cunt is better than a smooth one.
It wants cock and holds in steam, however.
I put it to you that the word cunt, as offensive as it may be today, stems from a root that means woman knowledge create.
How has it always been this offensive?
No. So when we talk about these words, vulva, vagina, trying to offer more palatable alternatives to cunt vagina, the word turns up in the 17th century. It's taken directly from Latin and it means a scabbed. It means something to the sword goes into. Volver doesn't do much better, that appears in the 14th century, and it means womb, but some people suggest it comes from the French means rapper, both these words derive their meaning and their import from the penis.
Basically, that's what a vagina is. It's something a sword goes into.
I say that these words aren't as feminist as cunt, which comes from a word that means queen create wisdom.
Well, when did it first stop being used in English as we recognize it today? Grop couldn't land, this is the first recorded incident, the Oxford English Dictionary turns up in 12 30, a street name in London called Grop Lane, which was exactly what it sounds like. This was in the red light district. So it was a lane for groping cunts. And there wasn't just one in London. That was one in Bristol.
That was one in York. They piss all over the British Isles. But whereas Glaswegians might be calling each other in their friends country, it seems that medieval people were calling their children pimps because it turns up in a number of names. Bizarrely enough, Gladwyne clock is recorded in turn 66 Guernica controls and 12 19 John Filkin and 146 Robert Kleve. Current 13 02 on a misspelled whiteknight turns up in the Norfolk subsidiary role. We don't know if these are aliases or if they're jokes, but we do have a lot of fun with medieval names.
In fact, originally the word fuck did not mean what it means today. It means to strike something to it, which gives us the fabulous name of a dairy farmer in twelve ninety who's down to Simon Butter.
So was this offensive to medieval people?
No, it wasn't. Couldn't turn up all over medieval culture and medieval literature. And they are certainly not offensive. It's just a descriptive term. Here's some examples. The proverbs of Henningsen, 13 25, advises women to give your cunningly and make your demands later. I get a ring on it first before you give it up.
There's a Welsh poet called Gersten McCain from the 15th century, and she advises male poets to celebrate the fine break curtain of a country that flaps in place of greeting.
In my surprise, is that medieval culture was this open about. But the truth was they were more sexually liberated than we actually give them credit for. This idea of them being in a tower with a chastity belt on is largely a hatchet job on their reputation done by the Victorians. Now, it wasn't a sexually liberated utopia. They had their own hang ups, but they weren't that offended by sex. We'll get you in trouble. Swearwords. Middle Ages was religious once blasphemous ones.
If you said something like God's wounds or God's teeth, that's what you'd say.
If you think you fly in the often danglers and you fly one medieval poet who drops the C bomb with precision of a military drone, Geoffrey Chaucer, who turns up and takes a level syllabuses, although his jokes are generally not dwelled upon, he doesn't use the word, he uses the word CUENTA, which again means knowledge and it means. So this is his joke as the clock's been full throttle full here cuenta and privily he caught her by the CUENTA.
A rough translation means the clock was really cunning and he caught her by the cunt Shakespeare.
It's been suggestion that he uses that play a quaint cuenta cunt in his sonnet, number 20. It certainly turns up in a lot of his work.
It's a lot ruder than we often give him credit for in Hamlet. Act three scene to Hamlet says to Ophelia, he says, Shall I lie in your lap? And she said, Oh, no, my Lord. And then he says, Do you think country matters? When David Tennant played that part. He paused. And then you think Clement couldn't remasters to try and really drive it home.
Another one twelfth night, Malvolio says of his mistress's handwriting that her sister used her teeth and that this makes her very great piece putting on unposed simultaneously. The immortal Bard status as a smut peddler is often swept under the cultural rug. An 18 007 Thomas Bolder published A Family Shakespeare, where he edited out all of these jokes, all of the rude bits, and made a completely contrary offer.
It's no surprise about this time we start to get the first libel laws in Britain, the first banning of seditious and offensive pamphlets. With the rise of Puritanism for Shakespeare to be veiling is jokes and kind of cheeky double entendres suggests that it's not quite as free and open as Guernica controls unbroken line would once have had.
The Puritans repressed sexuality, we know this and language is extremely important, battleground for sexual liberation. How do you talk about your bodies if the very words you're trying to use are considered to be offensive?
How do you do that?
And by the time we get to the restoration period, the early modern period is most certainly offensive.
John Willmar, Earl of Rochester, is the absolute poster boy of fuck you. If the Puritans tried to dump sexuality, this guy surfed to notoriety on a wave of sexual repression that was unleashed from the plug, was pulled on the Puritan rule. He uses a lot and he's very naughty about it. He wrote this poem about his mistress and how jealousy was of her other lovers.
When your lewd conduct came spewing home drenched with the seed of half the town, my drum of sperm was sucked up after for the digestive surface water for God, another time with a vast meal of slime which are devouring couldn't have drawn from Potter's Bucks and Folkman's Brawne. He uses that word to shock, and it's easy to look at his work and think a sexually liberated. But he's actually quite angry at that owners. And that goes all the way through it.
From here on out is an offensive naughty word. George couldn't say we go. What happens about the 18th century is the print industry really explodes. And of course, we being humans, we didn't just want to publish nice books, we published Paul.
There's a huge proliferation of porn that comes out of the 18th century. But oddly enough, most of it shies away from using that word cunt. In 1785, Frances Gross published his book, A Dictionary of a Vulgar Term, which is basically a dictionary of slang. And he defined cunt as a nasty name for a nasty thing. Such modesty from someone who also uses the word buccaneers boot lobster pot skirts and Mrs. Paula for the vulva Harris's list, this is an almanac's directory of sex workers in London at time who is selling sex.
And it lists not only their address and their prices, but very, very intimate descriptions of what they do. And their vulvas doesn't use very much.
John Cleeland, who famously boasted that he did it without writing any rude words at all. These texts tend to use expressions like Musse, Grot, Cupid's coal hole, Venus's mounds, but we shy away from it. So despite their reputation for being sexually prudish, pornography flowed underneath Victoria crust society like a river of slime and Ghostbusters two. They had pornography all over the place, visual and literary, and they had a lot of fun with one of their pornographic magazines.
The Pearl was published from 1879 to 1880, and it published in it nursery rhymes.
There was a young lady of Hitchon who was scratching her cunt in the kitchen. Her father submerged the crops. I suppose you write part of the book is retching. There was a young man in Bombay who fashioned a cunt out of clay, but the heat of his prick turned it into a brick and it chafed at his foreskin away.
Yeah, well done, Victorians. Well done. Interestingly, also in the 19th century that we got the first recorded use of being used as an insult, as an actual you are a cunt. That's the first time that it's used in the 19th century and in the 17th century, we started being used as a kind of a derogatory collective noun for women. Samuel writes about this aphrodisiac. I was going to call a cunt chase after him charming. That's when they weren't stabbing him with pins for being too sexually aggressive.
Anyway, the Victorians liked a well-placed cunt. One of the most important moments in history is the publication on the subsequent obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
This book contained fourteen and forty four books and it was banned and it had to go on trial not to be published. And it was shocking, not just because the graphic scenes of sex and the language used, but because it smashes down class boundaries. If you're not familiar with this, it's about Lady Constance Chatterley, a married woman who embarks on a fair with with Sean B, but with Melissa again, keep on. The idea is that it doesn't matter all her airs and graces and titles, she's got a she's a sexual one that levels them.
But one of the pivotal scenes where Mellars tries to tell her what it means, I won't do the accent.
Nay, nay fucks only what animals do, but a lot more than that. It's they just see there's a lot more beside an animal, aren't there, even to fuck cunt.
That's the beauty of the last cunt. That's the beauty of the life. I love that.
Now, just by a jury that agree to work stuff full of cousins does have artistic merit and they allowed it to be published. And you can see the pictures of the people queuing around the streets to get their hands on this book. Once it was never really made it back into the mainstream.
Feminists have maintained a rather uneasy relationship with Cunt Judy Chicago. She led what was called the art movement of the 1970s.
It first turned up in a film, a mainstream cinema in 1971 in Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson, who screened a woman that she is a ball busting son of a bitch or words to that effect on an exorcist as well.
It appears in The Vagina Monologues, 1996, I think it was with either Ensler when she talks about reclaiming Kentz, but it's still not off the linguistic naughty step.
Despite all of this work today, it was finally admitted to the Oxford English Dictionary, despite having been around for thousands of years in the seventies. And then in 2014, they relented a little bit more and they added couldn't continue counting.
So we all know exactly what that means. They are Ofcom, the regulator for U.K. TV censorship in 2016, released a poll of what they regarded to be the most offensive words, and it was bang up there.
It was on top. It is still regarded as a horrendously offensive words.
But here's what I want to leave you with.
What do you call yours? Because as far as I can see, words for vulva or cunts fall into a few categories. We've got child like a tuppence, a Twinkie, a food famine, Mary. Very medical evolver, pudenda, vagina, slightly detached dankner. It's done their bit special area. Violent acts wound penis flytrap Gocher, a growler.
Someone told me about the taxi driver on my way and told me that Glaswegian slang for cunnilingus is growling at the badger, which I'll leave that with you, or they just tend to be unpleasant, horrible images of fish and meat and General Petraeus and fish taco, bacon sandwich, badly, list of kebab, bearded clam, etc, etc. Are these better alternatives to cunt?
But I think the reason that we're not prepared to handle it is because we can't handle generally well. It's been linguistically sanitized culturally. The only country seems to be OK with the ones that have been plucked and buffed and waxed and cleaned, covered in glitter. So Vagisil, by the way, the vaginoplasty business business is booming.
You can have your labia cut off, you can have your hymen rebuilt, you can have your pelvic floor respond or with this uncomfortable with the actually as it is, it's a seat of enormous and awesome power. It can eat a penis and push out a baby. It's not a twinkle.
It is an old word. It's an offensive word, but it's an ancient and honest one. And this is this is the original word everything else came after.
So welcome to Tim PUREX.