Sunday, 27 January 2013

In which I institute a new rule

Warning for VERY STRONG language.


I unfollowed someone on Twitter this morning, because they used the word cunt. It’s become a new rule with me. It’s my Cunt Rule.

It’s easy to forget that social networking (I so wish someone would think of a better name for it) is a very new beast indeed. I skip around Twitter so freely and happily that it is as if it has always been there. But it’s only about two minutes old, and the rules of etiquette are still unfolding. I try to be oddly polite on both Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s important. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t mean there is no call for manners. Perhaps there is more call.

I still get muddled over small things. When conversations start up, it’s quite hard sometimes to end them without sounding abrupt, or just stopping, leaving a howling vacancy. I find this particularly tricky with Facebook messaging. We need an equivalent of there’s something on the stove/someone at the door/the house is on fire, which is the accepted telephonic finish.

The cunt thing is new. (I really hope that sentence does not get taken out of context.) I’m no Mary Whitehouse. I love a good swear. A judicious bugger or fuck or bastard can enliven writing, and speech, and be used for excellent emphasis or comical effect. But cunt is just a bridge too far.

It’s because it’s a lady part. Why is it that a piece of my anatomy is still the ugliest, most shocking, nastiest swearword? I can’t help it, I see it as rampant etymological sexism.

When I was younger and groovier, I tried to get into the swing, and rehabilitate the word. A lot of women were doing it, in the same way that black people reclaimed nigger, and gay people took back queer. But I’ve never really bought that theory. It might work for rappers and activists, but I really don’t think that Colin Powell or Barack Obama or Denzel Washington skip about happily referring to themselves as niggers. I don’t imagine that Graham Norton or Elton John run about gleefully talking about queers. They are still hideous words, freighted with a history of anger and bigotry.

Cunt is such a word, for me. It has undertones of fear and loathing. It holds the echoes of old ideas about women somehow being unclean. There is even a whiff of the ancient terror of vagina dentata. In my own private book, it will not stand.

It’s creeping into the social networks, flung about with increasing carelessness. I can’t look at it without feeling sad and uncomfortable. So, in the end, a rule was called for.

I’ve made one exception to my new rule. He’s a nice fellow who knows a lot about racing, and I really do want to know about what he thinks will win the Triumph Hurdle. He does not use the word in an angry, threatening way, but in a loose, easy manner, as if it is a simple part of vocabulary. It may be a generational thing; he is years younger than I, and the young ones seem to see nothing wrong in it. I bridle, auntishly, and turn my eyes away from the offence, hoping this one nice man will grow out of it.

But, apart from that, the new rule holds. I am making a stand. No one will care or notice; all the windmills are being tilted at. But I love a good windmill and I love a good tilt. I am riding my very own Rocinante in the privacy of my very own head, with my very own Sancho by my side.


Today’s pictures:

27 Jan 1

27 Jan 2

27 Jan 3

27 Jan 4

27 Jan 5

27 Jan 6

27 Jan 7

The happy herd:

27 Jan 15

Red the Mare:

27 Jan 15-001

27 Jan 16

Myfanwy the Pony:

27 Jan 16-001

27 Jan 16-002

Autumn the Filly:

27 Jan 17-001

27 Jan 17-002

Stanley the Dog:

27 Jan 18

27 Jan 18-001


27 Jan 20


  1. I have not heard (or read) 'that' word lately or a lot, but I think I am a generation older than you. I am no longer on twitter. I am no longer on Facebook or Twitter since they seem to me to be places where a person can sell something--books, products, themselves (as in celebrates). I do enjoy blogs. For me, they are like the 'Lifestyle' section of the paper except the pieces are from all sorts of people from all around the world.

    1. Mary - so agree about the selling things. I'm afraid I'm quite brutal about not following people who just put up endless links to their books, or to glowing reviews on Amazon. It's so cheap and cheesy.

  2. Excellent rule. I unfollow people on twitter for all sorts of reasons - stupidity being the most common - but I'd certainly follow this rule as well.

    1. Mary - stupidity is a bad one. I can sometimes get tired by atrocious apostrophe use as well, but have to keep my pedantic side in check...

  3. Completely agree on the word, although I can't pinpoint why it goes a step further than anything else. Perhaps it is the scent of invasion of privacy, coupled with the sound of the word itself -- it has a hard, final sort of sound that you don't hear, for instance, in 'queer.' (Good for the gays in reclaiming that one.) Whatever, all sorts of other swear words, while one might not say them when wanting to impress, are infinitely more acceptable.

    Having said all that, though, your comments about social media are dead-on. I might not like the word 'cunt,' but if I could see the face of the person who is saying it, hear his or her tone of voice, perhaps my reaction would be less pronounced. I have friends who can say the most god-awful things and make me laugh.


    1. Bird - so agree about it being hard to pinpoint. And you are quite right about context being king. Or queen, for that matter.

  4. There is a way around this in the U.S.: "see you next Tuesday". That way we all know what was said without having to actually use the word. It is one curse word that I also will not use.


  5. It's a shocking word and my acid test is: what would I feel if my 11 year old daughter heard it? Answer: horrified. Therefore it deserves an 'unfollow'. It's a new world we live in, but some things never change and manners is one of them. Meanwhile - happy Sunday evening. Lou x

    1. Lou - like the daughter test. And happy Sunday eve to you too. :)

  6. Good for you - a vile word. Somehow, it's more brutal than other swearing.

    1. Kate - it is brutal; excellent choice of adjective.

  7. I would never say "See you next Tuesday."

  8. Leaving the swearing aside I think the close up of Stanley is absolutely gorgeous!

  9. I agree with your comments on the word. I have been present in meetings where this word was used, all men, aside from me and apart from an Aunty comment from me I did not do much more. I would very much have liked to have left the room. That may be my new rule from now on. Leave the room if the brutal swear word is used. Stanley is adorable. Thanks for sharing, it is shocking to read your post with such words in it but at the same time views such as yours do need a forum.

  10. I think we ourselves give words greater power to shock by investing them with individual significances. Where the line is drawn is entirely personal, but the reasons for not liking a word are hard to explain. What interests me about the word cunt is that it is only applied to males, as are calling a man a pillock, a prick or a twat. All originally references to genitalia, both make and female. Women are rarely referred to as anything other (or "stronger") than cows or bitches, both domesticated animals. And in none of these cases is the comparison remotely literal. Neither is calling someone a bugger or a sod meant to convey the information that we believe them to be enthusiasts of anal sex. We don't refuse to refer to or think in terms of someone being a bitch, however fond we may be of our female dogs, as we don't make the literal connection. So I don't feel that a feminist explanation of disliking the word cunt is because it is a reference to female pudendum exactly works either. The epithet detaches itself from the literal original sense of the word and becomes something else in the process.

    If a word is to have shock value it must be used sparingly. If the word cunt gets bandied about by the younger generation it will lose its currency to shock. As a student and erstwhile teacher of the English language it interests me to see if it will ever be, COULD ever be,replaced at the top of the pile of "strong" language by another word. And what would that word be making an oblique reference to, if so? Sexual practices, male or female genitalia, animals and ordure are the usual sources. All - barring animals - usually outside the realms of polite conversation in public places in middle class society (working men and the nobility have always had much richer vocabularies, it would seem). So the swearwords that have evolved from these topics are also regarded as impolite.

    I can think of a couple of hilarious lines Withnail and I that would be only half as funny with a different epithet in them. But the jokes would have failed if the word had been used dozens of times elsewhere in the film.

    We all have a blank in a sentence when using a foul epithet that we fill with the word that works best for us. The one we use will depend on audience as well as ourselves. And how strongly we feel,often in the heat of the moment. That is in speech. In type,on th'interweb, we have time before hitting send or posting a comment to edit. So swear words don't slip out, they are being used for conscious and deliberate effect. I believe it may be the strength of the animosity behind the use of the word that is most shocking, not the words themselves

  11. I completely agree with your view. Nothing like a good Poo Bum Bugger Shit Fart during tough or exasperating times, but c**t (see, I can't even bring myself to write it) sounds ugly, nasty, vicious.

    My father used to say that people who swore too much lacked imagination to think of better things to say. I'd hate for c**t to become a sentence filler for mental pygmies.

  12. I grew up in a household where the "strongest" words were damn & hell. When I was cross-eyed furious (almost always with my mother), I would go into the bedroom, shut the door & WHISPER "shit". At the time I thought if she actually heard me, my hide literally would be hanging on the door.
    I think "cunt" is to many women what "nigger" is/ was to many blacks; it has always been pejorative, especially when used by anyone in a perceived -- or real position of power. (I used to feel the same way about being called a "bitch", & then I proudly reclaimed it. Like those T-shirts: "I'm not a bitch. I am THE bitch and it's Ms. Bitch to you.")
    Nearly eight years ago I saw "The Vagina Monologues" in London (with Rula Lenska as one of the performers) and there is a long monologue about the word "cunt", which is gradually and triumphantly reclaimed. (The production sold badges with "cunning stunts" on them; I still have mine.) I can understand -- and applaud that reclamation although, I'll admit, the word still makes me flinch.
    If anything, it does give me the tiniest of insights into the power of those "kind" of words & how it feels when one has been conditioned from the beginning to feel "less than" when called whatever.
    My mother was the one who said what Kath's father did: swearing like this = lack of imagination & is "common" (one of her favorite insults).
    I prefer to go all Chaucer on whoever's ass & use bodily functions & parts when I get really, really livid.
    "Asshole" happens to be my favorite epithet since it is not gender specific, insults no one's parentage &, for me, feels really, really satisfying to say.

    American stand up comic Chris Rock does a very pointed & funny bit on the word "nigger" in his show "Kill the Messenger". It's well worth watching.


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