Or – as some might say, not the Good Word.This post may be offensive to some, so don’t click below the link if a certain C word offends you.

There’s been an interesting discussion on one of the author’s groups I belong to. It’s about a well-oiled subject which is brought up from time to time and that’s the usage of slang/coarse/”insulting” words for genitalia to describe genitalia.

One of the words discussed was the big “C word”. Now, that’s not a word you’ll ever hear me say. I flinch when I hear someone say it, and I don’t know why exactly, conditioning, whatever. I don’t have a problem with many words, although I don’t swear a good deal unless very cross.

Someone asked where the word came from – so I duly popped along to the two bibles I use for etymology, namely etymology online and the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here’s what they said.


[ME. cunte, count(e), corresponding to ON. kunta (Norw., Sw. dial. kunta, Da. dial. kunte), OFris., MLG., MDu. kunte:

{em}Gmc. *kunt{omac}n wk. fem.; ulterior relations uncertain.]

Etymology Online:

“female intercrural foramen,” or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, “the monosyllable,” M.E. cunte “female genitalia,” akin to O.N. kunta, from P.Gmc. *kunton, of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with L. cuneus “wedge,” others to PIE base *geu- “hollow place,” still others to PIE *gwen-, root of queen and Gk. gyne “woman.” The form is similar to L. cunnus “female pudenda” (also, vulgarly, “a woman”), which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps lit. “gash, slit,” from PIE *sker- “to cut,” or lit. “sheath,” from PIE *kut-no-, from base *(s)keu- “to conceal, hide.” First known reference in English is said to be c.1230 Oxford or London street name Gropecuntlane, presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c.

Under “MONOSYLLABLE” Farmer lists 552 synonyms from English slang and literature before launching into another 5 pages of them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. [A sampling: Botany Bay, chum, coffee-shop, cookie, End of the Sentimental Journey, fancy bit, Fumbler’s Hall, funniment, goatmilker, heaven, hell, Itching Jenny, jelly-bag, Low Countries, nature’s tufted treasure, parenthesis, penwiper, prick-skinner, seminary, tickle-toby, undeniable, wonderful lamp, and aphrodisaical tennis court. Du. cognate de kont means “a bottom, an arse,” but Dutch also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, lit. “cave of love,” and vleesroos “rose of flesh.”

Alternative form cunny is attested from c.1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for “rabbit”: “A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers’ wives, ‘No money, no coney.’ ” [Philip Massinger: “The Virgin-Martyr,” Act I, Scene 1, 1622]”

What was interesting to me is that some of the writers were saying that they knew the word came from a Roman goddess, other said that they knew the word came from an Indian goddess.  I said that–as an author of historical books, I’d prefer to stick to the perceived theory, thanks.  There’s a possibility that the word DID travel from India or Rome or both to the Germanic, but until there’s proof, that’s where it stops for me. No link, no etymology.  Someone later suggested to me that people will prefer to take it from this non-substantiated root because it justifies and cleanses the word, makes it more powerful, whereas the Anglo-Saxon word is a Bad Word.

By that’s rather by the by. Most of the discussion focussed on the point that one writer was making that she didn’t think that male terms for genitalia were used to insult people as much as female terms were. I have to disagree there – insults such as prick, knob, plonker, shaft, dick, cock, knobhead, and many many others have been used for as long as there has been language to insult.

But what I’ve been thinking of in the past day or so is the reason WHY people use over-flowery epithets, or indeed any epithets at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used them, often verging on the purple, and have been rightly chastised for it. I tend to keep a tight rein on myself these days, and will call a cock a cock or a hole a hole/entrance etc rather than risking anything more pseudo flowery.

What I hate to see (and this is most obvious when you get one of those “bumper books of gay porn”) is everyone using the same words—despite who or where or when they might be. Onery marines will use exactly the same terminology as college freshmen once the clothes are strewn and I wonder if that’s because the authors watch a lot of porn and think that everyone does actually talk like that. It’s a bit like Georgette Heyer, whose characters ALL use the same highly suspect slang whether they are well bred duchesses, men who have been out of the country for ten years or servants.

I think you should consider your character when you come to these words, (obviously, it all depends on which POV you are in) and think hard about the type of words he would use when describing what he’s doing/feeling. The worst thing you can do, imho – ymmv, is to shy away from using a particular word because it offends you. And that’s the feeling I get (more particularly when writers are writing about female genitalia perhaps) they hate the C word so they can’t use it – even if it’s EXACTLY what the character would say. Some guy from the streets with a penchant for gang rape is hardly likely to say “I felt up her sex and slid my member into her hidden place” after all – is he?

A good example is Alex Beecroft’s Shining in the Sun. She doesn’t swear like a docker, but she’s more than aware that some (not all, before you all jump on me and defend the yoof of today) young men use “fuck” with the same inattention as “you know” and the characters in her book swear a lot.

When I was in Ireland, nearly everyone I met there used “fucking” as an obligatory adjective for nearly every single word. I don’t think for one minute they knew they were doing it. It wasn’t for shock value, like some kids do, it has just become part of the language. When my mother pointed out to my boyfriend that he used the word before almost every single noun, he was amazed, and started listening to himself. For a week or so he became effectively mute in my mother’s presence, which was hilarious to watch.

When you write historicals, you need to consider even more. Not only do you have to try and use words that were used at the time, to the best of your ability, but (particularly in Britain) you have to consider status and class (not necessarily the same thing) – the age of the character, the mind set of the character etc etc. Also who is doing what to whom! A man in bed for the first time with a young lady who he has carefully seduced isn’t likely to use the same vocabulary as he would shagging a lieutenant he’s been regularly bedding for a year. But sad to say, I do see the whole “i’ll fuck you and you’ll like it, you bitch” coming up, no matter who is doing what to whom and when.

The character of your character is what drives his language. And you can even get two people identical in almost every way, schooling, upbringing etc, and one swears like a docker and the other doesn’t.

It will also very much depend on whose point of view you are writing from. If you are writing from the point of view of an inexperienced Regency gentleman who has never had sex before, he’s not really going to have the vocabulary to describe what’s actually happening, particularly in the tab a into slot b stage. What amuses me is often everything is described in very erotic and technical detail when it’s all new to the character.  And similarly –  if you are writing (for example) from the point of view of a character with a very colourful and extensive vocabulary, who has had sex a lot – and who calls a cock a cock, the reader is going to fall around laughing if he starts referring to “his love pole” or entering the “tunnel of delights.”

Just sayin’