**WARNING*** There will be strong language in this post, and I assume any following discussion.

This morning on our local radio station there was an interesting discussion about the usage, intent and impact of swearing.

It was sparked by a satirical TV show, Dirty Laundry Live, using strong language to discuss Charles Saatchi, soon to be ex husband of Nigela Lawson. During the shows opening monologue the host Lawrence Mooney described him as a cunt.

To put it in context the comment was shown live to air although it was scripted. Mooney has stated they did have a strong discussion on whether to use it or not but he contends that it was both justified and effective.

The discussion it sparked was centered around the appropriateness or not of using that language on live to air television.

From a personal perspective I have no problem with the use of the word. Words are just words, some have more impact than others. Its the values you ascribe to that word, and the context they are use that matters.

In this particular instance I think calling the man a cunt was an effective and appropriate usage. Its not wording i would use around my children but again its not a show children should be watching.

The interesting part of the debate and what I was interested in discussing here was the contention that using the word contributed to violence against women. I can't say I agree with that argument.

As I said before words are just words. I'm sure that the word cunt CAN be used to denigrate women, but in the context it was used I don't think it does.

Is calling someone a prick, a cock head or a dick demeaning to men? Sure they aren't words with as much impact but they are all negative words associated with male genitalia.

If I use those words to purposefully denigrate a group then I should be condemned. But is that what has happened here?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

MB

Tags: profanity, sexism

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Cunt is a word of the oldest language stock, and existed for good purpose.

Its open use was marginalised when the British government raised their levels of prudery in the eighteenth century and banned its use in printed form and public usage.

I like it when used for the purpose originally intended. When banned, the usage of the Latin word vulva rose to replace it.  

It is a pity that noble and useful words like fuck and cunt entered the language of the profane and obscene.  

Used for their intended purposes, they are beautiful words. That's where they lie in my vocabulary. I never use them as swear words. 

The word 'fuck' is also an old word according to Wiki. It was first recorded in a poem in the 16th century. The poem, Flen flyys, is about Friars fucking the wives of Ely or something.

 

Robert Wuhl has a somewhat different (and more amusing!) position on this topic:

Fantastic! 

I caught it when he was on HBO and recorded it. I really liked it.

Part of this business has to do both with bullying and empowering words.  I wrote about this elsewhere a bit ago.  Certain words have been designated as "obscene" or "inappropriate," and in the case of the proverbial "N-word," "forbidden," even though it turns up in certain circles and seemingly more and more lately.  This to me is the inevitable result of elevating the importance of words above the people who use them.

Some of this is also shock value, which some people seem to revel in.  Instead of describing someone in less than complimentary terms, that person is called a "cunt."  Ooooooooooookay ... but depending on the context, "cunt" can mean any one of 100 different things.  On the other hand, there was once a Klingon who, though not to his face, accused Captain James T. Kirk as being: "swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood."  At minimum, this is a touch more creative than simply calling someone you don't admire a "cunt" ... though said Klingon also referred to Kirk as a Denebian slime devil.

Of course, the problem with such language is that it can do several things regarding the speaker, few or none of them good.  I've always thought that ad-hominem had a tendency to either stop a conversation in its tracks or drastically reduce its probative value in favor of a more argumentative or polemic bent while at the same time, putting the blame for that event squarely on the speaker.  Of course, the speaker may care less about how his speech reflects on him than he does the object of his speech (witness the aforementioned Klingon). 

For myself, I'm not given to calling christians untoward names, though exceptions may occur when the christians are named Robertson or Ham or Hagee (and a few others) and the epithets I offer are IMHO well deserved.  Generally, I think we've all found it more useful to go after the IDEAS put forward by christians, most effectively by analytically dismantling them, though in some cases, mockery is useful, especially where the ideas in question are particularly absurd.  I suppose it depends on the purpose and the importance of the conversation and how seriously the participants want it to be taken by third parties.  However, if one's audience is presumed to be as non-critical as those conversing ... well, then, you could be talking as easily about Bill Maher as you could Rush Limbaugh, as both have indulged in such name-calling in front of their adherents and usually without untoward incident.

The thing is, though, name-calling, specifically of the four-word variety, is usually as much about how the object of the name reacts to it as it is about the person.  The impact DEPENDS on that reaction and therewith any determination of morality or lack thereof.  Calling someone a “cunt” or a “prick” may score someone points if the audience AGREES that said person is a cunt or a prick.  It may LOSE points if the listeners don’t agree and perhaps more so if the object of the name calling fails to react to the name.  This is a dynamic which, to borrow from Robert Heinlein, “has more aspects to it than a cat has hair.”  At minimum, the elements of the tone of the conversation, action, reaction and audience sum up in my mind the primary elements of how name-calling is perceived, and perhaps with it, any perceived morality.

Of course, whether this changes the fact that Pat Robertson is a cunt or not is another matter!  [grin!]

Loren, this is a thoughtful response tho this topic.  Thank you.

You can call me a Denebian slime devil until the cows come home, but don't you ever daare to call me Republican.  Some insults are not acceptable language.

Oh Daniel, I just love you! RepubliCON is also the worst name I could be called, and referring to your next post where you wrote "fuck that", I agree also! ~ Mindy

On the particular use of the word 'cunt' as a disparaging ad-hominem: It's hard for me to see this as not disparaging to women in general; else, what's the point?  It seems to me that the user is implying that the target displays aspects of a woman, and that's somehow undesirable.  I must say that cunts rank second as my favorite things in the known universe (the entire woman being first), and so perhaps I fail to see any connection to something undesirable.

OK, let's leave out the ad-hominem and look at metaphorical disparagement using another term that refers to a different group:  I might say that an idea is 'childish' (and I use this phrase often in discussing religion).  I'm not implying that children are 'bad', but that there are thought patterns associated with children that are inappropriate in most adult situations while remaining entirely appropriate in childhood.  I could even call an adult a child without in any way disparaging children.  This is not the case with the term 'cunt', as it implies that the target is exhibiting female characteristics, and that this is somehow 'bad'.

Or take the case of calling someone an asshole:  Assholes are ubiquitous, and we don't consider ourselves worse for having one.  Rather, we use it as a proxy for something like, 'your asshole is your defining characteristic', equating what could be seen as our least attractive feature with the dominant feature of that individual.  We're not saying that the world would be better if nobody had assholes, but that it would be better without those who think with theirs.

}}}}

Ted,

I'm not sure that using the word cunt actually is saying someone is womanly. When I see or hear it use I certainly don't think that is the case.

I think like the word fuck its a conveniently satisfying word to say. The hard consonants are perfect for conveying feeling. Of course it also has the meaning of vagina.

As a juxtaposition I would argue that calling someone a pussy is in fact ascribing womanly attributes. I might be wrong but I think most people would consider being called a pussy as a much lesser insult than a cunt.

I'm not denying that people can and do use these words in order to denigrate. It would be absurd to deny otherwise. However i think there is a large gulf between that and usage that is merely emphatic.

Consider the example of the word fuck. If i hit my thumb while hammering a nail and let out that expletive am I demanding sex? Of course not. Its simply a convenient single syllable hard edged consonant.

In the context it was used in the show I'd argue that cunt was used for its shock value and its effectiveness.

Its an interesting discussion anyway.

MB

I personally don't like that word, but in this case it didn't seem to be denigrating to women.  I do, however, call people dicks quite often, and never think of it a denigrating to men.  I use it for both sexes.  I also use the f-bomb liberally.  I don't like "gross" swear-words, and I would never use derogatory words.  I guess I use what I am comfortable with, and it's arbitrary.

An apocryphal story about the great American lawyer Clarence Darrow. A judge was going to hold him in contempt of court for swearing during the proceedings. When the judge asked Mr. Darrow why he used such language, Darrow's response was, "Well you honor. There's so goddamned few words in the English language everyone understands, it's a hell of shame not to use them all." 

I agree that part of the use of what are considered foul and opprobrious epithets are done for shock value, and pandering to a particular audience. Let us not forget, however, that we all change our levels of communication depending on the listener. I suspect Loren does not use the same language, when talking to a non-technical business person, that he does with a fellow engineer. Nor, do I converse on the same level with a poorly educated client than I would a fellow attorney or judge.  Rather than inquiring of such a client what was his motivation, rationale, or mens rea behind his actions might have been, I'm probably going to get the idea across in a more clear manner, to him or her, by simply asking, "What the f&*k were you thinking?"  After all, I'm trying to get information, not teach a class in rhetoric.

As to the question of whether it was appropriate to use the referenced term in this TV show to denigrate an individual, I suppose that depends. And, it depends on the audience's (listeners) disposition to agree or disagree with the speaker. I recently gave a copy of Christopher Hitchens' biography of Mother Teresa - The Missionary Position - to a friend of mine who had the commonly held belief that she was a living saint. Upon reading it, I asked my female friend what she now thought of this "saintly" woman. Her reply? "She was a despicable, fucking cunt." The reply went over well with me, but how would it play to another audience?

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