Via Rusty of Kuro5hin in an almost completely unrelated Metatalk thread, an etymology and cultural history of the word ‘cunt’.
You learn something every day.
My fondest personal memory of the word itself (as opposed to the body parts to which it refers) comes from my first trip to London, back in 1988, I think it was. Stefan and I, fresh off the plane and train, boggled and hungover in Victoria Station, found the cheapest place we could to sleep, which turned out to be the floor of a run-down gymnasium near King’s X station. Was it called Tunbridge Sports Club? I don’t know, I can’t remember. Something like that, anyway.
It was only a pound a night, and all we needed to do once we’d paid at the door was drag a sweat-stained foam pad from a storage room and stake out a place on the floor somewhere. The arrangement left more cash for the beer, and that was a consideration foremost in our minds at the time. The fact that it was locked up between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm was just fine, as we were happy to wander the city all day though the clouds of diesel, colonial bumpkin mouths agape. The fact that we were locked in between 9 pm and 9 am might have given us pause if we’d stopped to think about it, but we were on an adventure, damn it! No foo-foo ‘youth hostels’ for us.
Three people I remember from that place : two Finnish guys, one who wore one of those teacozyesque knit caps over his blonde dreadlocks and was clearly the alpha male, and the other who orbited around him, a little like the Warner Brothers yappy little cartoon dog and his big tough pal, Butch. We ended up putting our foam mats down in the same general area a couple of nights running, both duos sensing in a reassuring preverbal kind of way that neither was likely to rip the other off while sleeping. I called them Sockhead and Son, and remember them still, which is no mean feat for my Rube Goldberg machine of a brain.
The third was the foulmouthed chainsmoking Cockney who ran the place. Well, ran it to the extent that he hung around at the entrance between 9 and 10 pm, collecting pound coins in his dirty paw, and turning away anyone who looked too much like a gluehead and too little like a backpacker. His favorite phrase, which in the week or so we crashed there I must have heard two dozen times, was : ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’ He seemed inclined to drawl it out whether happy or angry or contemplative, under any circumstances that required verbalization, to anyone that might find themselves unhappily pinioned under his bloodshot medusa gaze. Five minutes after nine and not out of the communal shower? ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’ Only a five pound note to pay for your foam mat for the night? ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’ Caught smoking inside the building? ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’
It was like a lullaby after walking 20 or 30 kilometres a day, while sinking gratefully down onto the gym floor. I remember drifting off to sleep with Grubby The Warden hectoring late arrivals at the top of his gravelly voice : ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’ after ‘Yoooooou foockin’ cooont!’ easing us off into la-la land.
I hated that guy, but I loved him too, because he was at least memorable. Like the Young Ones used to say about Harry the Bastard with mock-respect in their voices : what a bastard!

At this time, in the Stews (brothel) area of Southwark, London, there was a street called Gropecuntelane. Similarly, there was a Gropecuntlane in Oxford (later renamed Magpie Lane), a Cunte Street in Bristol (later renamed Host Street), and, in London, a Pissing Alley and sh-tteborwelane. Gropecuntelane may have been shortened to Grope Lane, and a similar (though less graphic) example can be found in York, where a Grope Lane was “renamed [Grape Lane] by staid Victorians who found the original Grope – historically related to prostitution – too blatant” [Wainwright, 2000].
Reminiscences, Uncategorizable Crap

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Now that’s what I call lexicology!


    I cannot resist posting the following links; the second is of obvious linguistic relevance, and the first is just so damn funny I have to share it. But they are rough and knotty and deal with scandalous or salacious material….

  3. One of the earliest dictionary entries for “cunt” was from the early 1800s. Can’t remember which dictionary – sorry – but I do remember what it says:
    c**t: an ugly word for an ugly thing.
    They also have:
    p-k: the male member
    Where I live there’s a street called Clapgate. “Gate”, of course, means street in northern England street names (from Old Norse). Not sure about the clap, though!

  4. Heh heh. My college poetry prof: “Only the Italians could have had sense of humor enough to invent that fragrant envelope.” Literally. In the Roman poet Catullus: “meientis mulae cunnus habere solet” (That kind of woman tends to have the c. of a pissing mule).
    Okay, now we’re all in deep merdaceum with the language police.

  5. I hate reading some of the stories that you write of your travels. It makes me regret that I did not make more of life when I was younger, instead of having kids and getting tied down in all the related crap that just sucks the life out of you if you give it half a chance. Maybe I should start amassing other people’s stories and learn them by heart so as to recount them at will to show people what a fun guy I am. Maybe if I do a good job of that, I can even convince myself that I have lived.

  6. Well, mate, there’s always the stuff you give up, too. Wander for 15 years on end, and you’ll never own anything more valuable than a 5-year old computer, probably. You’ll give up domestic bliss, except in short bursts at best, friends that you see more often than couple of days every few years, home and hearth, a community that isn’t virtual, and heaps more. I always knew about the trade-offs, spent a lot of time thinking about them (usually when drunk off my face on a beach somewhere), and I reckon that I made the right choices – for me, at least.
    But the grass is always greener, trust me, and freedom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, in many ways.
    Still, if I’m going to love my life and remember it, I’ll tell the good stories and the bad. Maybe I ought to share a few tales that are less happy…

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