The Happy Trail

The unknown etymology of your old least favorite word

Cunt. It’s a pretty powerful word, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

For those of you who saw the Vagina Monologues, cunt is a word that’s being reclaimed by a lot of people who are tired of a word that is historically associated with female power being twisted into something shameful and derogatory. Contrary to what you might think, cunt doesn’t just mean “vagina,” though. There’s a rich history to the word that would make all those people who’ve ever used it as a putdown blush if they knew what it really meant.

Etymologically, cunt is most often connected with the oriental goddess Cunti and/or the Hindu goddess Kunda (also known as Shakti). Cunti and Kunda are revered in their respective religions as the Great Yoni of the Universe (Yoni means “the source of all life”).

The goddess Kundalini Shakti in Hinduism is the embodiment of the sanskrit word “shak” (“to be able”) and personifies force, empowerment, the divine feminine creative power and, most significantly, she depends on no one; she is instead inter-dependent with the universe (that’s right, the universe couldn’t exist without her either!).

Cunt is also related etymologically to words like country, kin, kind, cunning, and ken (meaning knowledge, wisdom, remembrance, and insight). It’s also cognate with “cunabula,” meaning cradle, “Cunina,” a Roman goddess who protected children in the cradle, and “cuntipotent,” which refers to a person who possesses all-powerful cunt magic.

For a word so strongly linked to feminine agency, creativity, creation and strength, why do people tiptoe around cunt? Why are we so afraid to say it? Why do we refer to people we dislike as beautiful, powerful goddesses?

The short answer: Patriarchy.

The long answer: As the Christian/Catholic church started to inhabit formerly pagan areas and convert the native dwellers, they decreed that all likenesses of these goddesses were profane, and that the only true God was a man.

They told people that feminine power was a manifestation of the devil, and that the yonic images were likenesses of the cunnus diaboli (latin for “devilish cunt”).  The divinity of the cunt was something to be hidden and ashamed of.

Geoffrey Chaucer even used cunt in a fairly anatomical sense, but over time, the word was revived into a zombified version of its original meaning. Cunt as it is used today is distinctly un-holy, ugly, and unspeakable. Those who do speak it are ignorant of the divine, creative connotations and foolishly use it in an attempt to steal power from others to try to give the impression of their own strength.

Even if cunt simply meant vagina, what’s wrong with vaginas? Vaginas are flippin’ awesome! They give people pleasure, they give life, and they’re even a naturally evolved lunar calendar! Why would you refer to an angry, disagreeable person as a warm, squishy birth canal?

As someone who loves words, the misuse of cunt is utterly baffling. Sure, language evolves over time, but as responsible, aware citizens, we need to work against constructs that steal power from one group and give it to another.

I would urge my readers to embrace cunt again. It’s a short word with a lot of corners and a lot of weight, but it should be anything but scary. It can be a massive force of love instead of a massive force of hate if we actively define our vocabulary instead of letting it define us.

If you love someone, if you look up to someone and see her as a righteous powerful babe, let her know! On its own, cunt might be misunderstood, but using it in context can open up a great dialogue, like “Oh my gosh, that [Female Politician] is so cool! She just stood up for herself intelligently, and she’s so well spoken! She must be a real cunt.”

Oh, and next time someone calls you a cunt, you can thank them and be reminded that they’re probably just intimidated by how awesome you are.