Creating a Chapel of CUNT: Origins and Opportunities in the Most Taboo Word in United States English
Or, Making a Book Called “CUNT POEMS”
I’ve written a book called CUNT POEMS, and it is available for $10 in a limited edition run from the Wisdom Body Collective’s chapbook imprint, In Process Press.
The word cunt in this country, is a loaded word. It has a tendency to alienate and offend. I would like to invite you into my library, engage with an experiment, offer up some linguistic resources to consider the word more deeply, and attempt to reframe it.
A gutteral and sensual word to roll around the tongue, one that evokes more power than the playful pussy and feels more alive than the sterile vagina.
An Experiment in Conversation
Let’s talk about the word.
What does the word cunt evoke for you? (If you’re moved to, respond with a comment, I’d love to know!)
When I posed this question on social media and to a few friend via email as a social experiment, I was surprised by how few people chose to respond with more than a “like”.
One friend responded with this:
“Never liked that word, but it is yours to use as you please. I prefer simple pussy or even vulva. Not so abrasive. Of course I venerate the actual article.”
Another speaking specifically about the Dutch language:
People here use « kut » like « fuck » in anglo saxon countries or « putain » in French. The cunt/kont/kut origin is actually an interesting question linguist dont seem to be able to agree on. One of the ur words could be the old English cwiþa. I think there is a connection with “count“ and what they thought of him.
And, a third:
Ages ago I had a college roommate who HATED that word (I had hardly heard it)!
All of the above are responses from men who are a generation or more my elder. In fact 75% of the total comments engaging with the word were from men. Only one woman responded to my initial query, a friend who I am close with in age and upbringing responded simply with, “I am so proud of you.”
I am curious about collective conditioning, hesitancies, and fears around this language. And, more specifically about female fear. I wonder if taking ownership of the word, if speaking and writing it, can be an act of revolution, an act that flies in the face of the imposter syndrome that women are so heavily conditioned to bear.
Origin and Speculation
Cunt oscillates between first and second position on lists of the most offensive words in the English langauge. The origins of cunt are highly contested with linguistic links to Latin, low German, Old Norse, and Middle Dutch words having to with female genetalia. Some say it appeared in English as early as 1230 as the name of a brothel street (Gropecuntelan) in England.
As we consider one of the most taboo words in United States English, it’s important to take a look at the etymology of the word taboo itself. Taboo represents a highly paradoxical Polynesian word tapu meaning both holy and forbidden — like the cunt itself. The roots of taboo also signify that which is “thoroughly marked”.
When cunt became marked with obscene connotations sometimes between Chaucer and the time of Shakespeare, the implications of its obscenity also began to play out in the censorship and domination of the feminine. Consider, for instance, the puritanical marginalization of sex work in this country.
For me, the evolution of cunt and taboo in this language (US English) speaks to an overarching colonial compulsion to possess or destroy that which is sacred and unownable.
Can a Book Change the Wor(l)d?
I have heard of recent publishing experiences where the word has been met with both hesitation and outright censorship, and I am grateful that has not been my experience with this book.
Cunt Poems is a collection of poems that exists to revive the holiness that the “cunt” was once imbued with. I find it a gutteral and sensual word to roll around the tongue, one that evokes more power than the playful pussy and feels more alive than the sterile vagina.
My cunt poems are an erotic imagining and reclamation of the word and an attempt at repositioning the word and all that it evokes in our linguistic culture. Importantly, not every poem incldes the word itself, instead the collection engages in a practice of world building in comunity with the word. I chose it as a title for this book because these poems are unified in exploration of the multiplicity of my own lived cunt experiences.
As this cover designed by AmyBobeda suggests, my cunt poems work to uncouple from the locks that keep us chained to our linguistic fences and clinging to a culture that reveres the phallus while denigrating the sacred feminine by censoring the guttural language that marks its possibilities of power and pleasure.
Making meaning makes reality. In other words: the stories we tell ourselves and others starting with the fragments of language that we weave together to tell these stories actively creates the culture that we inhabit. By consciously and intentionally engaging with the roots and branches of language, and by engaging in experimentation and play with language, we come to better understand self as well as the words and worlds that we inhabit.
In 2018 Mina Moriarity wrote and article for The Establishment which catalyzed my investigative poetic experiment when I came across it nearly 3 years later. In it she asks:
“Can we ever truly reappropriate “Cunt”? Can we use it with pride? Can we chip away at the palace of the phallus and instate a chapel of Cunt in its wake?”
So, here’s to co-creating a reality that recognizes its roots, respects the holiness in what is forbidden, and honors all that is holy in cunt!
Update 4 December 2021
Below is a video clip from out Kickstarter campaign which successfully funded a first printing of 45 hand-bound saddle-stich copies. A few copies are still available in the Wisdom Body Collective Etsy shop.