|1135374. Sun May 31, 2015 3:24 am
|From the OED entry on cunt
Etymology: Probably the reflex of an Old English form *cunte that is not securely attested (see note), cognate with Old Frisian kunte, Middle Dutch conte (Dutch kont), Middle Low German kunte, Middle High German kunt, Old Icelandic kunta (only as a byname), Norwegian kunte, Swedish regional kunta, kutta, Danish kunte; further etymology uncertain.
It has been argued that the Germanic base of this word is ultimately < the same Indo-European base as classical Latin cunnus (see cunnilingus n.), but the -t- of forms in the Germanic languages would not be easy to explain.
Use in names.
The word is recorded earliest in place names, bynames, and surnames. Compare e.g. the street name Gropecuntelane , Oxford (now Grove Passage and Magpie Lane; see quot. c1230 at sense 1); some twenty instances of this name are recorded throughout the country, at least six of them in the 13th cent., although all are now lost. It has also been suggested that the word was applied at an early date to certain topographical features, such as a cleft in a small hill or mound (in e.g. Cuntelowe , Warwickshire (1221; now lost)), a wooded gulley or valley (in e.g. Kuntecliue , Lancashire (1246, now Lower Cunliffe), Cuntewellewang , Lincolnshire (1317; now lost)), and a cleft with a stream running through it (in e.g. Cuntebecsic (field name), Caistor, Lincolnshire (a1272; now lost), Shauecuntewelle , Kent (1321; earlier as Savetuntewell (1275), now Shinglewell)), although some of the examples (from Danelaw counties) may reflect the early Scandinavian cognate rather than the English word, and some may instead show an unrelated personal name.
The Old English word itself may be shown by (to) cuntan heale (compare hale n.2) in the bounds of a piece of land at Bishopstoke, Hampshire, recorded in a charter of 960 (and again in an 11th-cent. forgery of a charter of 900). This has usually been interpreted as a topographical reference, although a more concrete interpretation is possible, and some commentators have preferred to take it as a personal name (compare use of Old Icelandic kunta as a byname).
For a full discussion of the place-name evidence, see K. Briggs ‘OE and ME cunte in place-names’ in Jrnl. Eng. Place-name Soc. 41 (2009) 26–39.
The word is also recorded from an early date in Old English and Middle English bynames and surnames. Early examples include Godewin Clawecuncte (1066; compare claw v.), Simon Sitbithecunte (1167), Gunoka Cunteles (1219), John Fillecunt (1246), Robert Clevecunt (1302), Bele Wydecunthe (1328).
Compare also apparent use in the names of flowers in Middle English, as cuntehoare fumitory (a1300; compare hoar adj. and n.), countewort butcher's broom (a1400), counteminte catmint (a1500).
History of Usage.
Despite widespread use over a long period and in many sections of society, cunt remains the English word most avoided as taboo. Although it does not seem to have been considered inherently obscene or offensive in the medieval period, as suggested by its use in names and in medical treatises of the time, it is now normally considered the strongest swear word in English. Until relatively recently it appeared only rarely in print, and there are a number of euphemistic substitutions for it (compare C-word n., berk n., cunny n., and formerly also quaint n.1); until the late 20th cent., written uses are typically in private sources or texts which were privately printed, especially on the mainland of Europe. It is also frequently written with asterisks, dashes, etc., to represent suppressed letters, so as to avoid the charge of obscenity.
Representation in dictionaries.
Cunt was printed in full in Bailey (1721, defined (in Latin) ‘Pudendum Muliebre’) and in J. Ash New & Compl. Dict. Eng. Lang. (1775), but appears as **** in the first edition of Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) and in the form c**t as a headword from the third edition of 1796 (defined as ‘a nasty word for a nasty thing’). The word is omitted entirely from Johnson's dictionary (1755), and did not appear in any major general dictionary of English from the late 18th cent. until the relaxation in the interpretation of obscenity laws in the early 1960s, first appearing in the third edition of Webster (1961) in the United States and G. N. Garmonsway's Penguin English Dictionary (1965) in the United Kingdom. Compare discussion at fuck v.