Azealia Banks; ‘That’s so cunt. That’s so feminine. That’s so good.’
Insults and profanities are undoubtedly one of the most interesting aspects of a language. They occupy a strange place in the English language; overused in certain groups and demonised by others. These shifting meanings give swearing and popular slang a unique place in the English language. There’s no doubt in my mind that they can both useful and harmful. Many people dislike swearing and find it offensive. A common refrain of these people seems to be that swearwords are unnecessary, and that one could easily replace the offending word with a similar word which does not have the same connotations. For example, the profanity ‘fuck’ could be replaced by ‘frig’ or ‘duck’. I cannot help but feel that these people are missing the point a little. A huge part of what gives swearwords power is the sense of taboo which surrounds them. If people genuinely started using ‘duck’ instead of ‘fuck’, over time it would become equally offensive.
Of course, whilst the context and the intention of the speaker projects new meaning onto a word (fuck/duck), the root of the word is of paramount importance. In English we see that, for obvious reasons, many insults are derived from animals – such as ‘cow’ and ‘bitch’. Instantly we can see that these two examples are the names for the females of the species. The male of the species ‘dog’ can be used as an insult, but does not hold anywhere near the same amount of power as its female counterpart ‘bitch’. And calling someone a ‘bull’ would not be considered offensive. Another example of sexism in language is found in the animal based names of pre-marital celebrations. A male celebration is called a ‘Stag do’, in comparison to the female ‘Hen night’. The imagery of the strong, noble Stags contrasts horribly with the clucking, idiotic Hens.
In addition to the insults based on animals, swearing often refers to sex and sexual organs – such as fuck, dickhead, pussy, and wanker. It’s not really surprising that these words become taboo. I guess I’m kind of pleased to see that there’s a mixture of genders in the insults here…although I don’t appreciate the demonising of anyone’s anatomy. However, I don’t think that I am wrong in stating that, currently, the most widely disliked and offensive swearword which exists in the English language is the word ‘cunt’, referring to the vagina. Germaine Greer said that ‘cunt’ is “one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.” The word itself is strong, short and sharp, which is perhaps what renders it so shocking and ‘ugly’ – it is a word referring to the female sex which refuses to be stereotypically feminine. In fact, the word ‘cunt’ originated in ancient Egypt; an early form of the word was used as a synonym for ‘woman.’ Nowadays, this neutral synonym is shocking, crude, disgusting.
But there are signs in pop culture that this attitude is changing. Recently Rihanna was seen wearing a necklace reading the word ‘cunt’. In singer Azealia Banks’ pop single, ‘212’, she repeats the word ‘cunt’ with nonchalance, saying in a recent interview, “I feel like ‘cunt’ means so feminine […] That’s so cunt. That’s so feminine. That’s so good.” Though Banks’ words are controversial, maybe it’s time other women followed her lead in harnessing the power of words like ‘cunt’ and ‘bitch’ that have been used to belittle and insult women for so long.
– Nicola Ball