Guest post by latsot on the “not a gendered insult” canard

From a comment by latsot on Gervais “will continue to use offensive words like cunt, atheism & Derek”


I’m British too and like many other Brits I’m sick to death of your droning argument that we don’t consider “cunt” to be a gendered insult. I can speculate about a possible reason you think – or at least say – this: the insult “cunt” seems almost interchangeable with other insults, some also gendered (such as “dick”), and others not.

Unfortunately, there’s only one tiny flaw with that argument: it is bullshit. It’s bullshit partly because “cunt” is always known to be a worse insult than any of those others. It might be argued that this distinction is arbitrary; that “cunt” is considered worse solely due to historical accident independent of the more literal meaning of the word. I’d be as impressed as I would be surprised if anyone managed to come up with a plausible argument along those lines, but I think that’s what you’d have to do to realistically claim that “cunt” is not considered a gendered insult in the UK. Or perhaps you could argue that usage of “cunt” to describe female genitalia is obscure in the UK. Of course, we all know that this is anything but the case. Nobody calls someone a cunt in isolation of its anatomical meaning. You know and they know what the word means and you both know you know they know it.

Your sadly popular argument seems almost to be saying that the insult “cunt” is not gendered unless someone is being explicitly and literally compared to an actual cunt. That relying on the implicit baggage the word carries somehow renders the insult not gendered, even though everyone involved understands that baggage perfectly well.

If “cunt” used as an insult were not pretty much universally considered a greater insult than words like “dick” or “prick” and those words used with roughly the same frequency in the same sort of circumstances, then the fact that “cunt” is gendered wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But you know perfectly well that “dick” means someone casually or relatively mildly unpleasant and “cunt” means someone exceedingly, deliberately, habitually, maximally unpleasant and you know what else those words mean.


  1. brucegorton says

    There was a time when, as a kiddy, I didn’t know what a “twat” was. I thought it was just another generic insult.

    Of course when I was a kiddy I was a shithead (even more so then now, hard as that may be to believe). Heck I was an economic libertarian *shudder* but I don’t think I really meant to express a hatred for women by using that term.

    And when I learned what it actually meant I didn’t make up some bullshit about how you know out here in South Africa it doesn’t mean that, I stopped using it.

    That I think is the big thing – it is possible to use the word “cunt” without being strictly speaking sexist simply by not understanding it beyond the idea of it being a hurt-word, but I don’t think there is a way to defend continuing to use it.

    Particularly when you have been informed of what it means to the people you are talking to.

    Language is all about communication – and if you are using language that doesn’t communicate what you mean then you should probably change your language, not get all snotty at the people you are communicating with who are misunderstanding you.

    If somebody tells you that by using a certain word you are communicating certain ideas, and you don’t mean to do that, continuing to use that word means you perfectly damn well meant to communicate those ideas.

    After all, now you know exactly how those words are being heard.

  2. sawells says

    It’s weird the number of people who’ve tried to argue that “cunt” isn’t a gendered insult because you can insult men with it. It’s like arguing that “faggot” isn’t a homophobic insult if you use it to insult a straight man.

    It’s also weird sitting in the UK and hearing people make claims about UK usage that are so obviously untrue.

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I am also British (though I have lived in France for many years, so I’m probably not the most up to date on modern UK usage) and I agree with what others have said that anyone who claims that using cunt as a personal insult is unaware of its anatomical implications is either a fool or, much more likely, a liar. I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone a cunt, but if I did I wouldn’t pretend that it wasn’t insulting and degrading to women in general and not just to the person insulted. The case of twat may be different, however, as I’ve only ever heard it used (not by me!) as a personal insult and it has only been fairly recently that I learned that it had an anatomical meaning. In that respect I am like brucegorton.

    Having said that, I am just about willing to believe that there may exist sections of UK society for which cunt has started along the road that the French word con took many years ago: today con is used by men and women alike with little or no embarrassment to mean just “stupid”, so much so that the adjective has acquired a specifically feminine form, conne, and one is surprised to come across it used with its original meaning, as by Catherine Millet in her book La vie sexuelle de Catherine Millet.

  4. says

    A few years back, I wrote a post in which I used the word ‘niggardly’ to describe something. The word has absolutely nothing to do with the epithet.

    Nonetheless, a couple people reading the post took offense.

    So, you know what I did?

    I threw a humongous temper tantrum and told them they were all idiots oppressing me and that they should learn to respect other cultures and take an etymology lesson. Then I used the word at every possible opportunity.

    Oh… wait… no… I forgot. I don’t, in fact, wake up every morning and say ‘well, how can I intentionally be a massive asshole today?’

    Instead, I apologized profusely for inadvertently giving offense and put in an edit to my post that changed the word to ‘miserly’, then struck the word ‘niggardly’ from my vocabulary.

    Because I’m a goddamn grownup.

  5. Shatterface says

    I posted here quite regularly until afew weeks back when I defended Dawkins and Harris against claims they had done little in their critique of Islam because others had got there first and Ophelia translated that into me suggesting those who criticise Dawkins and Harris ought to be ‘kicked in the cunt’

    If the word is a total no-no don’t imply people have said it when they didn’t especially when you are confabulating threats of sexual violence.

  6. says

    Shatterface – no I didn’t. I’m sorry what I said was unclear or ambiguous, but no I didn’t. You said “it seems that” something something and I responded with a different “it seems that” – I was trying to show that “it seems that” is a rather evasive way of making a claim.

    I am sorry that wasn’t clear. Really. That’s not a notpology; I’m sorry about it.

  7. Shatterface says

    Then why pick that phrase? My grammar offended you so much you had to twist it into the worst thing you could imagine me saying? It was entirely OTT.

    I had enjoyed posting here; I particularly enjoyed the discussions on animal intelligence. But parody isn’t just about form, it has to take account of content and tone and your response took account of neither.

  8. says

    I wasn’t imagining you saying it. It was meant to be a paradigm, like the ones used in teaching languages. I don’t remember exactly why I chose that phrase but I think the idea was to point out that you one can put anything after “it seems that,” no matter how extreme or absurd.

  9. says

    And, as I said, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drive you away, much less to make you feel bad. It was one of those times when I knew what I meant and I failed to notice that it wasn’t obvious.

  10. Blanche Quizno says

    Pliny, do you actually *DRAW* those panels?? If so I am thoroughly, completely, totally IN AWE O_O

    I was rather shocked this week when an online friend whose mother is Irish apparently used “twat” with the intent of meaning “twit” and she had to explain to Mom what “twat” really means without offending Mom’s old-country sensibilities.

    I had *NEVER* heard that one before! Can any of our resident Brits (or Irish – do we have any of THOSE PEOPLE here??) weigh in on “twat” being used casually in the same sense/level of offense as “twit”??

    “You people” – that’s a fun pseudo insult… 🙂 I got nuthin’ against the Irish! Honest inju…honest!”

    Oh, and Shatterface? I haven’t been here very long myself, but I’ve been here long enough to recognize your handle with a positive connotation. I hope you’ll consider returning…

  11. says

    I’ll agree with latsot about that. Growing up in Australia, “cunt” did not seem sexist. However, it was clear that it was considered in very bad form. It was more acceptable to call someone a bastard or a buggar than to use the “c” word.

    So whether or not the word has sexist connotations is perhaps less important than that this is not a word whose use is defensible.

  12. Pliny the in Between says

    BQ, I do draw the artwork. I just use Apple’s Keynote slide making program as the image tool since it has a simple but adequate vectored image capability that’s cheaper and easier to use than Adobe Illustrator, etc. I’ve definitely generated better images with Illustrator but it’s time prohibitive for a simple web comic. During bouts of insomnia I created an image library of the main characters that I can layer together (and change expressions, etc.). From the library I can usually respond to the irritant du jour in 10 – 15 minutes when I have a break or need a rest from my day job. I’m facile enough with the technique now that I can add a new character in about an hour as well should one be needed. No doubt more information than you wanted, but thanks for the interest 😉

  13. Blanche Quizno says

    Pliny, I’ve noticed the similarities between the various characters and their expressions, so your description of an image library indeed clarifies. That was hardly a TMI post, BTW, and certainly an appreciable distance from tl/dr. I *loved* both of your “evangelist” parodies – the door-knocking Mormon missionary lookalikes, and the evangelists exhorting everyone to “Oh, won’t ANYONE think of the children??” outside various churches – good fun!!!

  14. Blanche Quizno says

    …meant to add that I hope your insomnia has resolved and, you know, you aren’t becoming interested in making and marketing high-end cosmetic soaps…

  15. AsqJames says

    On the subject of “twat”, I’ve more often heard it used as a verb (meaning to hit forcefully, normally with the fist) than as an epithet.

    Is this just a Yorkshire/Lancashire thing, or are my compatriots elsewhere familiar with this usage?

  16. lochaber says


    I’ve encountered it used that way a couple times as well. I think the most recent was in “The Boys” by Garth Ennis (also makes frequent use of “cunt”), where one character yells to the other (paraphrased) “Just twat him on the head Huey!”

  17. says

    Not really Damion, as the ‘splash damage’ is generally imparted to people associated with that gender owing to the overwhelming dominance of the cis binary.

    But nice attempt at framing a little ‘gotcha’. 😉

  18. says

    You can always count on Damion to try for a pointless “gotcha.” Hey Damion, maybe sometime you should try actual social justice instead of cargo cult social justice.

  19. says

    Ooooo… “cargo cult social justice”… I have need of, and could (appropriate and) use a phrase like that. 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *