“Grab them by the…”

…hand? Or, whatever you want really, but again, like yesterday, you can imagine that I’m thinking of something else. Because yesterday I got a good firm grasp of how we use synonyms for penises as insults, now I want to do the same thing from a female perspective. Well, not really from a female perspective I suppose.

Because yes, I want to look at how we use terms for vaginas as insults, but we tend to use these terms overwhelmingly to refer to men, just as we do synonyms for penis. And in its own way, that’s very interesting too.

The obvious synonym for vagina we can use to refer to a man is pussy. The meaning is pretty straightforward: a pussy is a coward and not stereotypically masculine. The meaning of the word in this sense isn’t too strange. If you have a very macho, misogynistic worldview, then what better insult could you consider other than calling a man a woman, or womanly, especially if they don’t embody what you see as stereotypically masculine qualities? But sometimes, just calling someone a woman isn’t enough. You think: How can I really show that I think this guy is like a pathetic woman with like, feelings, and shit!? What’s uniquely, unarguably female?… A pussy! I’ll call him a pussy!

Tit would also work too, but it’s not as strong an insult as pussy, probably because breasts aren’t as uniquely female as vaginas.

But I wonder: why do we call vaginas pussies in the first place? There doesn’t seem to be any specific etymology, and I think it’s nothing more complicated than the fact that cats are small, soft, warm, and furry, and well, just have a look at any sex scene in a 70s film. It’s not surprising that other languages also use words for cats or other small furry animals to refer to vaginas.

Of course there’s another word for vagina that can be used to insult a man, and that’s c*nt. As a swearword, it’s still quite taboo, and is one of the few left that can be genuinely shocking. And though I said it can be used to insult a man, that’s not universally true. It’s generally used that way here in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, but in North America it’s mostly only used as an derogatory term for a woman. Regardless of whom it’s used against though, it’s still one of the most powerful swearwords, because it conveys an incredibly sense of contempt for what you consider the most despicable thing you can imagine. You can’t say much worse to someone than call them a c*nt.

Why is it so bad though, compared to pussy, and why is its meaning so much stronger? I think it’s mainly to do with the sound. Even though its exact etymology is uncertain, the word was used as a fairly straightforward term for hundreds of years. Chaucer used it quite openly in The Canterbury Tales (c. 1390), but by Shakespeare’s time, it seems to have become obscene. Shakespeare was fond of a dirty joke, and would’ve undoubtedly have used the word if it hadn’t been taboo, but he never did.

Anyway, as I said, I think the sound of the word is important. It’s hard and short and blunt. It’s got that short /ʌ/ in the middle, which never sounds nice, with the harsh /k/ sound before it and the sharp sudden /t/ after it. Pussy, though far from beautiful, is a softer word, with the S’s in the middle, and the Y at the end giving it an open, less threatening finish. Despite the difference in sound, I think the core of the insult is the same as pussy. You’re still insulting someone by saying that they’re an embodiment of pure femininity, only showing your absolute disgust at this very concept by the use of such an ugly word. Pretty pathetic really, but then there are always going to be people out there scared by anyone or anything that’s not identical to themselves. And at least the word’s not being as used as much anymore, except by the odd c*nt now and then.

Thinking back on what I wrote yesterday as well, it does seem a bit strange that we use our genitalia as insults, and not any other parts of our body. Maybe it’s because they sometimes confuse us, and act of their own accord. Maybe they simply feel more taboo because we usually keep them covered up, and don’t look at them very often. Whatever the logic behind them though, at least we now live in more enlightened times, when insults based on someone’s sex are less socially acceptable, and such derogatory terms are used less often. I mean, could you imagine a bizarre parallel world where an American Presidential candidate boasted about being allowed to “grab (women) by the pussy,” and still got elected!? If there were actually such an awful person in such a position of power, I might consider using the c-word just for him.

19 thoughts on ““Grab them by the…”

  1. […] And of course it’s another case of us thinking spatially to concretize abstract ideas. We might not have made up our minds, but we’re leaning in a certain direction. Someone might interrupt our train of thought. Our thoughts might run a certain way. You might hold or park a thought, as though to stop it moving. You might have a one-track mind. […]


  2. Perhaps, the leader of the “free world” is a reflection in general of a larger part of the American culture, right along with slovenly dressing, wearing leggings as pants, and dirty language. Of course, desperate entertainment moguls go as low and nasty as they are can – it’s not cool, just lazy and degenerate. Imagination as taken a huge fall. There are so many more eloquent and interesting ways and words to denigrate others, such as repugnant, repulsive, squalid, vile, revolting and that just describes the leader of the free world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting read, especially in light of the last few ridiculous days. I was kind of hoping you’d do an analysis of “feckless” as well—can one be “full of feck”? Why is it similar in structure to “reckless” but almost the opposite in meaning? Etc. Either way “feckless c*nt” is a pretty good insult.

    Liked by 1 person

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