terms of endearment (Colorado-style)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jun 17 15:59:46 UTC 2004

Unless I've missed it, nobody here has brought up a controversy over
usage that may bring down the president of the University of
Colorado.  Here's one take, courtesy of http://www.rotten.com/news/

"Cunt" defended by university president
KUSA-TV 9 Denver | Submitted by: Jonny Plasma
"In a sworn statement to be made public Tuesday, University of
Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said a four-letter word used
toward women can sometimes be used as a 'term of endearment.' The
comment comes from Hoffman's latest sworn testimony in connection
with a federal lawsuit against the university... In the deposition,
Hoffman was asked whether the "c-word" is 'filthy and vile.' She said
she knows the word is a swear word, but 'It is all in the context of
what - of how it is used and when it is used.' She was asked, 'Can
you indicate any polite context in which that word would be used?'
Hoffman answered, 'Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of
(See also http://hotbuttereddeath.ubersportingpundit.com/ for more on
the discussion.)

In other reports on this that I've heard on the radio and television
but can't locate electronically at the moment, President Hoffman
defended her views by citing Chaucer (she's a medieval historian by
training), which makes this an interesting usage-based analogue of
the etymologically fallacy:  "cunt" was used as a term of endearment
700 years ago, so it's *really* a term of endearment.  (I'm not here
presupposing either that she's right about its use by Chaucer or
wrong about its use by football players toward their female fellow
students now, just noting the tenor of her argument.)


P.S.  Note also that according to that hotbuttereddeath report,
"Women's groups and a member of the Board of Regents said they were
appalled by what they called Hoffman's lack of insensitivity."
Seems to me she was as insensitivity as one might reasonably expect.

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