terms of endearment (Colorado-style)

Lynne Murphy M.L.Murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Thu Jun 17 17:22:47 UTC 2004

--On Thursday, June 17, 2004 11:59 am -0400 Laurence Horn
<laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> 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.)

I wonder whether President Hoffman's views on the word might have been
shaped by time in England.  Before I left the US, it was the c-word--the
one word I couldn't bring my self to say even in metalinguistic contexts.
Now I'm pretty desensitised to it.

But the thing is, even here, the people who use it in less nasty ways are
generally men, and they generally use it to refer to men.  Calling a man a
'cunt' is a pretty strong insult, but like many insults, it can get turned
around to be more a sort of 'left-handed solidarity marker', like the use
of 'nigga' or 'faggot' or 'dyke' within other communities.  But that just
doesn't work when it's a man saying it to a woman, just like it's not cute
when a straight man  (without a whole  lot of interpersonal positive
history and positive context!) calls a lesbian 'dyke'.

(No offense intended to left handers!)


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics

Department of Linguistics and English Language
Arts B133
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN
>>From UK:  (01273) 678844
Outside UK: +44-1273-678844

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