terms of endearment (Colorado-style)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jun 17 23:34:25 UTC 2004

At 7:01 PM -0400 6/17/04, Alan Baragona wrote:
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Laurence Horn" <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Sent: Thursday, June 17, 2004 11:59 AM
>Subject: terms of endearment (Colorado-style)
>>  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:

oops; just noticed I wrote this instead of the intended "etymological
fallacy", a concept and term going back at least to J. S. Mill
(probably not to Chaucer, though)

>  "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.)
>>  Larry
>To be more fair to Hoffman than she probably deserves, the news reports I've
>seen did not attribute the word history argument or the Chaucer reference to
>Hoffman herself.  A spokesperson for her office, Michelle Ames, is the one
>who gave the lame excuse that, as a medievalist, Hoffman was familiar with
>the varied history of the word and Chaucer's use of it, but she may have
>been saying that because Hoffman told her to.

True; that's consistent with what I heard too, now that you mention it

>In any case, Chaucer never uses the word "cunt," though he could have, since
>it had come into English from Old Norse about 100 years before.  What he
>does sometimes use to refer jokingly to the vagina is "queynte," which is
>often glossed as meaning "female genitals," but is a euphemism, in fact
>probably the adjective "quaint" made into a noun, and not actually related
>to "cunt," despite the similarity of sound, which is part of the joke (cf.
>"darn" for "damn" and "fudge" for "fuck").
>In re: Lynne Murphy's message, I confess it took me a while, watching the
>movie "Sexy Beast," to realize these men were really calling each other
>"cunt," clearly insulting each other in the context, but taking it in stride
>as part of the macho culture (cf. "pussy" in America).
>None of this, of course, justifies Hoffman's absurd refusal to admit openly
>that when the football player called his female teammate a "cunt," he was
>deliberately being crude and insulting.  Forget about whether it might have
>been used tenderly or even neutrally 700 years ago.  The fact that a couple
>in Colorado today or at the University of Chicago in the 50s might use the
>term for sexual arousal

or for friendly instruction: recall Mellors' pedantic use of "cunt"
(please excuse my faulty memory) in his explications to Lady

>rather than insult (I can't imagine it as a real
>term of endearment except as a crude joke) doesn't give her license to
>rationalize away what she knows to be true about this particular instance.
>It was a lawyerly thing to do in the worst sense, and it's a black eye for
>academicians.  How many meanings of "cunt" can we balance on the head of a
Well, a black eye for one, anyway, but generally attributed (in the
reports I've been getting) not to the academician in her but to her
position as bureaucrat in charge of the Beast fed by big-time college
football.  This lawyerly move (which has been compared unfavorably to
Pres. Clinton debating what the meaning of "is" is) followed her
decision not to fire Gary Barnett, the football coach who
presided--unknowingly, he claims--over an incredible array of ethical
violations by recruiters and players.


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