It wasn’t until a few years ago that you’d hear Americans use the ‘c’ word.
I lived there for ages and I never heard it used once.
But recently it’s become fashionable in films, and I don’t like the way they’re using it.
For instance, a woman will do something absolutely terrible and unforgivable.
Everything stops dead and another woman, or man, will turn to her and say: “You cunt”.
That’s it, no wit, no dialogue, no writing involved.
Two things annoy me about that:
1) They use it like the nuclear option, a verbal atom bomb going off.
2) They only use it towards women.
Now when I grew up, it never referred to women.
Sure, everyone knew it represented the female equivalent of cock, prick, or knob.
But it always referred to blokes.
The worst female insult was bitch, scrubber, or slag.
Also, although it was obviously swearing and, like all swearing you wouldn’t use it in polite company, context was the most important thing.
So, greeting a mate might be a friendly: “Hello, you old cunt”.
When a mate makes an obvious mistake in snooker or darts: “No, you daft cunt”.
When I was an apprentice, an angry foreman once shouted across the factory at me, “Oi, cuntybollocks, don’t put that there.” (Industrial language.)
When Gordon, my art director, is absolutely furious about something he will sometimes yell “What the cunting fuck is this?” (Adjective.)
The word itself is bawdy but neutral, it’s usage determined by context and intention.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
“Cunty” means “highly objectionable or unpleasant.”
“Cuntish” is used to describe an “objectionable person or behaviour.”
“Cunted” is “slang for being under the influence of drink or drugs.”
I recently heard Matt LeBlanc, on Conan, explaining the difference.
He’d been filming in London and he said, for Americans, it was shocking to hear the way Brits use the word.
He explained: “Brits use it for anger, or affection, or humour, to them it’s almost like saying ‘Dude’.”
The only reason I can think of for the difference is the way America was created.
The Puritans left England on the Mayflower.
They left all the rest of us ungodly Brits to our drinking, and swearing, and whoring.
That’s why the USA banned alcohol for thirteen years, from 1920 to 1933.
The Puritans saw it as evil, presumably the same as swearing and whoring.
The USA still has puritan traits which we don’t, for instance over there everyone goes to church every Sunday.
Once, I was talking to an American producer working at the BBC, I asked her how she liked living over here.
She said it was fine, except some things confused her, like if she wanted to discuss the Bible at dinner parties it seemed to kill the conversation.
Ben Elton tells the story of his first appearance on TV as a stand-up comedian.
His mother, a headmistress, phoned up afterwards and complained about his language.
He said, “I know Mum, you don’t like the way I’m using the ‘F’ word do you?”
His mum said, “No I don’t, it’s supposed to be used as an exclamation point but you’re just using it as a comma.”
My favourite account man, Dick Butler (sold everything I ever gave him) once walked into the agency very depressed.
I asked him what was up, he said, “The client was a total charlie uniform november tango”.
Like everything, language isn’t right or wrong but, like everything, it must be appropriate.