Loaded Language: Why are you such a P***Y? You are such a C**T! Don’t be a D**K.

Some people use terms like, “pussy,” “cunt,” and, “dick,” to verbally degrade, taunt, tease, or just flat out attack another person.  Although some people may not think these terms are wildly distasteful, one of my friends mentioned that she found them to be disgustingly offensive. Why? Because they refer to body parts that people were born with and that are often closely attached to one’s identity. After hearing this explanation, I thought about what my friend said and asked myself, “Why would someone use these (genital) terms in particular?” We certainly don't hear people using swear terms related to one’s hands or feet in such a way (“You’re such a thumb!”).

When I looked online for definitions of these genital-swear terms, I found that TheFreeDictionary.com stated that pussy can be used in many creative (yet derogatory) ways: as “offensive, vulgar slang for the vulva, a woman viewed as a source of sexual gratification, and/or a man regarded as weak, timid, or unmanly.” So, the term conveys many meanings: it is offensive, vulgar, objectifying to women, and insulting to men (calling them weak and not masculine). To have these meanings associated together seems pretty offensive to me. Some people are born with vulvas, and while vulvas certainly can be used for sexual gratification, it would be unfair to say that is their main purpose or that they are weak. Vulvas have many uses, one of them being to give life to humans, which can be pretty empowering.

TheFreeDictionary.com defines cunt as, “vulgar, offensive slang for the female genitals, that is used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.” The website goes on to say that although there is some relaxation towards how people feel about using words like fuck, many people still find the use of the word cunt to be unacceptable. Why is that? And why is there a pattern of negative terms related to female genitalia, in particular? To make my point, note that TheFreeDictionary.com states that the term dick can be used as a “vulgar term for a penis, or a person that is mean or contemptible.” It seems as though the term dick is not considered as offensive as pussy or cunt. Is there even another vulgar term used to describe the penis? I don't think so. Do other slang terms like anaconda, wang, pecker, or cock even come close (see onlineslangdictionary.com) in terms of the negativity of pussy or cunt? I don't think so.  Comparable slang terms for female genitalia from the same site include the following: axe wound, bang hole, bearded clam, cock pocket, and meat flap. UGH. What could this mean? Is there is more shame associated with female genitalia than with male genitalia? Is there more negativity associated with femaleness in general? What can we do to change the unfavourable connotations tied to the words we use to no longer be tied to body parts?

Instead of using a single (offensive) word to hastily characterize an individual, it might be more useful to be more descriptive in terms of people’s behaviours: telling someone that their irresponsible (or thoughtless, etc.) behaviour has caused you harm in some way might get you further than calling someone a cunt because you are angry or hurt on account of what they did. Framing a response to someone’s use of an unfavourable word in terms of your feelings first would be a lot more productive and beneficial (e.g., I felt insulted when you called me an X; can you please avoid using that term when you are angry with me?). Indeed, it is easier to target a behaviour or action (which can theoretically change) as opposed to reducing a whole person into one distasteful word—unless of course, you are not interested in resolving your conflict with that person.

By Heather Clark, BScH, Queen's University