On sex and the English language


Dick, prick, cock, knob, willy – are you offended yet?

Twat, gash, pussy, cunt. How about now?

After years of listening to drunken spats while working in pubs, where the English language is usually at its most colourful, I have learnt two things. Firstly, that whisky chasers and prolonged sun exposure are a terrible mix and secondly, that if you really, really want to provoke someone, you call them a cunt. And that’s not just limited to the world of recreational drinking, it works across most sectors of the community. I’ve tried.

However, last week, 14 year old Tuesday Cain‘s downstairs bits, or her unusual confidence in talking openly about them, became the subject of an internet firestorm. She’d been protesting a new highly restrictive anti-abortion law in her home state of Texas and her protest banner read: ‘Jesus isn’t a dick; so keep him OUT of MY VAGINA!’ Many – mostly Republicans, pro-life campaigners, trolls and religious nutters – branded her, rather strangely, a ‘lesbian.’ Now aside from the obvious Jesus obstacle, which is a whole other topic, what seems to have caused the most offence is the word ‘vagina’.

While male sex words may be mildly offensive to some, it’s the ones pertaining to the lady bits that have an awesomely dark power to enrage. In an over sexualised society, our use of language is very telling. No single word conjures up images of grotty porn more than ‘pussy’. ‘Twat’ doubles up, rather darkly, as slang for hitting someone and ‘gash’ is just downright twisted. ‘Vagina’ is the official medical word, it’s not sexy ergo using it makes you a lesbian. That’s right – a desexualised attitude towards the female body means you must be gay (which is still an issue for some idiots). It still goes against the grain to say vagina. Some people even take it to mean something anti-male (look at last year’s Vaginagate scandal).

There is no male equivalent, not penis, dong, wang, sausage or throbbing member, that invites quite the same sort of prejudice. We tend to find the penis funny while the vagina continues to be a detached political entity. Interestingly though, according to an old Guardian survey, more women than men are offended by these words. I’d like to think that’s due to some deep-rooted feminism, but it’s more likely because of an awkwardness towards the body all together.

Personally, if I had to pick one term to jump up and down on it would have to be ‘pussy’. It immediately makes an everyday body part seem seedy – all greasy lube and fake nails. But at least one thing’s come out of the Tuesday Cain affair, now I know how to really piss off an American.

That’s right, you’re a vagina.

I will leave you with a video that I found on Jezebel. It’s a subverted retelling of Robin Thicke’s highly questionable ‘sound of the summer’ Blurred Lines (the one with all the naked women that makes me want to hurt people) by Seattle boylesque troupe Mod Carousel.