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By Michael J. Smith on Thursday May 21, 2009 07:54 PM

Got your attention, eh? Yours and every spammer in the universe. God help me.

On one of my lefty mailing lists, a participant -- let's call him Skanderbeg -- recently used this potent word. Here's the context; he's talking about the Taliban:

Sorry i dont want to live in a country where women will be hit for just going out of there house without a man.Sorry i dont want to live in a country where music is banned.Sorry i dont want to live in a country where im not allowed to shave.These are just samples of monstrous laws the taliban made.If any1 supports these Cunts than they need to really understand what there agenda is.
Skanderbeg -- by the way -- is not a native speaker of English, if this fact needs pointing out.

Now you may think, as I did, that berating the Taliban is not particularly original or particularly Left or particularly interesting. Read the post, said ho-hum, went on to other things.

An hour later, an email check opened up a firestorm of abuse from the comrades. Not about Skanderbeg's rather routine New York Times assessment of the Taliban, but about his use of the word "cunt".


  • Well if you want to be an opponent of sexism you should probably eliminate the sexist 'c-word' from your list of insults. Its insulting to see that word used on a marxism list.
  • Why is a reference to a woman's genitals the most offensive thing you think you can say to a man? .... That word has no place on a Marxist list, has no place anywhere. It is a word derived from the subjugation and degradation of women. No matter how you think you are using it, your use of it alone provides explicit approval of that treatment of women.
  • Tell you what you do comrade ask women what they think of being called that term. No more a simply anatomical term than calling you an asshole would be simply anatomical.
  • I hope [Skanderbeg] has learned exactly how English speaking Americans hear that word, and therefore why it would never be used by politically conscious people.
It was all downhill from there. Skanderbeg and his "cunt" had a few defenders (me among them, of course) and we came in for even more abuse than Skanderbeg himself. We were First Worlders and Anglophones after all, and nobody was going to cut us any slack. The final verdict was delivered in suitably lugubrious and world-historical terms by, what else, a German comrade -- let's call him Evangelus:
You are still flesh of the flesh of the imperialist nation you happen to live in, using the same parcellizing view as your imperialist master and the same disregard of them for the oppressed nations of this world.
Wow! When a learned German wants to cast you into the outer darkness, he's got the vocab for it -- and the self-seriousness.

All this nonsense got me to thinking. What is it about Pwogs -- I was about to say "American pwogs", but then remembered Herr Evangelus -- that creates this Pharisaical hysteria about the words people use?

Partly it's the campus context. Much of what passes of the "left" dwells in the hothouse atmosphere of the credentialling sector, where discourse is the world. Control the words, and you can move the earth. Abolish "oppressive" language, and you've abolished oppression, as near as dammit.

Then there's several decades of identity politics. Every oppressed group claims its turf partly by defining permissible vocabulary. There are so many oppressed groups -- how do you stand out from the crowd? Beat somebody over the head if they use the wrong word. They'll remember that.

But alas, it seems likely that the deepest determinant of diction-policing is simply middle-class morality, brushed up and provided with a post-hoc political rationale. We are hearing the voice of Nanny here.

There are nice words and naughty words. The naughty words are usually Anglo-Saxon (or, in the case of "cunt", Anglo-Norman). They frequently have four letters, and they often refer to naughty bits of one's body -- the bits one hides in public.

The nice words come from Latin and Greek. They include items like "vagina", "vulva", "clitoris", "penis", and so on. (Nanny doesn't realize -- not having had a classical education -- that some of these were just as naughty in Latin or Greek as "cunt" is in English. But Nanny is a great believer, as the man said, in the "decent obscurity of a learned language.")

A few years back, PC diction-policing was a great gift to right-wing humorists. We kinda handed it to them on a platter: here, we said -- this is just how weedy, and nattering, and priggish, and fatuous, we are. If you say "cunt" in our presence, we'll either froth at the mouth, or faint.

I thought we'd learned from the experience. Alas -- some of us, it appears, will never learn.

These poor folks must have had the Nannies From Hell.

Comments (38)

Al Schumann:

There's a very litigious, CYA propriety to the outrage. It's perfectly possible to express the most hateful sentiments in the droning, sanitized banalities of network television, which is surely something every middle class moralizer has noticed. And policing language along the lines of linguistic determinism —e.g. Abolish "oppressive" language, and you've abolished oppression, as near as dammit— is a dreadful weapon to legitimize. What a boon for the wingnuts that's been.

So, leave the poor man alone because while claiming to champion women, he belittled the Taliban by calling them "women," essentially?

You don't to need to spend three decades on a college campus to see that as more than a little insane. If nothing else, it falls easily into the category of cognitive dissonance.

Peter Ward:

What makes it insane is that actual sexual discrimination and abuse is all around us yet we hardly here a peep from these same folks.


wait - is that really what the language police think? That "cunt" means essentially the same thing as calling someone a woman? That's totally wrong. It's just a synonym for asshole, dickhead, prick etc. etc. and has nothing whatsoever to do with calling someone a woman. The point is the reference to genitals, not the gender.

I guess that explains the outrage, but really - has anyone ever, ever heard the word "cunt" used to imply that the subject is womanly?


uh.. object

Well, bob. Maybe they should stick to using "asshole," then. Since we've all got one no matter what gender we are.

Peter, the problem isn't lack of ability to talk about real gender discrimination. The problem is that their answer to discrimination is to keep rewarding the same merry band of duopolistic assholes that perpetuate it.

Also, I don't really buy the argument that, oh, don't talk about it lest you hand the right wing something-or-other on a platter. I mean, isn't that the same argument that we hear when Democrats don't want you to bring up IRV, Socialism or the fact that Pelosi is a fucking Bush collaborator? Oooh, don't say that! Right-wingers will have a field day! If it's specious one way, it's specious the other. Who gives a fuck what the right wing uses as ammo, since they use everything and anything as ammo?

Al Schumann:

Ms. Xeno, I think I'm not seeing something. The shitstorm directed at Skanderberg focused entirely on superficialities, which might be appropriate because his ritual denunciation of the Taliban was superficial and sanctimonious. At some point, moral panic set in; then a lot of people were consigned to darkness. None of the shitstormers appear to really care one way or the other about the realities of discrimination. But they had a point to score. So they did. Having scored that point, they could get back to the comforts of cruise missile liberalism and demonize people without using ugly language -- unlike Skanderberg, whose crude demonization appalled them so. The gift to the wingnuts lies in the effete, mirror emulation of their own rhetorical style, in which euphemism has a magical effect on reality.

Also, I don't really buy the argument that, oh, don't talk about it lest you hand the right wing something-or-other on a platter. I mean, isn't that the same argument that we hear when Democrats don't want you to bring up IRV, Socialism or the fact that Pelosi is a fucking Bush collaborator? Oooh, don't say that! Right-wingers will have a field day! If it's specious one way, it's specious the other. Who gives a fuck what the right wing uses as ammo, since they use everything and anything as ammo?

I agree completely. I think MJS was headed in a different direction (I was too). That direction being, what's the point of policing the language when everything else the language police do reinforces the context in which the words are vicious?

That's not an argument in favor of making free use of crude language. There contexts in which some words can never be cleaned up.


might the crux of a local consensus lie here

the cultural relativity of the ivy crowd
when it comes to borneo tribals
can't be extended to the talibandits

why ???

the pangs of civilization's parlor indignation
t'was ever sp
the dickensian
basis of "intervention"
to reform the savages
one must be
ultra refined to run a humanist hegemony

wordectomy is part of the decency make over
as one wised up towel top
"hey if we stopped beating the ladies
u'd be after us for beating the dog"

Michael Hureaux:

It's obtuse to write or speak as though the word cunt hasn't had a long use alongside physical violence and dismissal of women specifically. Like the word "n-----" in reference to black people, cunt has a history that runs right alongside physical abuse of women, or at least it does in most places I've lived in this bloody country. And no repetition of either perjorative noted here,
be it every hip hop artist in existence or Evie Wexler or Women in Porn or whomever is going to outlive those legacies of violence
and abuse for the forseeable future. Words are only words to be sure, but some have charged, specific associations. English as a second language or not, Skanderberg is going to have to make more studied word choices if he doesn't want to invite the sort of crapstorm decried here. It's his fault, let him pay his dues.


The usage of the word "cunt" here is debatable, but I do agree with you that the problem with political correctness is how phony it is. Bigotry and oppression still exist and yet using different words to describe people and things (or spelling women like "womyn") is somehow supposed to make everything all better.

I also was a little bothered by the tone of Skanderbeg's Taliban comment, and it wasn't because he said "cunt". Far be it from me to defend the Taliban, but you are right that what he wrote wasn't exactly daring or original. I forget where I read it, but it was pointed out that First-world progressives are encouraged to complain about the treatment of women and gays in Muslim countries because it only fuels the power elite's agenda.


...None of the shitstormers appear to really care one way or the other about the realities of discrimination...

Can you expand on this a little? Does it mean that nobody on the mailing list has ever questioned our ridiculous policies in the Mid-East before? That nobody on the list is aware that basically Clinton I is Bush II is Obama, and so on? Is the whole mailing list merely for a discussion group that sits around discussing the etymology of various political terms that come up regarding policy?

(In that case, how would the firestorm over "cunt" be any different from any other argument over any other triggering word? Smith can't claim to be surprised, if that's the particular group's stock in trade no matter what mailings they're poring over.)

...what's the point of policing the language when everything else the language police do reinforces the context in which the words are vicious?...

I don't know. What's the point in going over the fine points of terminology vis-a-vis Pynchon and Orwell? What's the point on reminding everyone what the root meaning of "pedagogue" is? What does any of that have to do with bombs funded with my tax dollars and people being cuffed and thrown on the ground for voicing their public disenchantment with healthcare? As far as I can tell, the people on the mailing list have as much claim to these pursuits as a means of wasting time as Paine or Smith does. Or me, or you.

Personally, I don't want to be around people who think that they're fighting for freedom by symbolically feminizing (ie-- weakening) the people they want to bomb. The reasons why go beyond an obvious dislike of women, though that's bad enough. Throwing around charged words like that indicates poor self-control, which is a bad thing in the people you regard as colleagues, comrades, friends, whatever. It's the vocal equivalent of wanting to pick your nose on camera and being unable to restrain yourself until the camera is turned towards someone else.

Maybe the people who argued with this guy are just as much mired in cognitive dissonance as he is. That does nothing to alter the fact that he's the asshole who called the tune this time out. All the other assholes did was dance.

Mike H.:

...Words are only words to be sure, but some have charged, specific associations. English as a second language or not, Skanderberg is going to have to make more studied word choices if he doesn't want to invite the sort of crapstorm decried here. It's his fault, let him pay his dues.

Yep. If the other comrades are pissed off at him, then he'll just have to deal with it. After all, no matter how heated the whole thing gets, nobody's hurting anyone else, physically. It's only words. ;)


I've always said that if you scratch the average liberal, you'll find an authoritarian, stick-up-the ass puritan who cares for nothing but his own smug sense of self-superiority.

Sadly, most liberals don't seem to have much in the way of Leftist principles—at least, none they derived from a process involving reason, logic and compassion. If they did, they wouldn't vote for people like Obama. Your average liberal's first and in some cases only principle is feeling good about himself, and finding things to get outraged about so he can maintain his sense of moral superiority. They are the Left's version of wingnuts, who are themselves held to right-wing authoritarianism by leaders who play on their fears and anger on the one hand, and pander to their egos on the other.

How did Hitler keep 60 million Germans like Herr Evangelus in awe? Simple: he told them they were the master race, the best in the world.

So our liberals, who are the noblest, most high-mined people on Earth, get outraged at mere words and vote for leaders like Obama whose sole qualification for the job is is he makes liberals feel good about themselves. Certainly, there has never been much that has escaped from Obama's mouth that could even remotely be construed as "progressive." But he's black, he's a Democrat, and he has such trustworthy eyes, so fuck you if you think he's a winger in disguise.

Liberals will browbeat you to a bloody death if you say "cunt," but will happily shop at Walmart and bitch, er, I mean, bawl out the "white trash rednecks" who work there if they are not given the service to which they feel they are entitled.

There isn't much of a left-wing in this country anymore, just a bunch of hypocritical, self-satisfied posers who think hysteria and morality are the same thing.


No one
Would ever confuse
X and mh
For rad-prig
gotcha trolls

Lots to tumble in the dryer here

Might I wonder what marxist list
Funnel clouds itself over such
An obvious marble head like this narrow minded
albanian turn coat


Fine comment

I see your racer taking a few sharp corners at
Reckless high speeds

I know they're banked curves on this track
Beware going over the high side

We may want/have to work with these pwog prigs some day

Love thy class struggle enemy

No matter how much they strike u
as worse then
Wing nut calabans

Any of us might have become
One of these ariel critters
But for the grace of mendel and clio

Sean, I actually bailed on a board or two precisely because I couldn't get the regulars to so much as imagine that the planet could be crawling with racists AND Obama could be an opportunistic asshole. Y'know, that both these things could be true at the same time.

So what would I have accomplished, exactly, if I'd whipped out the ol' handbook of racist insults and left them lying around the place before I skipped out? Everyone would still have been pissed at me, AND I would have demeaned myself. For what, exactly? I was never going to vote Obama and they were never going to vote 3rd Party. Not in 3,000,000,000 years, so what would have been the point?

FWIW, I have heard liberals/pwogs/what-have-you get raked over the coals for saying "white trash." Sometimes by their own, class-wise. Sometimes not.

I tend to fall on the say what you want side of this issue, if only because I think these shitstorms do isolate us from the people, who talk like this. And I think the c-word, though it certainly can and has been used in very damaging ways, is different than the n-word. Maybe I'm thick on this, though.

Meanwhile, what I really don't get is why you guys are bagging on the repetition of the idea that the Taliban are dickheaded peckerwoods. They absolutely are. Fuck those bastards. Why shouldn't we take every chance we get to say that, and add on the story about how these balls-for-brains are our overclass's idea of freedom fighters, when circumstances make them useful?



I completely agree that the Taliban are dickheaded peckerwoods. But that still doesn't mean it was okay to turn Afghanistan into a bigger wasteland than it already was.

Son of Uncle Sam:

Maybe he slaps around women for sitting around the house all day. Either way he didn't say Sand n*gger, he's just punctuating his passion. He could of used Vulva... he could of used, hammer weilding vulva bashers...What if he used faggots? Like for me it's those H.R. dikes. Equal in it's complete dismissal of meaning, to who it's intended to offend but it paints the picture in my opinion with definition.

Being dickheads doesn't make war legitimate, of course x 1,000, in spades.

But isn't the automatic assumption that if we enunciate our opinion of the Taliban we're supporting the war criminals another excellent example of this sophomoric, excessive belief in the word and the Idea?

In my view, it's actually by keeping our Taliban criticisms under our hat that we actually lend ourselves to the war. Doing so allows the war-makers to sustain the notion that opposition to the Taliban is their property.

Certainly, there are times and places where ripping into the Taliban would be aiding the war. But I think those times and places are actually quite few.

Michael D:

...I tend to fall on the say what you want side of this issue, if only because I think these shitstorms do isolate us from the people, who talk like this...

"the people," huh? I really hope this was just a badly-placed bit of punctuation, because I don't think that I have to let fly with any and every hackneyed slur that comes into my head when I'm enraged or upset in order to qualify as "a person."

Well, then. Let them shoot off their fool mouths, and let them stand still for it when other people show up to tell them that they're behaving like self-indulgent pigs. That seems fair to me. If it's all "just words" then everyone gets their turn at bat, right?


...but it paints the picture in my opinion with definition.

IOW, whether you're the metaphoric or real life possessor of female genitalia, it's the original writer's opinion that you should just lie down and take it. You deserve it. It's the preordained role of both women and the rulers of Afghanistan to surrender to their natural superiors. The superiors know what's best.

The original author gave more away there than he knew.


I would argue that the tone and scale of reaction was unjustified seeing how this skanderbeg is not a native speaker of English. I obviously can't say for sure, but I imagine that he knew simply that "cunt" was an insult, but had no feeling for its underlying associations, in which case it's hard to say he was trying to feminize anyone. As someone who has extensive experience with learning other languages, I can vouch for how easy it is to unwittingly fall into this trap.

I agree with Michael Dawson that one should not miss the opportunity to point out the barbaric, reactionary nature of the Taliban (although the Taliban are not necessarily the same as the 1980s mujahedin that our government and media referred to as freedom fighters). Looking at the Taliban and the short-lived rule by the mujahedin in the mid 90s, it's not hard for any honest person to see the PDPA as having been not only a much better option for the people, but the region as a whole.

Ms. X, I'm not quite catching your point. You object to putting a "the" in front of "people"? Why?

I concur with your point that everybody gets to swing the bat.

I still agree with MLS, though. PC is a wall, not a bridge, IMHO.

Mike Hunt:

What's the difference between a clever midget and a venereal disease?

Well, the first one is a cunning runt.

Mike D., it sounded like you were saying "the people, who..." but what you really mean is "the people who..."

See the difference?

P.C. is neither a wall, nor a bridge. It's a tool. No more, no less. You can build with it or you can knock shit down. Also, it's existed as long as human interaction itself has. What changes over time is who gets to run down to the hardware store for the new hammer, and whose turn it is to sit down and wait.

hapa's link fondly reminds of the time I was on this other board. Some he-Lefty dipshit started in about "bitch" this and "cunt" that while decrying his political opponents. When I suggested that he check himself, since a sizable number of people he was conversing with were women, I got some pathetic lecture about how I was "Worse than Pol Pot." Oh, and how I "must hate South Park and Team America." I patiently explained to him that he was clearly a waste of oxygen with fewer brains to his credit than God gave to a gnat. Also, that the difference between slurs emanating from puppets on a screen and slurs emanating from one's alleged comrades in a rally for public action is considerable. One is entertainment. One is life. I'm sure you can all guess how receptive the gentleman was to this kind of nuance.

I need to start drinking more.


Some random thoughts that don't add up to an argument.

I don't often use the term "cunt" myself -- only when I hit my thumb with a hammer vel sim.

This is not because I feel I would be reinforcing the apparatus of female oppression if I did. I'm rather dubious about this argument. "Cunt" was taboo in middle-class society long before feminism came along, with the rationale that it was coarse and lower-class. Now it's still taboo, but with a different rationale. Patterns like this make me wonder whether the rationale is really the reason.

However, one generally observes the conventions of behavior and speech that obtain in one's milieu. If you violate them, you may find that you have given offense.

So far so good. What requires explanation, for me, is the frantic intensity of the response.

If Skanderbeg had farted at the dinner table, or spat on the sidewalk, he might have evoked a "yuck". But for saying "cunt" he became a vile running dog of patriarchal misogyny, flesh of the flesh of imperialism, probably a wife-beater, and generally a reactionary asshole prick cocksucker, a guy who should fuck off, a real dick.

Now frantic responses to minor offenses are always worth investigating. They offer a window into the responder's soul.

One fact worth noting is that this particular mailing list -- it's Louis Proyect's "marxism" list, by the way -- is overwhelmingly male. There are, as far as I can tell, maybe three women who participate -- 2% or so of the membership. And on this topic, all the shitstormers were male.

Now anger based on one's own experiences commands a certain amount of respect. But purple-faced fury on somebody else's behalf? There's something fishy there. Particularly since the snide, quarrelsome, know-it-all, you're-an-asshole tone of this list seems to have driven almost all the actual women away -- actual women, I mean, as opposed to notional Woman, the object of this overheated little seminary's feminist fervor.

It's hard for me to avoid the conclusion that this was an exercise in Pharisaism: I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not as other men are, yea even the sinners, that say "cunt" and "twat".

One interesting epiphenomenon of the argument: people starting chiming in with new words and phrases that ought to be banned. "Af-Pak" was offensive to the oppressed masses of Pashtunistan; "Gitmo" very impolite to Cubans, and so on. The phrase "pissing match" comes irresistibly to mind -- though pissing must be a fussy business for Pharisees, with all those holy-Joe robes to get out of the way.

* * * * *

Why do I say "cunt" -- or "shit" -- or "fuck" -- or "cocksucker" when I hit my thumb with a hammer? Am I comparing the hammer -- or my thumb -- to a woman, or a lawn brownie, or a rather pleasant way to pass an afternoon, or Oscar Wilde?

If it's insulting to call a guy a "cunt" because it compares him to a woman -- then why is it also insulting to call him a "prick"? He has a prick, and probably thinks the world of it. How about "asshole"? Men and women both have those, and we'd be in a sad state without 'em. If I call a guy an "asshole", what am I "comparing him to" -- a human being? A vertebrate? It's bigger than that -- how far down the evolutionary scale do you have to go before the asshole disappears?

The point is that these are the forbidden words. Precisely for that reason the words pack a punch. There would be no point in calling a guy a "vagina" -- though that would "compare him to a woman" as much as "cunt" would.

Transgression is the whole point of forbidden language. Without transgression, there's nothing to carry the emotional load of the moment. The more forbidden the word, the greater the transgression, and the deeper the relief.

And that, perhaps, is why we have to have forbidden language. We're always forbidding it -- and always using it -- and it never goes away. Forbidden words are among the oldest and most stable parts of the lexicon.

"Cunt" is doubly transgressive -- Nanny wouldn't approve, and neither would Gloria Steinem. This is why I keep it in reserve. A missed bus is "shit!" The fifth time I play an f-natural instead of an f-sharp is "fuck!"

But when the hammer hits the thumb, only "cunt!" rises to the occasion.

Oh, I see your point now, X. Gracias.


I wish other topics drew this many flies
I note IP

And as to the tally bandits
Md I repeat my counter hex

Cultural imperialism


There is a world of difference between the meaning of "pussy" and "cunt" when used as insults.


wish other topics drew this many flies

need to swear more

that's really what drew the crowds to the earlier masters

not that northern european leftists are dry

or anything




wrote in spanish

Son of Uncle Sam:

Xeno- IOW? (acronym not in Army publications)
-Don't see how...he led more on? Am I being superficial? just figured he didn't know any better but needed to make his case...at risk of offending an entire gender didn't matter/

There is a world of difference between the meaning of "pussy" and "cunt" when used as insults.
There's some difference, certainly. I probably wouldn't say "pussy" in the thumb-hammer scenario. And I wouldn't call an antagonist a "cunt" -- assuming I would ever do such a thing -- under the same circumstances as I might call him a "pussy".

But "a world of difference"? Is one much more trangressive and forbidden than the other? Not a rhetorical question -- tell me more.

I'm on the Editorial Board of the Washington DC IMC, and have been locked in an eternal struggle against the PC Politburo and language police over my use of a term to describe American workers -- and Americans at large -- that begins with P, ends with S, and has U-S-S-I-E in the middle.

I've grudgingly substituted the term "wussies", even though it totally lacks the punch of the P-word.

Still, we managed to come to an agreement that when referring to women such as Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, the term cunt is entirely acceptable as long as it's preceeded by the phrase filthy bloody fascist warmongering old.

Still in all, I feel as if I'm fighting a losing battle against activists who want to create so-called "safe zones" -- even though 99.44% percent of this planet isn't a goddamn' "safe zone" -- and who think women are "empowering" themselves by spelling "women" with a Y, and who feel bound and determined to live up to that cheesy media stereotype of the stick-up-the-ass, humorless Leftie.

Honestly, sometimes I want to just line 'em all up and smack 'em in the chops in one big huge swipe of my arm, like the famous Three Stooges' "triple slap".

SLA-DA-DA-DA-DAP! Goddammit, wake the fuck UP!

(sigh) There, I feel so much better now.


hapa along
u're play
always turns my coat

is that sexist or plexist ???



I get your point about building bridges and all, but there comes a point where we have to call the outrage police on their bullshit. I am not sure I want to build bridges with people who tell me I am a piece of shit because I am a white male, or come from a working class background, but then go into paroxysms over the word "cunt," which is just a swear word like any other, and it is only the context that could render it sexist. The word "meatball" could be sexist in the right context, too (like say, to ridicule an obese woman).

I am not sure I want to ally myself with people who use the word "Af-Pak" as if these two very distinct countries are just one giant shithole full of Muslims in serious need of a good bombing. It isn't the word that's offensive, but what it represents.

In my opinion, identity politics seems almost tailor-made to alienate the white working class from the Left, and also to alienate Blacks, Latinos, Whites and women from each other. The ruling class has often tried to coopt the Left and steer it in a direction that serves its interests, and divide and rule is one of its interests.

I don't think its a curious quirk or accident of history that the first "bomb-throwing anarchist" was a Pinkerton agent, or that Gloria Steinem received funding from the CIA. Maybe I'm just a conspiracy nut, but I somehow find myself imagining that lot of the self-styled liberals on campus nowadays preaching the evils of Western civilization and white male demonology are maybe getting a paycheck on the side as well.

Seems appropriate enough (I'm sure wrong enough on many levels) - Kuntz by the Butthole Surfers

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