The much-maligned C-word

Last updated 09:51 17/08/2011

Today I will be giving a talk to a room full of librarians. Because of the freaky way my brain works, this has prompted me to worry that I will be overcome with sudden onset tourettes. This is the exact same worry I had that time I went on live television. Public speaking - it does funny things to people. By way of combating this I have decided to incorporate a small number of low-level swears, the theory being that this will act as a sort of "swearing safety valve" thereby preventing anything career-endangering from emerging.

But sometimes swearing really is the best way to get a point across. For instance, I find myself delighted when the Silver Fox refers to some gargantuan amount as "a metric f**-tonne". I also try and imagine what that would look like (which, by the way, you could spend quite a lot of time on if you were so inclined). But like so many things, swearing is all about context.

For while I may be pleased as punch with colourful punctuations like the above, I find I have little patience for the youthful swearers. You know the kind, where at least one-quarter of all utterance  is devoted to variations on "f***", another quarter consists of the word "like", and the rest, sadly, has nothing to do with trains or porn stars but usually consists of "no one understands me". But that's probably because I used to be that person. Is there anything so vile as a teenager who thinks they've invented swearing?

So, in that respect I am a total hypocrite. I will happily "eff and blind" among friends, but don't necessarily want to hear other people doing it. Maybe when you're not in the conversation yourself some of the context is lost?

But when it comes to the swear words themselves, I'm an equal opportunist. I love them all. Though if I'm being competely honest I like the C-word the most. It's so naughty. But actually my adoption of c*** as a favourite conversational accompaniment comes from more than just the fact that it's "a bad word". I like using it because it has impact, but also because I don't think it should have as much as it does.

That sounds a bit confusing even to my own ears so maybe I should explain a bit. I've never really understood why the C-word stands above all other swear words as the worst of the worst. If the C-word were an orange-jumpsuit-clad prisoner on a aeroplane it would be John Malkovich. But why? What has it done to deserve such an appalling reputation? Male genitalia gets all sorts of names ranging from tame (dingle dangle) to amusing (peen) to the flamboyant (purple-headed love beast) and while you're probably not going to use any of them in a business report they're not jaw-droppingly offensive either. Certainly not in the realm of the C-word. Not by a long stretch of the trouser snake.

This seems unfair to me. As the owner of a C-word, I feel a bit sorry for it. It literally has never hurt anyone. Like ever. I'm not sure how it would, quite frankly. So I'd like to see the C-word used a bit more often, so as to soften its effect. I don't feel that it should be placed on a sweary pedestal all by itself as "the worst word ever". I'd much rather see something like "Soccer-mom" placed up there instead or "jeggings" or "Light bladder leakage" although, really that's a phrase rather than a word, and to be honest I'd rather it was banned outright.

But of course, not everyone agrees with me (how surprising). But what do you think? Is the C-word just misunderstood? Do we need to downgrade it, so it's a bit more in line with other genital-related words? Do you have any suggestions on what would make a better el supremo wordo diablo*?

*My apologies to Spanish speakers everywhere.

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74 comments
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Dave   #1   10:01 am Aug 17 2011

Agreed. The C word just has the most impact, particularly when venting one's dislike of a person. My wife, on the other hand, can't stand it and finds it most offensive. My mate's 70 year old father uses the word Chump for just about everything, while it will never bet the C word, it can have impact when used correctly.

Michele   #2   10:02 am Aug 17 2011

Sometimes you just have to say that c word. 1, because it has impact, always will, especially if you mean it. 2. Some people just ARE you know?, like you know?, like totally, heh

JeM the C*   #3   10:04 am Aug 17 2011

I love the C word. I use it a lot in like-minded company. Not so much in front of my mother, and never in front of my grandmother. I was once called a "cheeky C" by my bestie on a trip to China in front of a group of English tourists. It went jaw droppingly silent before someone exclaimed "You. Can't. Say. That. Word." in absolute horror. Why the hell not? Meh I say. Loves it.

Lauren   #4   10:06 am Aug 17 2011

I'm all for swearing, including the c-word, when used effectively. What really grinds me is using the c-word to describe one's mates. Eg, "He's a good c***." Yuck, I hate it!

Mandy   #5   10:08 am Aug 17 2011

In Wikipedia's NZ words section it says: "Rather than an insult or a swear word the word 'c***' in New Zealand generally describes a person in general often with a prefix, for example "he's a mad c***" or "those c***s deserve a medal"."

I just imagine someone studying up on appropriate kiwi language before they arrive and pulling that out at a dinner table!

Good luck with your presentation! I kind of know that feeling, whenever I'm in an art gallery I wonder if I'll just start ripping down the paintings uncontrollably.

Dandy   #6   10:09 am Aug 17 2011

I never understood the anger shown by women towards this word. Sure it is crass but it is very rarely used in a literal sense from what I gather. And pretty much never refers to the *ahem* root derivative of the term. And as you say, there are a myriad of slang/swear words for the male member that are used with abandon. I think it depends very much how it is used, but you could say that about any cuss word. The likes of the word 'bastard' can be hurtful if used with venom, or in the literal sense, but can alo be innocuous and even chummy, if used in the 'good bastard' sense...

I actually had this debate in a public bar on Saturday night with a woman in her 50's. I had joined her table after attending a rugby match, and she went apoplectic with rage when the C-bomb slipped out of a nearby patron, and proceeded to knock her jug over while ranting at him, while using the word 'prick' herself... Class all round and great entertaimnment, but I couldn't get her to see the double standard, or to comprehend she was just creating a scene over an imagined insult to all womanhood...

As an aside, I believe it was actually aimed at a referee on the big screen (a profession who should be used to insults) and of all places, a public bar on Sat night should be a place you CAN let rip a few naughty words, unlike, say, a presentation to a room of librarians...

Louisette   #7   10:19 am Aug 17 2011

The C-word definitely needs to be downgraded. The chief censor has referred to it as "misogynistic", but I think what's misogynistic here is the fact that he finds a reference to female genitalia so offensive.

maz   #8   10:21 am Aug 17 2011

I use the c word, with great gusto, but only in front of certain people. Even though I don't understand why it offends people, I do try not to offend them by using it!

My friends often greet each other with "What's up, my c***?" (note, punctuation is very important when asking that question).

Patricia   #9   10:22 am Aug 17 2011

I hate saying it, sometimes though it falls out of my mouth in a moment of unrestrained anger and I'm instantly consumed by guilt.

Rad   #10   10:26 am Aug 17 2011

I think the C-word should be downgraded, it's time we moved on from it being offensive. Personally I think words like vag and slit are more offensive when used in that term. I don't actually use the C-word that often, I prefer words like sh**, f***, screw, munt or my recent addition of jeebus (I work around a lot of Christians and don't like to offend them too much).


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