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Establishment "prudery [...] in the sphere of sex", as documented by Peter Fryer (1963), continued until after the Victorian period, when sexually explicit language was prosecuted as obscene.It was not until the latter half of the 20th century, after the sensational acquittal of can be seen as something of a watershed for the word, marking the first widespread cultural dissemination of "arguably the most emotionally laden taboo term" (Ruth Wajnryb, 2004).Social taboos originally related to religion and ritual, and Philip Thody contrasts our contemporary bodily taboos with the ritual taboos of tribal cultures: "In our society, that of the industrialised West, the word 'taboo' has lost almost all its magical and religious associations" (1997).In , Sigmund Freud's classic two-fold definition of 'taboo' encompasses both the sacred and the profane, both religion and defilement: "The meaning of 'taboo', as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions.Censorship of both the word 'cunt' and the organ to which it refers is symptomatic of a general fear of - and disgust for - the vagina itself.

According to Francis Grose's scurrilous definition, it is "a nasty name for a nasty thing" (1796).What 'cunt' has in common with most other contemporary swear words is its connection to bodily functions.Genital, scatological, and sexual terms (such as, respectively, 'cunt', 'shit', and 'fuck') are our most powerful taboos, though this was not always the case.'Cunt' is a synonym for 'vagina', though this is only its most familiar meaning.As a noun, 'cunt' has numerous other senses: a woman (viewed as a sexual object), sexual intercourse, a (foolish) person, an infuriating device, an ironically affectionate term of address, the mouth as a sexual organ, the anus as a sexual organ, the buttocks, prostitution, a vein used for drug-injection, a synonym for 'damn', an attractive woman, an object or place, the essence of someone, and a difficult task.The word has since become increasingly prolific in the media, and its appearances can broadly be divided into two types: euphemism and repetition.Humorous, euphemistic references to 'cunt', punning on the word without actually using it in full, represent an attempt to undermine our taboo against it: by laughing at our inability to utter the word, we recognise the arcane nature of the taboo and begin to challenge it.By contrast, the parallel trend towards repetitive usage of 'cunt' seeks to undermine the taboo through desensitisation.If 'cunt' is repeated ad infinitum, our sense of shock at initially encountering the word is rapidly dispelled.It can also be used as an adjective (to describe a foolish person), a verb (meaning both to physically abuse someone and to call a woman a cunt), and an exclamation (to signify frustration).Despite its semantic flexibility, however, 'cunt' remains our highest linguistic taboo: "It has yet, if ever, to return to grace" (Jonathon Green, 2010).

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