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'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.

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.

William Shakespeare, writing at the cusp of the Reformation, demonstrated the reduced potency of blasphemy and, with his thinly veiled 'cunt' puns, slyly circumvented the newfound intolerance towards sexual language.

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.

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.

The most literal manifestation of this fear is the myth of the 'vagina dentata', symbolising the male fear that the vagina is a tool of castration (the femme castratrice, a more specific manifestation of the Film Noir femme fatale).

Like many swear words, it has been incorrectly dismissed as merely Anglo-Saxon slang: "friend, heed this warning, beware the affront Of aping a Saxon: don't call it a cunt! In fact, the origins of 'cunt' can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European 'cu', one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language.

'Cu' is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and forms the basis of 'cow', 'queen', and 'cunt'.

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