If you take the theory of anagrams and apply it to etymology, the study of words, it takes on a new slant. Take the word 'cnut', either a random arrangement of letters, or the name of an English king of Scandanavian origin, also spelt 'Canute'. I can write these four letters - c, n, u, t - and cause absolutely no offense. I can write the following: 'The man leaned out of the window and shouted, "you look like a right cnut!"' You might read it and wonder momentarily whether to prounouce the 'c' or leave it silent, or maybe pronounce it like the King's name. But you wouldn't struggle, I wager, with offense. Yet rearrange the letters and we stride confidently into the realms of shock and outrage. If you reinsert the new word into the example sentence it becomes immediately unacceptable to some ears (not mine, I hasten to add. I'm in full appreciation of this old-English word). I'm fascinated by the fear of letters and words. I can write vagina, muff, even twat, and not cause a fraction of the offense that the other word causes, a word that was perfectly acceptable for hundreds of years. Why the change? Association perhaps. Association with aggression, with misogyny, with hatred. But as a word, said without malice, said in jest, should it really carry the burden of being one of the most heavily tabooed of all? Surely we should be more concerned with sentiment and intent rather than the arrangement of letters of the alphabet. If a scary man came up behind me in an alleyway and called me a 'nasty little vagina' I'd be terrified - no more or less than I would be if he used the other word. When I hear a comedian say the-word-I-am-not-allowed-to-say-because-my-mum-reads-this-blog in the midst of a joke I refuse to take personal offense. It's not intended therefore I won't assume it.
Pianist, songwriter, and comedian, Tim Minchin, made this point beautifully when he observes that newspapers cannot write the word 'fuck'. They can, however, get away with writing it if they replace a letter or two with an asterisk. Therefore, 'the man said fuck and jumped' is not allowed, yet 'the man said f**k and jumped' is. This baffles me. The word has the same meaning. The same context. We know the two asterisks stand for a 'u' and a 'c', we even read the word 'fuck' in our heads, the meaning hasn't changed, but by substituting two small letters we suddenly adhere to standards of decency. (It's all your fault 'u' and 'c'! Naughty, naughty letters...) I would urge people to consider the fear of language. By all means keep the words you find offensive, request people don't use them, feel shocked if you read them, but do remember that sentiment and context are the significant considerations. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me...the sentiment those words carry, on the other hand, can hurt more than anything else in the world.
And a final thought for my husband, for when I come to you with yet more anagrams: Desperation? A rope ends it.
Lord Cunt - King Cnut's little brother