The Language of Sex

Controversial Irish singer Sinead O’Connor. Photo from

Sinead O’Connor used the ‘C’ word in a tweet. It seems she took offence at the presence of a certain young woman, famous for being famous, on the cover of Rolling Stone. She could have said “What’s that face doing on the cover of Rolling Stone?”. Except it wouldn”t have had the same impact as the woman’s body part she chose to use instead of ‘face’.

How is it that words associated with sex and the sexual organs have been subsumed into the language of hate, used to express one’s response to an event or behaviour that we regard as foolish, ignorant or inappropriate?

There are couple of ‘T’ words, one with the same literal meaning as the ‘C’ word, frequently used in the same way, although with rather less anger. But it is not only female sexual organs that are invoked to express frustration at someone’s idiotic behaviour. D**khead comes to mind as one example. We all know that when something goes horribly wrong someone will refer to the situation as a ‘c**k up’. And any man will tell you that the physical manifestation represented by the phrase, should it happen at an inappropriate time, is indeed a source of embarrassment. As such, it is perhaps the only commonly used sexual metaphor that makes any sense.

The ‘F’ word has become a common place expletive; the verb as it stands an expression of annoyance, with the addition of ‘ing’ becoming a general purpose adjective. “F***ed up” describes a person or activity that has gone off the rails.

And then there are the ‘B’ words. The noun, literally meaning someone born outside of marriage, is far less used nowadays, perhaps because so many people are now born outside of wedlock. The other, the verb for anal sex, is usually regarded as less offensive in use than the ‘F’ word. Which seems an odd state of affairs given that the activity is so frequently viewed with far greater disgust.

All of these usages derive from our culture’s fear of sex and the accompanying notion that sex is dirty, disgusting, filthy; not to be mentioned in polite society.

Suppose for a moment that the sexual organs were deemed to be beautiful, as a growing number of us do now believe, or that there was a public acceptance of the truth that sexual activity is the most tender expression of love between two people. Would any of these words have the same impact? Would they even be used in the same way? Perhaps we would have to say what we mean; Sinead O’Connor would be forced to substitute “horrible person” for the ‘C’ word in her infamous tweet.

Now let’s fantasise for a moment and suppose that words describing violent acts and weapons became as unacceptable in use as words with a sexual connotation are today. Would “gun” or “bomb” be used in the way the ‘C’ word is today? Would “fight” and “fighting” replace those other “F” words?

If only!

She was 14 when her father gave her in marriage to a foreign warrior in return for the restoration of his kingdom. Her daughter would marry a man who served three English kings and ended his life as Regent. What was it like to be Strongbow’s wife and, later, his widow? Could she forgive her father or his arch-enemy O’Rourke? What became of her after Strongbow’s death?

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