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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).

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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.

contains the most detailed study of what he calls "The most heavily tabooed of all English words" (1989), though his article is only five pages long.

Cunt: A Cultural History Of The C-Word is therefore intended as the first comprehensive analysis of this ancient and powerful word.

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'.

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.