New Words in the OED.

The OED new words list is always fun to peruse; the latest, for March, is perhaps more so than usual. (WARNING: If formerly unprintable vocabulary offends you, read no further.) As Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel puts it (or whoever wrote the headline for her piece): “Cunty, Cuntish, Cunted and Cunting Added to Oxford English Dictionary.” The base noun (so to speak) was omitted from the first edition but added in the 1972 Supplement, and the entry has just been updated; the first two citations are:

c1230 in M. Gelling & D. M. Stenton Place-names Oxfordshire (1953) I. 40 (MED), Gropecuntelane.
a1325 (▸c1250) Prov. Hendyng (Cambr.) xlii, in Anglia (1881) 4 190 Ȝeue þi cunte to cunnig, And crave affetir wedding.

The etymology says “Probably the reflex of an Old English form *cunte that is not securely attested (see note), cognate with Old Frisian kunte, [etc.; many Germanic forms]; further etymology uncertain.” And they have a special section on “Use in names” that makes for lively reading:

The word is recorded earliest in place names, bynames, and surnames. Compare e.g. the street name Gropecuntelane, Oxford (now Grove Passage and Magpie Lane; see quot. c1230 at sense 1); some twenty instances of this name are recorded throughout the country, at least six of them in the 13th cent., although all are now lost. It has also been suggested that the word was applied at an early date to certain topographical features, such as a cleft in a small hill or mound (in e.g. Cuntelowe, Warwickshire (1221; now lost)), a wooded gulley or valley (in e.g. Kuntecliue, Lancashire (1246, now Lower Cunliffe), Cuntewellewang, Lincolnshire (1317; now lost)), and a cleft with a stream running through it (in e.g. Cuntebecsic (field name), Caistor, Lincolnshire (a1272; now lost), Shauecuntewelle, Kent (1321; earlier as Savetuntewell (1275), now Shinglewell)), although some of the examples (from Danelaw counties) may reflect the early Scandinavian cognate rather than the English word, and some may instead show an unrelated personal name.

The Old English word itself may be shown by (to) cuntan heale (compare hale n.2) in the bounds of a piece of land at Bishopstoke, Hampshire, recorded in a charter of 960 (and again in an 11th-cent. forgery of a charter of 900). This has usually been interpreted as a topographical reference, although a more concrete interpretation is possible, and some commentators have preferred to take it as a personal name (compare use of Old Icelandic kunta as a byname).

For a full discussion of the place-name evidence, see K. Briggs ‘OE and ME cunte in place-names’ in Jrnl. Eng. Place-name Soc. 41 (2009) 26–39.

The word is also recorded from an early date in Old English and Middle English bynames and surnames. Early examples include Godewin Clawecuncte (1066; compare claw v.), Simon Sitbithecunte (1167), Gunoka Cunteles (1219), John Fillecunt (1246), Robert Clevecunt (1302), Bele Wydecunthe (1328).

Compare also apparent use in the names of flowers in Middle English, as cuntehoare fumitory (a1300; compare hoar adj. and n.), countewort butcher’s broom (a1400), counteminte catmint (a1500).

Comments

  1. But does it have cuntface?

  2. I checked. It does not.

  3. Rodger C says:

    It’s very early in the morning. When I saw “cuntface,” even though I’m perfectly familiar with the word, I pictured a font.

  4. Does the topographical sense have any connection to the Welsh “cwm”?

  5. No, Grimm’s Law rules that out. The Germanic counterpart of cwm is hump, which was borrowed into English from Dutch in the 17C; although one bends down and the other bends up, they have the same PIE root. Incumbent also belongs to this family: the underlying Latin verb means ‘lie down’ (hump, lie down, you see where this is going…). Even in Latin incumbere already had the figurative sense ‘obtain, possess’, which is where the English meaning comes from. In a more literal sense we have the rare word recumbent.

  6. Thanks.

    Recumbent has recently become more common in reference to bicycles.

  7. “Procumbens” shows up in some plant names, eg, juniperus procumbens. It specifically means a plant that lies along the ground without rooting from that branch into the soil.

    “The Germanic counterpart of cwm is hump, which was borrowed into English from Dutch in the 17C;”

    And interestingly has helped form a phonestheme on -mp, eg, slump, clump, lump , dump – all describing heavy, rounded things or actions, all with different actual etymologies (except maybe “lump” and “clump”.) You can even consider it productive if you count “flump: as in “flump down” derived from “flop”.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian obsolete kunte f. “vulva; (disparaging for) woman; big mouth, gossiper; small boat; worthless fish; basket”. The latter meaning is shared by kont m. “purse, box or basket, usually of wicker or birch bark”. If I don’t misremember completely, there’s a set of Finnic lookalikes of good Uralic pedigree and with meanings revolving around “wicker basket”.

    The development “purse” -> “woman” is seen in (the possibly conscious parallel) skreppe “purse; attractive woman”. The connection “bad person, shaggy boat, worthless fish” is seen across Germanic in skark, skurk, Eng. shark.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    Per Starostin (yes, that’s a disclaimer) the Uralic proto-form is *konte “basket, bag made of birch bark”, with reflexes all over Uralic, and per me (yes, that’s a proclaimer) possibly ultimately related to *kuńćV ~ *kućV “birch tree”.

  10. Rodger C says:

    Jims talk of procumbens and flumping down reminds me of Virgil’s notorious line-end: “Procumbit humi bos.”

  11. “Humi bos”? What’s that, a moist bump?

    “The development “purse” -> “woman” is seen in (the possibly conscious parallel) skreppe “purse; attractive woman”.

    Weird parallel in English in calling old women “old bags (derogatory though). Years ago Herb Caen, a columnist for the SF Chronicle told of going to lunch and being seated next to a group of “tweedy old bags in baggy old tweeds.”

    “The connection “bad person, shaggy boat, worthless fish” is seen across Germanic in skark, skurk, Eng. shark.”

    I like that very much better than the BS etymology that derives “shark” frorm Yucatec “xoc”.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    shaggy boat ???

  13. Trond Engen says:

    Or “shabby boat”. I guess “shaggy” can’t be used quite as widely as a I thought. Strange as it may seem, I really worked on that adjective before settling on “shaggy”. I even had “cheap” there for a moment.

    For the skark family, the unifying theme is rather “waste, throwaway, rubbish”, derived from the ‘shear’ word (or maybe the ‘shard’ word), so it may not really throw any light on the semantics of the ‘cunt’ complex.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Norwegian obsolete kunte f. “vulva; (disparaging for) woman; big mouth, gossiper; small boat; worthless fish; basket”. The latter meaning is shared by kont m. “purse, box or basket, usually of wicker or birch bark”. If I don’t misremember completely, there’s a set of Finnic lookalikes of good Uralic pedigree and with meanings revolving around “wicker basket”.

    That would explain quite wonderfully why there’s no trace of such a word in German.

    The similar personal name reminds me of Hinz und Kunz = Tom, Dick & Harry = H[e]inrich & Konrad.

    The connection “bad person, sha[bb]y boat, worthless fish” is seen across Germanic in skark, skurk, Eng. shark.

    German Schurke “villain”.

  15. This very month the words seler, selest ‘better, best’ landed in the OED for the first time. They are last recorded in Layamon’s Brut around 1200. Oddly, the positive form sele appears there for the first and last time, and it may be a back-formation. (Sele also exists as a spelling variant of seely ‘blessed; fortunate; prosperous; blissful, happy’, of which silly is an offshoot.)

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