Why is anatomy an insult?

True story: playing ‘Trials’ on the XBox 360

Yesterday evening with E and A; just before we gave up for the evening A shouted at the XBox “Come on you bell end.” This led us to discuss the question: why is it an insult to call someone by a euphemism for genitalia?

It just is, apparently.

I’m really not happy with this explanation. ‘It just is’ is as unfullfilling an answer as ‘God’ to the questions about an explanation for the wonders of the universe (‘Magic’ however is a perfectly acceptable answer to any and all questions). I should try to find the answer, shouldn’t I? Just to stop myself going even barmier than I already am.

I started writing this post just after the discussion yesterday but left it as a draft because I felt like death warmed up, and was tired. I’ve decided to carry it on this evening. I have painkillers, my brain may not be entirely unfogged but at least the light has stopped hurting my eyes.Yay for not wanting to throw up every time I move my head. I tell you this to warn you: not everything I write hereafter may make sense.

I tried Googleing ‘why are words for genitalia insults’; this yielded nothing useful. There were one or two interesting titbits of information. Cunt wasn’t an insult until a hundred or so years ago; it, like arse and cock, was a perfectly reasonable word for parts of the human anatomy. Also, like arse, it’s Middle English in origin.

Still, that doesn’t help. Maybe it’s not a case of language but psychology. May I posit a hypothesis?

For some reason we humans have a hateful relationship with our bodies, therefor we associate negative qualities with anatomy. Thus, when we wish to imply some person, thing, action etc is negative, our immediate choice of insult is anatomical. I believe the reason to be the cultural/religious structures that infect us.

Why genitalia though, since in certain major religions the body, all of it, is or has been at some point in the past, considered a vile vessel for the soul? Why the cunt not the elbow or big toe? I think the answer lies in excretion. With a few exceptions, people are disgusted by bodily waste. Disease and death are associated with too close a relationship with excreta. This is why people are reluctant to use urine as a fertiliser, despite it’s excellent nitrogen content and relative abundance compared to manufactured nitrogen fertiliser, for example. Human faeces, properly treated, can also be used as a fertiliser, although it’s not recommended for food crops.

Other excreta from genitalia are reproductive: sperm, menstrual blood. These, we are taught, are ‘dirty’. One must be saved up for the production of progeny, the other shunned as unclean and disgusting, a sign of weakness to be hidden, controlled, medicalised, and most importantly, not discussed

I think this is at the heart of the insults. Genitals are an area of the body, and the ‘source’ of excretions, that we have from a young age, and for at least four or five thousand years – depending on geographic location, culture and religion – been told, believe implicitly, are disgusting and repulsive. They must be untouched, kept under wraps for fear of some unspecified disease or the wrath of a god.

Utter bollocks. There is nothing inherently ‘unclean’ or repulsive about the human body.
Here’s a comparison to get things in perspective. Mouths produce spit and sick, but we don’t call a person an ugly gob. Why? Mouths produce excreta that smells unpleasant and can be a means for disease transfer (vomit) just like the anus ‘produces’ shit, which also can smell unpleasant/be a disease carrier. The difference is location; mouths, unlike arses, are not near genitals. They are elevated, less base. Sometimes crap does flow from them though.

Step aside, look, examine ingrained beliefs. If you can’t find a rational reason for your disgust, question the origin. If the origin is guilt or shame induced by religion and culture seek out reliable information. Information is the best antidote to ignorance and fear.

The same can be said of any belief that causes fear. Examine it, poke and prod until you have answers. Ask ‘WHY?’
For example, commonly held fears: Homophobic? Why? Are you scared of the unknown? Does your religion say it’s wrong? Is it rational to be afraid? Feeling guilt, shame or embarrassment about your own nature? Where does this guilt/shame/fear arise? Why?
Misogynist/misandrist? Why? What evidence do you have to support your position? Is your prejudice concious or unconscious?
Racist? Again, evidence? Who told you ‘race’ exists? Why? Check your cultural assumptions; do they have any basis in reality?
Arachniphobia? Have you had a nasty spider bite that got infected and almost killed you? Are you in a country with lots of venomous spiders and no access to anti-venom? (I don’t mean to imply equivalency between racism and being scared of spiders. I’m trying to apply the premise – question the origins of your fears – to diverse fears. The link between all of them is that they are irrational.)

I’ve wandered a long way from the initial question, but that is what happens when a seemingly simple question needs answering. The answers lead to other questions.

And the question I always need an answer to is ‘Why?’

Thanks for reading my rambling attempt to answer the question. As ever, it’s just my opinion based on a lot of reading and generally hoarding of information, and an unfounded/untested hypothesis; if you have anything to add you’re quite welcome to comment, especially if you can point me in the direction of any academic research on the subject or books I might find interesting.


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