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Cunt has been attested in its anatomical meaning since at least the 13th century.
While Francis Grose's 1785 A Classical Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue listed the word as "C**T: a nasty name for a nasty thing", it did not appear in any major English dictionary from 1795 to 1961, when it was included in Webster's Third New International Dictionary with the comment "usu. Its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1972, which cites the word as having been in use from 1230 in what was supposedly a London street name of "Gropecunte Lane".
" Then, to drive home the point that the accent is definitely on the first syllable of country, Shakespeare has Hamlet say, "That's a fair thought, to lie between maids' legs." In Twelfth Night (Act II, Scene V) the puritanical Malvolio believes he recognises his employer's handwriting in an anonymous letter, commenting "There be her very Cs, her Us, and her Ts: and thus makes she her great Ps", unwittingly punning on "cunt" and "piss", A related scene occurs in Henry V: when Katherine is learning English, she is appalled at the "gros, et impudique" words "foot" and "gown", which her teacher has mispronounced as "coun".
It is usually argued that Shakespeare intends to suggest that she has misheard "foot" as "foutre" (French, "fuck") and "coun" as "con" (French "cunt", also used to mean "idiot").
Proverbs of Hendyng, a manuscript from some time before 1325, includes the advice: Despite criticisms, there is a movement among feminists that seeks to reclaim cunt not only as acceptable, but as an honorific, in much the same way that queer has been reappropriated by LGBT people and the word nigger has been by some African-Americans.
and Eve Ensler in "Reclaiming Cunt" from The Vagina Monologues.
It was normal in the Middle Ages for streets to be named after the goods available for sale therein, hence the prevalence in cities having a medieval history of names such as "Silver Street" and "Fish Street." In some locations, the former name has been bowdlerised, as in the City of York, to the more acceptable "Grape Lane." A notable use is from the "Miller's Tale": "Pryvely he caught her by the queynte." The Wife of Bath also uses this term, "For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leave/You shall have queynte right enough at eve ... However, in Chaucer's usage there seems to be an overlap between the words "cunt" and "quaint" (possibly derived from the Latin for "known").
"Quaint" was probably pronounced in Middle English in much the same way as "cunt".
" Ophelia replies, "No, my lord." Hamlet, feigning shock, says, "Do you think I meant country matters?
Similarly John Donne alludes to the obscene meaning of the word without being explicit in his poem The Good-Morrow, referring to sucking on "country pleasures." The 1675 Restoration comedy The Country Wife also features such word play, even in its title.
By the 17th century a softer form of the word, "cunny", came into use.
It is sometimes unclear whether the two words were thought of as distinct from one another.
Elsewhere in Chaucer's work the word queynte seems to be used with meaning comparable to the modern "quaint" (curious or old-fashioned, but nevertheless appealing).
It was, however, also used before 1230, having been brought over by the Anglo-Saxons, originally not an obscenity but rather an ordinary name for the vulva or vagina.