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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.

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.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).In , Sigmund Freud's classic two-fold definition of 'taboo' encompasses both the sacred and the profane, both religion and defilement: "The meaning of 'taboo', as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions.To us it means, on the one hand, 'sacred', 'consecrated', and on the other 'uncanny', 'dangerous', 'forbidden', 'unclean'" (1912).

Taboos relating to language are most readily associated with the transgressive lexicon of swearing.By contrast, the parallel trend towards repetitive usage of 'cunt' seeks to undermine the taboo through desensitisation.If 'cunt' is repeated ad infinitum, our sense of shock at initially encountering the word is rapidly dispelled.Censorship of both the word 'cunt' and the organ to which it refers is symptomatic of a general fear of - and disgust for - the vagina itself.The most literal manifestation of this fear is the myth of the 'vagina dentata', symbolising the male fear that the vagina is a tool of castration (the femme castratrice, a more specific manifestation of the Film Noir femme fatale).The c-word's second most significant influence is the Latin term 'cuneus', meaning 'wedge'.