The Cunt Sketch
by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as Derek and Clive, 1890-1957
Everybody has his own attitude to taboo words. Some people prefer to avoid them completely. Since a person with that attitude would not have read this far, I offer a cordial nod of acknowledgment to this most fastidious demographic, and pass on. I expressed my own view of the matter at length in a column once.
For a language lover, it's interesting to notice the slight differences in usage of the taboo words between the English-speaking nations. "Fuck" and its derivatives have such wide ranges of usage everywhere, there is not much space left for national peculiarities. "Cunt" is a different case. It is not much used at all in the U.S.A.; though I believe that the Armed Services here, as in England, use "cunt cap" as an informal way to refer to what should properly be called a garrison cap.
In England the word, though still deeply taboo — there, as here, I think it is the most taboo of the taboo words — is much more frequently heard, especially in reference to a person the speaker finds disagreeable for one reason or another. Here is conservative writer and heroic drinker Kingsley Amis, in his 1991 Memoirs, encountering leftist politician and teetotaller Tony Benn:
Benn I have run into only once, early in his career, when by a misunderstanding he arrived on my doorstep expected but not heralded by any name. The door was one of those with a glass panel affording a preview of the caller. At the first sight of the present arrival the thought flashed into my mind, "Who is this English cunt?" The distinguishing adjective is important. There are Scottish cunts, there are even Welsh cunts, and God knows there are American cunts, but the one in question could have come from nowhere else but this green and pleasant land. Something about the set of the lips.
Other guests arrived at the same time and my silent question went unanswered for the moment. I offered drinks. Someone asked for a gin and tonic. I turned to the cunt. "Same for you?" He reacted much as if I had said, "Glass of baby's blood? It's extra good today." …
The "Derek and Clive" sketches that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore recorded in the mid-1970s are described on Wikipedia as "A mixture of Dylan Thomas and Mae West, with overtones of Goethe." I don't know about that, but in the Cunt Sketch they attained an austere minimalism worthy of Samuel Beckett.
• Play the reading
• Text of the sketch
Dud: I tell you, the other day, some bloke came up to me, I dunno who it was, an' he said, "You cunt."
Dud: I said, "Wot?" 'E said: "You cunt."
Pete: Yeah, and you replied, "You fuckin' cunt."
Dud: I said … well, no, not straight away … I said: "You cunt," I said …
Pete: Yeah, yeah …
Dud: … An' then 'e said …
Pete: … What'd he come back with?
Dud: 'E come back, 'e says, 'e said "You fuckin' cunt."
Pete: You're jokin'!
Dud: 'E said, "You call me a …"
Pete: 'E said "You fuckin' cunt"?
Dud: 'E said, "You call me a cunt? You fuckin' cunt! …" I said, "You f—," I said, "You fuckin' cunt."
Pete: I should 'ope so. "You fuckin' cunt …"
Dud: I said, "You fuckin' cunt." I said, "You fuckin' come 'ere an' call me a fuckin' cunt …"
Pete: I should say so.
Dud: I said, "You f—," I said, "You cunt." I said, "You fuckin' cunt." I said, "'Oo are you fuckin' callin' cunt, cunt?"
Pete: Yeah, what'd 'e say, cunt?
Dud: 'E said, "You fuckin' cunt!"
Pete: Well, you fuckin' cunt! 'Oo are you to say to 'im that 'e was a fuckin' cunt?
Dud: Well, what d'you f—, what d'you fuckin' think, mate? I'm fuckin' defendin' my fuckin' self, aren't I?
Pete: Well no. 'E come up to you, call you "cunt," that's fair enough, or 'e said, "You fuckin' cunt," an' you said back to 'im, "You fuckin' fuckin' cunt," …
Dud: I said, well …
Pete: … well, what d'you expect 'im to say back, apart from, "You fuckin' stupid fuckin' cunt"?
Dud: Well, I don't … I don't expect nothin', do I?
Pete: No …
Dud: But the cunt come back with, "You fuckin' cunt, cunt."
Pete: Oh Christ.
Dud: I said, "You cunt?" I said, "You callin' me a fuckin' cunt? You fuckin' …" I said, "You fuckin' cunt."
Pete: Jesus Christ, yeah.
Dud: I said, "You …," I said, "You … you fuckin' cunt!" …
Pete: Yeah …
Dud: … I said, like that.
Pete: Yeah. You said it, like that, did you? To 'im.
Pete: Or was 'e gone by then?
Dud: No, 'e fuckin' 'it me. F— …
Pete: 'It you, did 'e?
Dud: Yeah, fuckin' cunt.
Pete: Killed you dead, did 'e?
Dud: No, 'e … 'e fuckin' 'it me.
Pete: Yeah, …
Dud: I said …
Pete: … well …
Dud: I said …
Pete: … you can't blame 'im, can you?
Dud: I said, "You … you rotter."
Dud: An' 'e … 'e went off.
Pete: Did 'e?
Dud: An' 'e said, "You cunt," again.
Pete: Well, that's the only way to deal with 'im, isn't it?
Dud: Yeah, well, I showed 'im, didn't I?
Pete: Yeah, well, you 'ad to, didn't you? You 'ad to stand up for what you stood for, didn't you?