[ilds] the purse

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Sun Jan 30 15:11:58 PST 2011

I noted in /Panic Spring/ Durrell's repeated references to William 
Dunbar's poem "In Honour of the City of London." Dunbar (1460–c. 1520) 
was a Scottish poet who allegedly first used, in print, the words "fuck" 
and "cunt" in 1503. Durrell echoes this poem’s "per se" in his own 
"Carol on Corfu," first published in 1938 and across his London chapter 
in /Panic Spring/.  Of course, there's Chaucer as well. To some degree, 
though, I think this is tied to his interest in the language itself 
rather than purely pubescent predilections.

I would also suspect that there's a significant difference between 
Durrell's use of the terms in the 1930s and 40s from his last years in 
the 1980s.  It's also worth noting, like cow vs. beef, that the word has 
a good ol'fashioned Anglo-Saxon origin.  None of that French or Latin... 
  I do, however, recall a Medieval Lit course in my undergraduate in 
which "cunt" and "cunning" or "cony" (bunny) were elided, but that 
appears to be an anachronism when I look to the OED -- the latter two 
derive from Romance languages and the "bunny" could be a term of 
endearment rather than abuse, though by the Elizabethans' time it 
appears to have evolved the modern slang connotations and the "conney" 
isn't simply a cunning or comely rabbit.

Apart from the prurient, I suspect part of this game for Durrell, at 
least prior to the 1980s, was his interest in the shifts in language 
itself, in particular his interest in the Elizabethans.  The prurient 
was a bonus, I suspect, rather than a virtue in itself -- we can hardly 
be surprised to find it in his works, though I doubt the schoolboy 
giggle was effective even when he first set pen to paper with such 
things.  When he wanted to be direct about it, he was, so I wonder what 
else was going on apart from grade school humour.

Then again, perhaps by the time of /Caesar's Vast Ghost/, he was 
simplifying or had been simplified...


On 30/01/11 5:25 AM, Marc Piel wrote:
> Can I add a little uncontrived bit?
> Cunégonde is a  medieval given name, derived from
> the Germanic "kühn"= daring, and "gund"=combat,
> and means "one who fears nothing. "
> It was fairly common until the thirteenth century
> in Germany, Flanders and Poland. But the
> unfortunate jokes that it's pronunciation allows,
> in France, have quickly shelved it. It would seem
> that it has only been used 23 times sine 1900. The
> pronounciation suggests: idiocy, not very bright,
> candidly stupid, hollow, etc....
> "Gonde" is french but "cune" is not!
> Marc Piel

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