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A writer’s first published novel used to be referred to as her or his “first novel.” But we live in what Richard Hofstadter called “the age of bunk,” by which socially acceptable term he meant, in fact, the age of bullshit, and a first novel today is a “debut novel.”
As usual with words, debut has a meaning that runs deep. It runs deep because it is a meaning.
debut (n.) 1751, from French début “first appearance,” a figurative use from débuter “make the first stroke at billiards,” also “to lead off at bowls” (a game akin to bowling), 16c., from but “mark, goal,” from Old French but “end” (see butt (n.3)). The verb is first attested 1830.
Début can only be pronounced as French, and should not be used by anyone who shrinks from the necessary effort. [Fowler]
butt (n.3) “target of a joke,” 1610s, originally “target for shooting practice” (mid-14c.), from Old French but “aim, goal, end, target (of an arrow, etc.),” 13c., which seems to be a fusion of Old French words for “end” (bout) and “aim, goal” (but), both ultimately from Germanic. The latter is from Frankish *but “stump, stock, block,” or some other Germanic source (compare Old Norse butr “log of wood”), which would connect it with butt (n.1).
butt (n.1) “thick end,” c. 1400, butte, which probably is related to Middle Dutch and Dutch bot, Low German butt “blunt, dull,” Old Norse bauta (see beat (v.)). Or related somehow to Old English buttuc “end, small piece of land,” and Old Norse butr “short.” In sense of “human posterior” it is recorded from mid-15c. Meaning “remainder of a smoked cigarette” first recorded 1847.
(These valuable understandings come to Web.Info from an invaluable online resource, the Online Etymology Dictionary.)
Those who think I am unfair in this posting may want to look up the etymology of first.
I have been told by a novelist from South Carolina whom I know — a woman with an MFA and publications to her credit — that, in an exact quote: “Women don’t masturbate.”
Is that it?
Is that why South Carolina is — the way South Carolina is?
If the women in South Carolina don’t know how to masturbate, what do they do while they read Fifty Shades of Grey?
Who else in South Carolina doesn’t know how to masturbate? I mean, is it just the women, or does Lindsay Graham not know how to masturbate either? Did Strom Thurmond know? Why didn’t he tell anybody else? I know, I know — he didn’t tell anybody about his Negro daughter either.
This brings to mind a ludicrous written encounter I had with a South Carolina reader of my first novel, Safe Sex, published by Fourth Estate Ltd., in London in 1997. I was taken to task for the use, in that book, of the word cunt to refer to — women’s cunts. I was excoriated for this crass commercialism — why else would I use such a foul and inflammatory and degrading word — by a male reader, a married man who came of age during the Sexual Revolution. (That was the revolution in which all the combatants truly were volunteers.)
But as noted, this fellow was from South Carolina, and he further informed me that he had surveyed all his wife’s closest friends on the issue of the word cunt — and not one of these ladies called her cunt a cunt. This survey finding, coupled (if you will) with the news that South Carolina women do not masturbate, suggests that these women may be not-masturbating because they do not have cunts.
Where do South Carolina babies come from?
Cunt, of course, is the actual English word for the genitalia of the female of the human species, and was in everyday usage until the loss of the English Civil War by the Cavaliers (monarchists who talked about cunts) to the Roundheads (Puritans, who — well, you know). The Puritans judged cunt to be a dirty word because a cunt was a dirty thing. Geoffrey Chaucer, on the other hand, uses it freely and easily in The Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer was pre-puritan, and I’ll bet he knew how to masturbate, too. He certainly knew how to tell a dirty joke! (With style, baby — lots of style!)
I used the word cunt in Safe Sex for the same reason Chaucer used it [in The Canterbury Tales: because it is the English word for this portion of the female anatomy. And because I was trying, in Safe Sex, to write an honest novel about human sexuality. About its power, you know? (Sure, you know!) I mean, if we weren’t in deep deep denial about human sexuality in the United States, we wouldn’t have the problems we have with HIV/AIDS, or with any other sexually-transmitted disease.
So, how do we begin to reform our society to accomplish this public health miracle? Kung fu-tzu tells us, by the rectification of names:
“If language is not used rightly, then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then that which ought to be done is left undone; if it remains undone, morals and art will be corrupted; if morals and art are corrupted, justice will go awry, and if justice goes awry, the people will stand about in helpless confusion.”
Does that remind you of anyone you know?
The quotation is taken from Eros Denied, a book by Wayland Young, M.P. — that’s Member of Parliament — which discussed in great detail and in plain English the subject of “Sex in Western Society,” the book’s subtitle. And, as I said, cunt is the actual English name of this actual organ of the human female — no matter what language she speaks!
Back in 1997, my critic, who prides himself on being an enlightened South Carolinian, found a survey subject who called her cunt “my secret.” Now, this is just the kind of thing Chaucer would have appreciated, because it lends itself so easily and directly to ribaldry, viz., “How big a secret is it?” “How many people are in on the secret?” and, of course, my personal favorite, “Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.”
Which do you think is the dead one?
When my father retired from the U.S. Army in 1965, he got a job in South Carolina, and we moved there from Washington, D.C. At some point during my last two years of high school, South Carolina legalized liquor-by-the-drink. But they legalized it in a real special, South-Carolina kind of way: mini-bottles. Right — those little single-serving things the airlines used to dispense, and may still, I don’t know because since we got all secure I don’t fly anymore. When I first heard about this law, I thought that the South Carolina legislators had opted for this single-serving gimmick so that when they drank, they could pretend they were riding on an airplane.
So this ignorance of masturbation should not have surprised me. Could it have any connection with the fact that, during the years from 1966 to 1976, which I spent in South Carolina, I was more or less always suicidally depressed, insanely drunk, and using dangerous drugs? If I could have taught basic masturbation to one South Carolina woman — just one — would I still have to go to all these 12-Step meetings?
And remember that 2016 is an election year. Perhaps we can take political action on behalf of the female South Carolinians. Perhaps an educational intervention sponsored by the Public Health Service — surely you remember Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the adult member of the Reagan administration who tried to respond like a doctor to the occurrence of disease in the form of HIV/AIDS. He wore that white uniform all the time — it’s the uniform of the U.S. Public Health Service — the PHS staff at the CDC used to wear their uniforms every Wednesday, and maybe they still do, I haven’t been over there in quite a while.
But wouldn’t that look just loverly! A busload of uniformed Public Health personnel, all bright and shining white, descending on the Palmetto State to cleanse the land of messy bodily fluids, and probably, too, some other stuff we can’t even talk about, not even on the Internet. (Well, we can talk about it on the Internet, but it will crash all the servers in Utah and, yes, South Carolina, too.)
Maybe we could take up a collection on KickStarter or GoFundMe and send a busload of PHS staff from the CDC to South Carolina, where they could give instruction in human female masturbation. Of course, we wouldn’t call it masturbation. We’d call it something like training in preventive techniques to inhibit the spread of sexually-transmitted disease. Yeah, STD makes the technique sound like something real clinical and really clean — like an absolutely sterile treatment for the dirtiest something-or-other you can imagine. We could say we were helping the women of South Carolina “dodge a bullet.” (Dodging a bullet is an instance of language that voters really relate to in South Carolina. That and negra guvermint.)
And also since it’s South Carolina, we shouldn’t say the technique is preventive. We’d have to call it preventative.
(And oh, yes, my female correspondent, referenced at the beginning of this post, has earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Why does this not surprise me?)
(This post is dedicated to all the citizens of Sumter County, South Carolina.)