Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

‘Cuck’: a modern swear word that’s as dirty as the old ones

Let's talk about swearing. I love a grubby old curse word, don't you? I'm an unapologetic user of the f-bomb and the s-bomb and even very occasionally – when the idiot home-office printer breaks again – the ever-controversial c-bomb. The guidelines for uttering profanity in my house are like the 1970s rules for spanking: Only grown-ups can do it, but not during a fight and never with intent to cause harm.

Which brings me to the brand-new new swear I recently discovered while visiting Twitter, that delightful bastion of conflict and insult. The word is "cuck." And, in case you haven't heard it, it's bad. So bad I can hardly believe it's printable in this newspaper. It probably won't be after I explain what it means.

It's a profanity that's been popularized in those two dark and sticky corners of the Internet – the world of online porn and anonymous forums such as Reddit or 4chan, communities that too often attract the repulsive "alt-right," those who espouse racist, fascist or white-supremacist ideologies. The term is short for "cuckold," meaning a man whose wife has sex with another man. But in recent years "cuck" has also become synonymous with a genre of porn in which a man (usually white) looks on as a man or men (usually black) have sex with his wife. Its use in a political context has become a racist/sexist slur against white male liberals who are seen, in far-right circles, as traitors to their race and gender. The implication being that if you are a white man defending liberal values then, metaphorically speaking, your wife is being … uh, you get it.

Story continues below advertisement

Case in point: White supremacist David Duke's recent tweeted response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's declaration of tolerance in the wake of the immigration and refugee ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump. "This cuck is a danger to all of North America... #buildthatwall."

At the moment, "cuck" is only derisive to the social-media-savvy minority who recognize the profound ugliness of its meaning. But make no mistake, it's a full-blown first-degree swear. The kind of word that will, in the near future, end marriages and friendships and get high-school students expelled. It's heavy and dirty and it's deeply hateful. I would never say it. And I'm a person who loves to swear.

The derogatory connotations of "cuck" make it every bit as offensive as all those other words that can't actually be printed here. Think of it as your new all-purpose racist, sexist super-slur. A bad word invented by bad men for the purposes of humiliating and shaming the good men among us into renouncing their tolerance and decency. What a charming development in the linguistic evolution of our species.

But surely no one in Canada would use such a word. Everyone knows we're culturally disposed to be polite. And that we don't have a problem with angry, hateful white men nurturing murderous thoughts about … oh wait. Never mind.

Last weekend, Nick Kouvalis, a prominent Conservative political strategist responsible for the campaigns of Conservative party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, Toronto Mayor John Tory and the late Rob Ford, had a meltdown in the most public of all public places: Twitter. In response to a wave of tweets calling out Leitch's campaign for being Islamophobic in the wake of Trump's ban, Kouvalis lashed out at Emmett Macfarlane, a University of Waterloo political science professor. Kouvalis started off by erroneously stating that two-thirds of Canadians support Leitch's anti-immigration and anti-refugee "values," and then he got personal. "You've weakened a nation today," he tweeted at Macfarlane. "Live with your treason. Cuck. Serious." (Kouvalis has since resigned as Leitch's campaign manager.)

It's not terribly surprising that David Duke and Nick Kouvalis share a manner of speaking – they are both proponents of Trump's brand of divisive populism (see, respectively, Duke's long career of Holocaust denial, and Kellie Leitch's Tory leadership campaign strategy for details). What is surprising is that Kouvalis – who later apologized to Macfarlane – is still connected to Toronto's mayor. Late last year, when asked about his former campaign strategist's work for Leitch, Tory defended Kouvalis, calling him "one of the smartest people I have available to me." Tory said then that he intends to keep him on board for his re-election campaign next year.

Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Tory said he spoke with Mr. Kouvalis Thursday night to encourage him to deal with his "personal issues," calling him a friend.

Story continues below advertisement

When asked if he would cut ties with his onetime key strategist, Mr. Tory would not expressly say whether or not Mr. Kouvalis was welcome to work on his 2018 re-election campaign, noting that the assembling of any campaign team remains many months away.

Kouvalis might be smart, but his dangerous brand of populism and use of racist/sexist slurs is completely at odds with the Toronto mayor's much-proclaimed love of diversity and tolerance – not to mention his centrist image.

History will not look well upon those who, in the winter of 2017, played to the reasonable-minded middle while seeking the wisdom of the toxic far-right. In less tumultuous times, one might view such a strategy as pragmatic. But in the wake of Trump's ban and the Quebec City massacre, it's nothing short of cynical opportunism.

While we're on the subject of swears, there should be a special slur for moderates whose actions speak louder than their rhetoric.

Oh wait, I think there already is one: Hypocrite. This one's for you, Mr. Mayor.

Report an error
About the Author

Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨