Republican state legislator Sid Miller of Texas, a campaign surrogate for Republican nominee Donald Trump, referred to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a "cunt" Tuesday on Twitter.
Miller, who is the GOP nominee for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, has since deleted the Tweet. He first defended himself on Twitter by claiming his account was hacked. That tweet, however, has since been deleted, too. Finally, the state legislator issued an apology in which he claimed that the initial tweet had been "inadvertently retweeted" by his campaign and that Miller considered the word "vulgar and offensive."
Miller's immediate backtracking speaks to the sensitivity of the term among English speakers, but why is the word, which Dictionary.com warns "is one of the most hateful and powerful examples of verbal abuse in the English language," so offensive?
The etymology of the word is still up for debate. Many sources trace its origins back to the Proto-Germanic "kunton" with similar words appearing in Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old Dutch and Middle Low German. Others point to potential roots in Proto-Indo-European, Latin and even Greek. By the early 14th century, the Middle English word "cunte" began to refer to the female genitalia.
The first recorded use of the English term is often cited as a street name in Oxford, England, called "Gropecuntlane" around the year 1230 and through the 14th century. The street was reportedly a popular spot for prostitution, which likely contributed to its name. The word could still be found in medical writing throughout the 15th century, but was already being avoided in public speech. By the 17th century, it was considered "obscene." The 1785 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tounge lists the definition "C**T" as "a nasty name for a nasty thing" and cites Greek and Latin origins.
The term is also no stranger to literature. English author Geoffrey Chaucer could not resist including it in his 1485 epic The Canterbury Tales where he refers to it as "queynte" and many believe that even Shakespeare alluded to the word in some of his works. In his famous novel, Ulysses, James Joyce penned the quick poem "If you see kay, tell him he may, see you in tea, tell him from me."
The term does not seem to hold equal weight in other English-speaking countries. Popular U.K.-based comedies such as "The Inbetweeners" and "Shaun of the Dead" casually include the term, sometimes on a regular basis without nearly the same shock value as their U.S. counterparts. But when the satirical media organization The Onion jokingly called child actress Quvenzhané Wallis the term in a Feb. 24, 2013 tweet during the Academy Awards, the publication later issued perhaps its first ever sincere apology after facing an angry backlash.
While other swear words have entered the mainstream language some, such as psychologist Dr. Richard Stephens, have theorized that this particular term has remained taboo because of its "strong misogynistic overtone." In response, some feminist movements in the U.S. have attempted to reclaim the word, rejecting the strong negative connotation associated with parts of the female body.