The previous few months have introduced a lot of fun new ideas to popular American discourse, including, but not limited to, Pepe The Frog, Milo Yiannopoulos, and the word “cuck,” an insult both flung by the “alt-right” and ironically embraced by the Twitter left. Short for “cuckold,” or a man whose wife sleeps with other men, the term is used to disparage anyone who doesn’t exude traditional manliness, as well as, at this point, anyone to the left of the Breitbart crowd. It’s a deeply misogynist insult, but it’s also phonetically great—“cuck” is a good, hard thing to spit at someone. But where did it come from?
Shakespeare, sort of. A new article in Mel Magazine probes the epithet’s origins and etymology and provides a framework for racist anime fans to better insult journalists in the future. Among the many insights to be gleaned is that the word “cuckold” comes from cuckoo—a bird that lays its eggs in other birds nests—and was first used in a poem sometime between 1189 and 1296. Shakespeare loved the term, using it some two dozen times in his oeuvre. Its more modern application took shape in BDSM porn in the mid-2000s before being shortened to its current insulting formation during GamerGate, because of course it came from GamerGate, how could it not.
After being used to successfully end corruption in games journalism forever, the term matriculated from gaming 4chan to other sects of the notorious imageboard, and finally to Reddit’s The_Donald, where it was embraced as the official insult of the “alt-right.” The article notes that in its current formation, the term is used not because liberals and leftists are un-masculine, but because, according to a subreddit moderator, they like “watching the interests of others surpass the interests of their country,” which is some tortured rhetoric, but good to know.
The whole article is a fascinating read. The rise of the term “cuck” is a sort of microcosm for so many other political and cultural movements of 2016, forming at the fulcrum of gamers and bodybuilders almost as a joke before matriculating to wider acceptance—the most notable such joke being, of course, President-elect Donald Trump. Real-life cuckolds, meanwhile, are not too keen on their sexual identity being used as an insult, but, as one told Vice, perhaps its broader usage will lead to wider acceptance of the lifestyle. Cucks and cuckolds everywhere can dream.