“Mewling Quim”

Loki

This comes from reader John Stewart (a Londoner), and deals with a term I was not previously familiar with. Thus any objections should be directed to him, not me.

It deals with a moment in the new film “The Avengers”–written by the Americans Joss Whedon and Zak Penn–when Loki addresses Black Widow with the two-word epithet that’s the title of this post. Loki hails from outer space (John informs me) but, perhaps significantly,  is played by a British actor. John writes:

this is possibly the most offensive line in the film, beyond even Wolverine’s in X-Men: First Class. It is just that some people aren’t too familiar with the derivation. In more modern English, this would be “whining cunt”. In American English, “cunt” is generally used as a misogynistic insult, mostly used against women, insulting their very nature of being female. British English doesn’t use the female-specific aspect of this in an insult, which loses much of the mysogynistic tone. Indeed, it’s more likely to be used against a man, an exaggrated form of “wanker”. But “quim”, though rarely used, is done so in a misogynist fashion. It’s only used about women, and is very much about reducing them to their gender, as if that by definition, reduces their importance. And that’s how Loki uses it in Avengers.

Next, I am going to have to look into mewling.

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22 responses to ““Mewling Quim”

  1. I’ve been aware of the term for years, but not of its provenance. While I can’t give you a citation, it’s usually referred to in written dialogue as a”quivering quim,” no translation needed. Mewling comes down to us from Shakespeare’s monologue, “All the
    World’s a stage, ” in which appears the line: “Mewling and puking in his nurse’s arms.”
    It refers to the restless sounds a hungry or uncomfortable baby makes.

  2. Rarely is there a word or phrase posted here of which I’ve never heard. Ben, how come we no longer get to vote on your posts’ NOOBishness?
    – Perfectly fine
    – Borderline
    – Over the top
    John Stewart, if you’re reading this, my vote on this one is “over the top.”

  3. Spot on about the connotations, I think, thanks John. The “cunt” thing is interesting, because the way it’s used here in the UK makes the movements to “reclaim” it in the US look rather odd. In fact, it’s often pointed out that in Scotland that it’s passed through the general insult phase to become a jocular term of endearment for someone of either sex, though there may be a class difference on that usage. Either way, I’d no more use “cunt” to refer to a vagina, mine or anyone else’s, than I’d call nipples “bastards”. It makes no sense.

    In fairness though, I did see that in (English comedian) Richard Herring’s “Hitler Moustache” show, he did use “cunt” refer to genitalia, which shocked me hugely as I really didn’t think anyone did these days, so perhaps there’s a generation difference there too (he’s early 40s, I’m mid-20s).

    It’s these minutiae of meaning that I find really fascinating.

  4. Long time no hear ‘mewling quim’ (or indeed just ‘quim’). Just as Marc Leavitt’s comment above said, I learnt ‘mewling’ through the phrase ‘mewling and puking’ and the ‘mewl of kittens and maul of cats.’

    Last time I heard ‘quim’ in real life was sometime in the early 1980s somewhere in London – a provocation and prelude to a fight between two guys. Since then, the most recent pseudo-‘quim’ was in the movie “Ramona and Beezus.” My friends couldn’t understand why I was smirking at the character’s name Ramona Quimby in an otherwise all-family movie.

    Brings back tears of nostalgia, this.

  5. John Stewart from London

    Due to confusion from the drafting of my message to Ben, Ben attributed the quotation to me but it should have been attributed to the Bleeding cool website. See
    http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/04/27/mewling-quim-and-that-mid-credit-smile-in-the-avengers-movie/. I had never heard the expression before.

  6. Quim – or – See You Next Tuesday – as we say in Blighty.

    As for mewling… mewl – onomatopoeic…. imitative of the sound a baby makes, and as in kittens which go “mew”.

    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
    Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
    And then the whining school-boy..,

    As You Like IT – WS

  7. ‘Mewling’ is also used in a derogatory way to describe a female who has been sexually stimulated to the point where she is ‘mewling’, so double misogynistic emphasis used in such a phrase as ‘mewling cunt’.

  8. Unfortunately, quim is just as popular as cunt as a spoken epithet in the US, and hurled with regularity at both male and female (perhaps, as John Stewart cited, to dull its misogynistic barb). However, the one time I saw it in popular media was when the Adult Swim cartoon “Venture Brothers” featured the character Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman.
    Mewling, as John B said, is the sound that kittens make – although in this context it is used disparagingly. Mew as a noun refers to the seagull, as used in the 2003 film “Master and Commander”.
    Now, “mewling quim” – that’s a great name for a rock band!

    • Late to the post, obviously, but no – “quim” is not as common as “cunt” in the US. It is as foreign as Mandarin to most. The only reason it passed censorship scrutiny is that no one knows what the hell it means stateside.

  9. Only in Britain…

    “The British Board of Film Classification gets barmier by the day. It now tells us that there is an acceptable and unacceptable way to say the word “c***”. If, as in Ken Loach’s new movie The Angels’ Share, the characters in a film say that word in an “aggressive” fashion, then the film will be stamped with an 18 certificate. But if they were to utter the c-word in a “non-aggressive” fashion, then the film could be granted a more lenient, box office-friendly 15 certificate. So Loach, whose new film is based in Glasgow, where the c-word abounds, has been forced to excise the more aggressive uses of the word in order for his film to be a 15. He is rightly annoyed that he has effectively been forced to censor “a word that goes back to Chaucer’s time”.”

    Full story: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100160586/the-bbfcs-war-against-the-natural-language-of-the-glaswegian-working-class/

    • Oddly enough, I agree with differentiating between what is said and how it’s said, but then I don’t have a problem with under-18s hearing swearing in film at all; most adolescents go through their sweary phase before the age of 15 anyway, before they find out that overuse renders it impotent and tone it down a little.

  10. I shudder to think that I’m contributing to this conversation, but here you have Carrie Fisher on why she’s reading Henry Miller:

    “He’s awesome. It’s amazing. I’ve been reading all his stuff, rereading some and reading others for the first time. He just is raw. He’s awesome. He’s the man who really tried to popularize the word ‘cunt’ and you’ve got to love him for that.”

    http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/05-29-12-10-16-atx-what-are-you-reading-why-carrie-fisher-loves-henry-miller/

  11. When I think of mewling, I think of newborn kittens. It’s associated with helplessness, so it’s just reinforcing the misogynistic tone of the whole phrase.

  12. Which means, the killings aside, we’ve established that Loki is evil.

  13. If you call a man a ‘cunt’ in BrE, you mean he’s a bad person. If you call a woman a ‘cunt’ you are reducing her to her genitals, therefore being sexually derogatory.

    I know lots of women, myself included, who use this word in its literal sense, i.e. for vagina, but only when talking among themselves. I would say ‘quim’ is very usual in southern England, possibly in greater use in northern England and Scotland.

  14. Quim seems such an archaic word to me. I honestly don’t think a lot of Brits would even know what it means. I’ve never heard anyone using it in any part of the UK, and far from being offensive it just sounds hilariously off-kilter as a phrase used by anyone in modern England.

    • Rupert Everett uses “quim” for comic effect in the first volume of his memoirs, Red Carpets and other Banana Skins. Get the audiobook of him reading it for the best effect.

  15. Shakespeare: “a babe, mewling and puking in its mother’s arms”

  16. When I saw Avengers Assemble (as it was called here so as to not confuse it with another movie featuring sexy catsuits – and Sean Connery – but also, more importantly, sexy catsuits and bespoke suits in a fine TV series) I remember there was a semi-audible “quiver” through the audience when Loki said quim with implied insult. I have generally found in Britain, cross class, starting off in council estates in the north and now genteel’ing it up in rural Buckinghamshire, that quim is a ‘nice term’ for vagina, that escapes the implied vulgarity of the Americanism pussy, I for one have certainly used it to directly compliment that part of a woman or two down the years as the archaic, old-English style of it lends itself well to being romantic. It is the tone and context of use which denotes if it is meant to be insulting or not.

    Cunt, meanwhile, in British English, is punctuation. I still recall with delight my first trip to the United States with a male friend, who, as any British man can tell you, is, by dint of being your best friend, almost certainly a “stupid cunt” everytime he does something inadvisable, a “clever cunt” every time he figures something out, and, of course, a “smarmy cunt” when he correctly asserts how the gorgeous bit of decorative pottery you’re both looking at in a glass cabinet in a posh titbit store is the perfect gift for the missus at home, leaving you incapable of avoiding buying it. Thankfully, we were then ejected from the store by (to us at the time) confusingly agitated sales staff, saving my wallet. Making me a lucky cunt.

  17. The word cunt is Anglo Saxon meaning dagger sheath. Pre Victorian era streets and lanes where prostitutes plied there trade were called cunt or cunny lane.

  18. It’s just Joss being Joss. He went to school in Britain, and likes to show off. Spike (the Billy Idol-esue villain/love interest in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) often called Buffy a “bint.”

  19. Pingback: Good On Us | Not One-Off Britishisms

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