The evolution of "cuck" shows that different far-right groups are learning the same language

"Cuck" began as a gamer insult, took on racist connotations and ended up a mainstream word for Donald Trump fans. 


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I first heard the word “cuck” in mid 2015, when a speech I gave at the Oxford Union on the subject of No Platform policies went up on YouTube. Among the numerous comments labelling me a “social justice warrior”, there were a few calling me a cuck. At the time I thought little of it, assuming it was some Men's Right Activist-type buzzword that you would only ever encounter if you were the kind of masochist who reads YouTube comment sections about yourself.

I was, of course, wrong, and now it’s everywhere. A lot of mainstream outlets suggest it stands for “cuckservative”, a term used by alt-right types to abuse traditional conservatives, implying that they’re being cuckolded by allowing their countries (and their wives) to be screwed both physically and metaphorically by foreign interlopers. But it didn’t start that way. Working as part of the Alt-Right Open Intelligence Initiative at the University of Amsterdam, I dove deep into the bowels of Reddit so that I could tell the story of where cuck came from, what it means, what it can tell us about the people who use it, and maybe even how they can be beaten.

We’ll likely never know precisely when the old insult “cuckold” - referring to a man whose wife was cheating on him - morphed into “cuck”. It originated in 2014, in the bowels of the controversial online bulletin board 4chan, and in the absence of an intrepid data adventurer capable of scraping the site’s logs without losing the will to live, that’s probably the most we can say. “Cuckold” began to be used on Reddit in places like the virulently misogynistic TheRedPill, where it was used to insult men foolish enough to trust women (who then inevitably cheat on them and make them raise the children of other men). It probably emerged in its shortened form in late 2014. This is when the “it’s-actually-about-ethics-in-games-journalism-not-rabid-sexism” GamerGate movement, which targeted women in the video game industry, was kicked off 4chan. GamerGate found a new home on Reddit at /r/KotakuInAction.

GamerGaters, primarily angry adolescent (and post-adolescent) boys led by cynical neo-reactionaries like Milo Yiannopoulos, used “cuck” to refer to the ex-boyfriend of games journalist Zoe Quinn, who was the focus of much of their ire (she had the audacity to be female and develop a game). From there cuck evolved into a catch-all way of abusing men who might be otherwise referred to as “betas”. At the same time, it became popular in explicitly racist subreddits, and it picked up racial connotations as a result. You can see the time progression in the graph below.

Frequency of “cuck” across Reddit, 2014-15

The rise of "cuck", though, is most obviously connected to the rise of Donald Trump. The subreddit The_Donald made it big after Trump won the New Hampshire primary in February 2016. It was then that use of the word cuck exploded, both within The_Donald and elsewhere, as you can see in the graph below.

Frequency of “cuck” across Reddit, Jan 2016-May 2017

Before The_Donald, misogynists, hipster racists and other alt right commentators existed on the peripheries. The_Donald has provided a means for all of these groups to come together, and they found in “cuck” a term that encapsulated everything they hate. It’s all things to all bigots: a racially-tinged term of abuse, a slur against men who trust women, a label for conservatives who aren’t conservative in the right ways, and an Islamophobic dog-whistle that propagates the narrative that Europe and America as a whole are being screwed by Muslims.

With each Trump victory, cuck gained linguistic currency in The_Donald. From there, it migrated to other communities on Reddit. While it might have once been possible to distinguish out-and-out white supremacists from ironic Nazis, now the different groups were learning the same language.

There is a solution to these extreme subreddits: ban them. When /r/CoonTown, the successor to other racist subreddits, was banned in August 2015, the use of “cuck” decreased. The word never quite recovered its original racist connotations.

It’s time to take Reddit back. It’s all too easy for its administrators to sit on their hands and say they’re facilitating freedom of speech, but we know that’s nonsense. Allowing groups like this to exist allows their hatred to spread. The_Donald has pushed over and over to get its content to the front page of Reddit, so that new unsuspecting users see it when they come to the site and get drawn in. This is a simple choice. Reddit needs to act now, and stop providing a fermenting vat for hatred.