Profanity in Science Fiction
Okay, there are far more than seven and as you’ll see there’s nothing to stop writers using them or making up even more of them but the title’s an allusion to comedian George Carlin 1972 monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. This is an article about profanity in Science Fiction…
Flip you, melon farmer!
Red Dwarf: ‘Smeg-head’ and ‘Why don’t you smegging-well smeg off, you annoying little smeggy smegging smegger!’ ‘Goit’
Judge Dredd: Drok! Stom!
Sinister Dexter: Ay, Vayase! Funt and smugfunt.
Battlestar Galactica: Frack!
Planet of the Apes: ”God damn them all to Hell!”
Firefly and the Art of Multilingual Profanity
One way around the taboo is to have characters use profanities from other languages, such as Jean-Luc Picard’s ‘Merde!’ in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here, the word serves as a signifier of Picard’s nominal ethnicity as well as an expression of emotion.
Ditto Miles O’Brien’s ‘Oh, bollocks!’ in the Deep Space Nine episode Time’s Orphan.
Joss Whedon used mild British swear words not generally recognised as such in the USA in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance in the episode Tabula Rasa in which our protagonists – including English ‘Watcher’ Giles and English Vampire Spike – suffer temporary amnesia:
GILES: Magic! Magic’s all balderdash and chicanery. I’m afraid we don’t know a bloody thing. Except I seem to be British, don’t I? Uh, and a man. With … glasses. Well, that narrows it down considerably.
SPIKE: Oh, listen to Mary Poppins. He’s got his crust all stiff and upper with that nancy-boy accent. You Englishmen are always so… Bloody hell! Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks, oh God! I’m English!
GILES: Welcome to the nancy tribe.
However, the most complex use of foreign profaniteies can be found in Whedon’s short-lived space opera Firefly:
Stupid Son of a Drooling Whore and a Monkey
流口水的婊子和猴子的笨兒子 (Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze)
Filthy Fornicators of Livestock
喝畜生雜交的髒貨 (Huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo)
Frog-Humping Son of a Bitch
青蛙操的流氓 (Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng
Motherless Goats of All Motherless Goats
羔羊中的孤羊 (Gao yang jong duh goo yang)
吸牛 (Shee-niou). As in ”吸牛 high-tech Alliance crap!”
A Baboon’s Asshole
狒狒的屁眼 (FAY-FAY duh PEE-yen) Jayne, in the episode War Stories
The Explosive Diarrhea of an Elephant
大象爆炸式的拉肚子 (Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze)
Geeks, Chiggers & Skinjobs
Science fiction increases the scope for racial epithets because it increases the number of races.
The VCs: Geek. Space: Above and Beyond: Chiggers.
Human beings: The VCs: ‘Earthworms
Expletives as Signifier of Taboo
Taboo words are always a useful pointer to a society’s cultural values and Ursula Le Guin‘s Pravic from The Dispossesssed (1972) is no exception. Pravic has has no word for ‘bastard’ as the Annari have no concept of marriage. Reflecting the body metaphors of the analogic mode he Annari are characteristically blunt regarding bodily functions such as defecation; their word for ‘toilet room’ translates as ‘the shittery’ while the toilet itself is referred to as the ‘shit-stool’. The Annari ‘copulate’ rather than ‘have sex’ with each other since to ‘have’ implies ownership; the closest they have to ‘fuck’ translates as ‘rape’ (which does exist on Annares). Although the novel alludes to religion on Annares (the Fourth mode) there is no blasphemy as there are no authoritarian gods, nor is there a Hell into which one can be ‘damned’.
Annares is a largely subsistance level society and excessive luxury or profligate behaviour is regarded as ‘excrement’ in the analogic mode. The most insulting words in Pravic are reserved for unacceptablly selfish and anti-collectivist behaviour like ‘egotism’, while the most insulting terms of abuse are ‘propertarian’ and ‘profiteer’.
The Very Worst Profanity in the Universe
NARRATOR: In today’s modern Galaxy there is, of course, very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and, in extreme cases, shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed, and totally unf [bleep!] ked-up personality. So, for instance, when in a recent national speech, the financial minister of the Royal World Estate of Qualvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another, and the fact that no one had made any food for awhile and the king seemed to have died, and that most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy had now arrived at what he called, “One whole juju-flop situation,” everyone was so pleased he felt able to come out and say it, that they quite failed to notice that their five-thousand-year-old civilisation had just collapsed overnight. But though even words like “juju-flop,” “swut,” and “turlingdrome” are now perfectly acceptable in common usage, there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the galaxy except one – where they don’t know what it means. That word is “Belgium” and it is only ever used by loose-tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation. Such as…
FORD: … and I’ll tell you another interesting thing.
ZAPHOD: I don’t want to be interested! I don’t want to be stimulated or relaxed, or have my horizon’s broadened, I just want to be rescued Ford! I just want to be swutting-well rescued!
FORD: Well I’m sorry, I’ve told you: no way.
ZAPHOD: Oh, Belgium man, Belgium!
- Adams, Douglas (1979) The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
- Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange
- Daniels, James (2010) Firefly’s 15 Best Uses of Chinese Profanity
- Le Guin, Ursula (1972) The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia