I should have realized that alluding to science fiction in any way was
likely to elicit e-mail, and sure enough that's what happened when my
on the ridiculous modesty of the New York Times
swearwords in the writing of Larry Niven and on the television shows
Farscape and Red Dwarf. So now, a few items of interest from two
other shows, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.
Along the way, I stumbled across a WikiWikiWeb page
"fake cuss word", with a variety of examples from science fiction, and
more. Smegging amazing place, the web.
By the way, correspondent Nate Dorward twitted me about my use of "sci
fi" in that posting, noting that "sci fi" (or "sci-fi" or "scifi") is
"apparently offensive to the ears of science fiction fans, who always
use 's.f.'" (or "S.F.", "sf", or "SF", I add). An
inspection of the Terminology section of the Wikipedia
on science fiction reveals that Dorward's formulation is
too absolute; a lot of science fiction fans and writers detest
"sci-fi", others seem not to mind it, and some make a distinction
between the genres of SF and sci-fi. Meanwhile, we have things
like the Sci-Fi Channel in the U.S. and Sci-Fi London, "the UK's only
dedicated SF and Fantasy film festival". It's a usage morass out
there in space.
On to Battlestar Galactica. Yesterday Bruce Webster and Chris
Reaves both pointed out the use of "frak" (so spelled in its entry
in the BG
wiki) in the series as a replacement for "fuck", in all of its uses,
including "motherfrakker", modifying "frakkin'", exclamatory "oh,
frak!", "frak you!", and the literal "frakked" 'had sexual intercourse
with'. This one is especially nice, since it's phonologically
very close to both "fuck" and "frig" (which some people view as a
downtoned substitute for "fuck", and others -- John Cowan, among them
-- view as significantly worse than "fuck"; "mysterious are the ways of
taboo", as Cowan wrote to me last September). Webster even caught
it migrating out of the science fiction world and into this season's
opening episode of Scrubs, where Dr. Elliott Reed used it to express
frustration. For all I know, little kids are using "frak" as a
coded obscenity -- delicious, because it's just barely coded at all.
(Webster also reports "a long-established subculture of f-word
substitutions among Latter-day Saint (Mormon) males in their teens and
twenties; the two most common are 'flip' and 'fetch'.")
Soon after the "frak"-sightings came Noah Silbert and Hakim Cassimally,
with some wonderful stuff from the Firefly series, which uses "goram"
as an all-purpose replacement for "goddamn" (from which it is obviously
derived), a series of curses in Chinese, and "rutting" as a synonym for
"fucking". Silbert wanted to see "goram" as derived from
"goddamn" via a sound change imagined by Joss Whedon; I thought this
was stretching things a bit, but maybe somebody will get the
opportunity to ask Whedon some day.
With these reports, I leave the world of cursing and swearing in
science fiction. Here's a small sampling from that world.
If you want more, go to the "fake cuss words" page. (And if
you're a Firefly fan, add "goram" to the page. It wasn't there
the last time I looked.)
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at June 7, 2006 06:03 PM