June 07, 2006

Goram motherfrakker!

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 latest posting on the ridiculous modesty of the New York Times mentioned invented 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 on "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 article 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