The Ten Best Science Fiction Profanities

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 8:00 am

5) "Grahzny Bratchny" (A Clockwork Orange).
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Few visions of the future center around language as much as Anthony Burgess' essential novella A Clockwork Orange, and in "Nadsat" it still has one of the most expertly constructed alternate fictional dialects ever imagined, a flavorful blend of Cockney English, Russian and childish gibberish. Examples of memorable phrases abound, from "rassoodocks" to "yarblockos", but for our purposes there's no beating this one, which of course is derived from Russian and translates to "dirty bastard". I don't actually think this particular phrase made it into the film, despite the fact that Kubrick used the book instead of a screenplay for much of shooting. All the same, it's a very catchy phrase, and reflects the dark verbal playfulness of this invented language in its familiar sing-songy rhythm. And it's also the name of a band, so there you go.

4) "Frell" (Farscape).

In English, most of the more popular curses tend to employ hard consonants, so the concept of a vociferous swear with a soft "l" sound does seem strange to Westerners ("hell" doesn't really cut it. "Balls" is the only one that comes close, in my opinion). But then, astronaut John Crichton was lost in an alien universe with mysterious rules he didn't understand at first, even with the handy translator microbes. The vocabulary of Farscape helped enforce the strangeness of these surroundings, especially when it came to profanity. Throughout the entirety of the show's run we had the chance to hear many different terms, ranging from parts of the anatomy to insults to words that just sound a lot like "fuck". "Frell" is a little different, but it's neat to see how the actors are able to make it sound just like its Earthly cousin despite the lack of the sort of pleasing "k" sound we expect. A rare but significant victory for lateral articulation, for all my linguistics readers out there.

3) "Nerf herder" (Star Wars).

This one always made me imagine a little guy with a staff leading sentient yellow foam balls around in the desert (that's got to be a Tee Fury shirt somewhere). Regardless, Princess Leia's classic rebuff to the insolence of Han Solo makes emotional sense even if you have no clue what a nerf is supposed to be or how you herd it. You'll be interested to know that according to the greater Star Wars universe, the nerf is pretty much what you think it is, if you think it's an acid-dripping space yak that makes great sausage. For the record, their herders are proud and industrious folk not entirely deserving of the negative connotations. Another fan favorite obscenity from the Star Wars universe is the ever-popular "fierfek", but it just doesn't have quite the same cultural legacy.

2) Smeg (Red Dwarf).

Depending on who you talk to, this is either a brand of refrigerators or one of the best futuristic invectives ever; chances are heavily in favor of the latter. Red Dwarf spawned many colorful slang terms during its 25-year run, and words like gimboid, goit, modo, and twonk are all surely cornerstones of the 23rd century's urban dictionary. The greatest of these is not hop, but smeg, a word that's so much fun to say it's kind of become a real swear. The derivations are nearly endless: you can tell someone to smeg off, call them a smeghead, command them to shut the smeg up, or simply exclaim "smegging hell!" in a moment of duress. It was a key element of the show's lifeblood throughout the series, and some uses that occurred in the later episodes were quite inventive. Who could forget Lister introducing himself to a medieval king in a VR simulation as "Sir Lister of Smeg"? Or the Dwarf-themed version of a popular cooking show entitled "Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg"? Smegging classic.

But out of all of these, the moment that stands out the most is guilt-ridden mechanoid Kryten's inability to use the word to insult Rimmer, only managing to call him a "smee hee". Despite what it sounds like, this usage probably doesn't have anything to do with the biological substance known as smegma, at least not intentionally, and series creators Doug Grant and Rob Naylor claim that the name does indeed come from the appliance company (the phrase "smeg head" would seem to suggest otherwise). Assuming Esperanto doesn't become the language of the future, here's one thing we all have to look forward to in the next three million years.

1) "Frak" (Battlestar Galactica).

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Generally speaking, the human civilizations of the Battlestar universe really didn't differ that much from the ones they would create: you would think more would change over the course of centuries than the invention of page corners. "Frak" was one of the more noticeable differences, so satisfying and recognizable, yet clearly not of Earthly origin. Conceived for the original 1970 series of Battlestar Galactica, it was popularized in the re-imagined Ronald D. Moore version, where it got its four-letter spelling and much more screentime. It was a convenient way to circumvent the censors and allowed the intensity of the series' drama to hit home (let's just hope the Capricans never discovered a certain potentially dangerous method of extracting natural gas; otherwise things could have become quite confusing).

One of the more memorable real life (mis)uses of "frak" came when KFC temporarily launched an ill-advised tie-in titled "the Frak Pack" (which, as Rob pointed out, really just means "fuck pack"). The "Frak Pack" would also have been a clever way to refer to the Battlestar Galactica cast had they stayed together and made a bunch of era-defining movies with an 80's soundtrack. Ah, well. Though the glory days of Edward James Olmos looking dour in the CIC may be well behind us, we can all still enjoy this piece of linguistic cleverness and thank the profanity gods that someone figured out a functional way to bring the fine practice of swearing into the fight against the Cylons. So say we all.


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