Cursing the Void (or ‘Swearing in Science Fiction’).

Something you might have noticed if you’re a fan of science fiction is the introduction of property specific expletives. From ‘Frack’ (Battlestar Galactica) to ‘Feth’ (Dan Abnett’s Gaunts Ghosts novels) or ‘Frell’ (Farscape). Such an approach goes back possibly to the 1970’s when ‘Frack’ and ‘Shazbot’ appeared in Battlestar and Mork and Mindy respectively. ‘Frack’, or ‘Frak’ itself shows one approach to such property based swears, it’s a simple, harsh sound not too dissimilar from a well know profanity while ‘Feth’, similar in structure, has the added background within the story of referring to a wood spirit know in the native culture for mischief and pranks.

In many cases the replacement of traditional profanity (especially in TV shows) was a ploy to allow the shows to be aired earlier in the day. I certainly remember watching the original Battlestar on BBC2 at Six o’clock in the evenings when the watershed would have prohibited the use of language we’d consider mild by modern standards. Outside of the general discussion about profanity in media, where science fiction is concerned , there’s  an argument that ‘nonsense’ words are a ‘dumbing down’ of language. That by making up fitting oaths the author is playing the audience for less intelligent than they are. There’s also an argument that, by developing their own swears, the writer is immersing the audience in the new culture or society that they’ve created. As with most discussions there are supporters for either side and the debate rolls on (See: Profanity in science fiction – Wikipedia).

For myself, as I get deeper into my Science Fiction story I feel an urge to replace conventional swear-words as an effort to step away from what they represent. Many of the slurs and slanders in common use in our world seem to me to be outdated anyway. The things they refer to based upon prejudices which we, as a whole, should be stepping away from and, with the setting and story as it develops only featuring but few humans, most of them don’t really apply. That’s not to say I don’t want my characters to swear (or more likely be sworn at) but I’m not going ahead with the assumption that every species in the galaxy finds the same things offensive that we do (Douglas Adams, in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, humorously wrote that ‘Belgium’ is the worst profanity in the galaxy). I also wanted to introduce concepts that would apply universally to every sentient species in my setting so profanities that rely upon gender, genitalia or disparity between human cultures aren’t applicable here.

Provisionally I have settled very firmly on the threat of space itself, the infinite void that surrounds every planet, space station and ship, and the danger that it presents to any individual unfortunate to be thrown into it unprepared. To date I have ‘Vacc’ as in “Get vacced!” (or, “Go throw yourself into space!”) and ‘Void’; in use, “Go suck void!” (or, “Test your lung capacity against the infinite void!”). I’m sure more will come and they may well be based in species physiology and propelled by a sense that ‘what we evolved from is better than what you evolved from’ between alien races but I am determined, with the opportunity I have, to try and develop some more innovative ways for my characters to curse each other out within this setting.

I mean, I’m not against swearing as a concept, but there’s no reason to be vulgar about it.

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