I remember loving the original Battlestar Galactica TV series back when I was a kid. I even read Glen A. Larson’s novelization of the pilot episode. One of the things I remembered even years later was the euphemistic expletive “felgercarb.” I thought it was funny. Years later, as I looked back on it, I realized the word didn’t really feel like an expletive. They call expletives “four-letter words” for a reason: they tend to be short, Anglo-Saxonish words (although they will often be expanded for emphasis), and “felgercarb” just doesn’t have the right feel. (That’s probably why it never caught on as a euphemism among Latter-Day Saint youth, unlike a couple of shorter words beginning with F: “flip” and “fetch.”)
The new Battlestar Galactica series figured that out, and Felgercarb appears in it only as a brand of toothpaste.
There was another euphemism used in the original series, and that one got more use in the new series. They shortened the spelling from “frack” to “frak,” presumably to give it that four-letter cachet. The way in which it was used changed, too: while in the original series it was used in situations where it might be considered analogous to “crap,” in the new series it was used the same way as the actual F-word in American culture. And “frak” has caught on within SF fandom in a way that “felgercarb” and “frack” never did.
All that’s merely a roundabout way of getting to my topic: fictional swear words and/or swear words in fiction.
It may surprise you (if you’ve led an extremely sheltered life), but there are some authors who choose to use swear words in their fiction. I’m not going to argue with that choice. If a book contains more swearing than I want to read, I just won’t read it.
However, some authors with whom I have discussed the issue of swearing insist that the use of swear words in fiction is necessary, because that’s how people really talk, and therefore realism demands that characters use swear words, too. They take the position that authors who do not write swear words into dialogue when a character would swear are not accurately portraying their characters.
In my opinion, that’s a bucketload of felgercarb.
First, let’s dispose of the realism argument. Dialogue in fiction is almost never an accurate portrayal of how people actually talk. Unless an author is including all the hems and haws, the ums and ers, the likes and you-knows and all the other verbal tics that real people litter throughout their speech, then they cannot justify requiring swear words on that basis.
Second, no one has the right to tell me that I’m inaccurately portraying my own characters if they do not swear. For all anyone else knows, I’ve given my characters electroshock treatment, zapping them with high voltages every time they swear, so that by the time I’m ready to start writing about them, they know better than to swear in print. They are my characters, in my story, so I get to decide whether they use swear words in their dialogue.
Just to be clear, I’m not condemning anyone for including swear words in their fiction. I’m just providing a counterpoint to those who claim it is somehow required.
Even if you have a character who swears, if you as the author do not wish to include the actual swear words in your fiction, there are ways around it. For example, “He swore” or “She let out a stream of profanities that would make a sailor blush.”
As a more sophisticated example, when Spencer Ellsworth’s story “The Devil’s Rematch” was accepted at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, it included a certain racial epithet which characters in a Southern setting quite realistically might have used. After agreeing to remove it, Spencer eliminated it by doing things like this:
Bill sucked in a deep breath with the tang of that moonshine and set down the cup. “Ain’t this just like a –” well, I ain’t gonna repeat where he went after that for a bit. Used a few words that ain’t fit for polite company no more.
Science fiction and fantasy authors also have the option of making up their own euphemistic swear words. If you choose that route, though, just be sure you come up with something that works better than “felgercarb.”
(Hat tip to the Battlestar Galactic Wiki as a research source.)