March 6, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall
He may not have realized it at the time, but Glen A. Larson was beautifully subversive.
Check out his list of writing credits on IMDB. Among other notable things, he was the creator of a plethora of classic television shows, including Magnum P.I., Quincy M.E., and B.J. & The Bear, as well as many shows without initials in the title, such as Knight Rider, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, The Fall Guy, Manimal, and (most significantly) Battlestar Galactica.
The man was prolific, but it was Battlestar Galactica that triggered in me a realization about language and how people use and fear it. In order for the characters to express frustration, within the context of a society that developed somewhere other than Earth, he created words that implied certain meanings simply by the way they were used.
He came up with “Felgercarb” which was roughly synonymous with “Goddammit” and “Frak” which was clearly a substitute for a word that doesn’t sound all that different.
And that’s the really interesting part. On the original Battlestar Galactica TV series (as well as the spin-off movies/series), the word “Frak” had some semi-regular use, usually just simply exclamations such as “Oh, frak.”
The network censors didn’t bat an eye. It was treated basically as family-friendly substitute word, much the way “darn” stands in for “damn” in old Disney movies.
Years later, when Galactica was revamped, reimagined, re-everythinged, the writers took the use of “Frak” to a whole new level. They used the word in every possible context, eliminated any tiny, lingering question as to what the word actually means.
“What the frak is that?”
“Did you frak her?”
“Go frak yourself.”
“The frakking frakkers are frakked.”
Not a peep from the censors.
(In recent years, the homonym “Fracking” has been controversially in the news, but it has a different spelling and a very different meaning. “Fracking” can be defined as a financially profitable way for a small number of people to make a large number of people’s kitchen faucets breathe fire and possibly kill them.
Fracking is very unpopular. Frakking, not so much.)
So, clearly, the diverse meanings and uses for the original word are not what triggers offense in some people. Nor is it, apparently, the audio impact of the hard “K” sound at the end. What is it about that specific gathering of four letters that makes people gasp in shock?
And just so there’s no confusion, the word we’re talking about is “Fuck,” a word whose mere utterance offends some people in an indefinable way.
People are funny that way. They will choose words that make them uncomfortable, but they can’t really explain why. I know someone who is not at all comfortable with the word “moist” although that particular type of towelette is readily available at any restaurant that serves chicken wings. But when asked why the word bothers her, the best she can manage is to make a spasm-face and say, “Blehhh.”
Which really doesn’t clarify the matter at all.
If you are one of the people who is bothered or offended by the F-word mentioned above, I have a question for you.
I’m not mocking you; I am genuinely curious. Can you present a rational, reasoned argument for labeling that word as “rude,” an argument that does not involve some variation on saying, “Somebody told me it was”?
If you can’t, then perhaps it’s time to stop teaching our children to shun harmless words, and instead start teaching them to shun actions that can be very harmful indeed.
And while we’re at it, as always, try to be nice to each other.