A Guide to Cussing in Alternative Universes

No, this isn’t a blog biography of Gene Hackman.

While our culture’s realistic books and movies are sometimes jam-packed with every cuss word under the sun, it is the fantasy worlds we so love to escape to that often give us words that flit somewhere between dangerously corny and delightfully fun to say. Being someone that doesn’t cuss very often, it is always a treat to get hold of a new word from fantasy and drop it into casual conversations. Sometimes, I’m so ingrained in the fantasy world that it comes out in daily conversation. Sometimes people stare. Sometimes.

My first experience with the alternative cuss word of a far-off galaxy came in the form of Spongebob Squarepants. The genius writers of one of Nickelodeon’s most successful cartoons did a wonderful job removing well-known cuss words without removing the “I’m clearly cursing something right now” element. When Spongebob stubs his toe or forgets to do something or is terrorized by Plankton, it is common to hear him shout, “Oh, barnacles!” What an easy, kid-friendly replacement for cursing.

Sometimes, simple changes are the most natural and hilarious. In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, writers replaced cussing with… well, cussing. In a scene between Badger and Mr. Fox, we get to see the full extent of their verbal weaponry:

Badger: In summation, I think you just got to not do it, man. That’s all.

Mr. Fox: I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.

Badger: The cuss you are.

Mr. Fox: The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?

Badger: No, you cussing with me?

Mr. Fox: Don’t cussing point at me!

Badger: If you’re gonna cuss with somebody, you’re not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!

Again, not particularly in your face and a wonderful replacement to make a movie accessible and fitting within the universe of thieving foxes and talking badgers. But what about the truly alternative worlds? That’s where the necessity for newer and differently-originated cuss words comes from. We have our world and our languages and they developed a certain way. But if I’m diving into a different universe with different people and languages and development, well, they’re not going to have some of the same words. We suspend reality for certain things, but we also are forced to get creative when imagining how someone would curse in our sub-created universe. Here are some great examples I’ve encountered in my own reading:

1. Bloodydamn- Not too far from the beaten path, but a slight adjustment to a common word bleeds originality into the cuss words of Pierce Brown’s characters in Red Rising. As he would say, you’ll bloodydamn love his book.

2. ‘Kent-kissing- The inspiration for this post! I’ve been reading Brian Staveley’s new book, The Emperor’s Blades. In it, characters toss this word around in necessary situations (Example: I need a ‘Kent-kissing break from my ‘Kent-kissing job).

3. Belgium – In A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Belgium is “completely banned in all parts of the Galaxy, except in one part, where they don’t know what it means, and in serious screenplays.” To direct this word at someone else is both unthinkable and, if we’re honest, hilarious.

4. Merlin’s beard!- Just one of many clever twists in J.K. Rowling’s world, but the ancient and well-known wizard finds himself inserted into the cursing of modern day wizards in both this and the also-popular, “Merlin’s pants!”

5. Frak-  Perhaps the most popular and well-known cuss word in fictional universes, this sanitized Battlestar Galactica TV swear word may be the nerdiest and most used of them all.

So, what are some of your favorite alternative cuss words? Or how have you seen fantasy language impacted by world and setting? Thanks for reading!

Are You Still Listening?

Pandora asks us this question all the time. Enough songs are played without any response, and the website wonders, “Are you still listening? Are you there? Are you appreciating the music? Are you taking this all in?”

I’ve had that question stuck in my head over the past few weeks. It’s an important one to ask ourselves in a society that demands to be listened to, demands to be heard. It’s an important question to ask when we make new friends or deal with co-workers. Listening, it turns out, is one of the least selfish things we can do every day. Here are my observations of brokenness in school when it comes to “being heard”:

1. Some students walk through the hallways for the entire lunch, because it’s harder to tell you’re alone when it looks like you’re going somewhere.

2. Some students randomly show me the art they’ve been working on, because they haven’t been heard in so long that they’re using drawings to break through, to be seen, noticed.

3. Some students talk to me about Madden or Dragonball Z, because their parents only ever ask them about grades and “important stuff”.

4. Some students have figured out that the only way an adult will listen is if they get into trouble. So they rebel. They flip desks or make inappropriate jokes or fling cuss words like rocks that are too big for them. But at least someone’s paying attention to them.

5. Some students were told, as in Anis Mojgani’s poem, “Speak only when you’re spoken to, but then they’re never spoken to.” And so they’re just waiting, waiting, waiting. Eventually, a search party will be needed to find the voices that have been missing for too long.

So… it’s one thing to point out a problem, but how do we fix this? How do we dynamically change who we are? I’m the worst at this… as a teacher, I have so much to do. I’m supposed to be typing emails or calling parents or grading essays during the time that Jimmy wants to talk about his favorite movie or Susie wants to ask a question about her writing. So how do we make time? More importantly, how do we actually listen to the people around us?

1. Be present. If someone’s talking to you, listen. If you find yourself wanting to share your story or thought or idea so much that it’s drowning out what they’re saying, so much so that you’re mentally hurrying them to finish their point… check yourself.

2. Ask questions. There are people that are quite good at this. It is one thing to say, “How are you?” as you pass by in the hallway. It is another thing to plant your feet and ask if the person is doing well, or to ask what they’ve been doing lately. When you plant your feet, when you ask questions but also make it clear that you’re day won’t continue on until you get a few answers, people like that.

3. Appreciate the music. We listen to Pandora because we love music. A good tune, a good song, good lyrics, whatever. Do you know why God made all these people? Do you know how precious they are? Do you know how each creation is a beautiful song? In Psalm 98:8 it says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” People are far more precious to God than music is to us. Start appreciating the music of other people. Conversations aren’t a burden, they’re an offering, a joy.

4. Remember. Are you taking it all in? We notice when people listen to us, and we especially notice when people don’t. Even the most humble of people feel a sting when they have to remind you again of their name, or their occupation, or their passions. It is not easy to share ourselves, it’s even more difficult when we get burned in the process.

5. Are you still listening? Do you still find yourself listening to others? Or has your world shifted back into yourself. I catch myself a lot of the time. I’ll have whole weeks where I care far more about what I have going on than anyone else. On those days or weeks or months, I find myself slogging back through the mud to get out of the trap I’ve set up. If you find yourself in the same spot, go back. A self-oriented life is like quicksand.

6. I’d do an injustice to “listening” if I didn’t suggest listening to God. This is a hard one. We so often go to God with requests or complaints. It’s hard to orient ourselves into a position of listening. The best ways I’ve found to do this (all of which I struggle to do consistently)… stop your day. Take time to be still. Find quieter places, rooms. Read the Bible (some parts may seem louder than others, but God’s whispers and shouts are both worthy of being heard). Listen to sermons. Remember that He wants to draw near to you.

The next time Pandora asks you, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a student, or a child, or a brother, or a mother, or God…

Are you still listening?

Say yes.