Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Author: Anthony Burgess
Work in Question: A Clockwork Orange
The Profanity: “Yarbles”
The evolution of language is a large part of profanity. What is considered obscene changes over the years, and can seem silly to following generations. One of the most famous examples of this was the word “leg” which, during the Victorian era, was considered obscene. (“Limb” became the de-facto replacement when discussing one’s extremities.) It’s strange to think about now, but that evolution influences the effectiveness of profanity. It’s very much a product of its time. That same evolution should apply to fictional swearing as well.
Enter “yarbles,” Anthony Burgess’ offering into the lexicon of faux-profanity. Uttered by the milkplus-fueled street toughs who prowl the streets of a retro-futuristic London, this word is used as a vulgarity for male genitalia. Burgess, a linguist as well as a writer, based much of the unique language in a Russian-influenced argot he called “Nadsat” (which translates to -teen). “Yarbles” is based on the Russian word аблоко (jabloko) which translates as “apple.” Within English, we often see words get anglicized as they shift and change over time. With that anglicization, a word will inherit new pronunciations and often evolve new meanings. We see that with “yarbles.”
“Yarbles,” as a result, is subversive—so perfect that they slapped it on the first edition cover! It carries that hint of naughtiness which sharpens its use as a vulgarity. It has a history and an evolution. Its visceral nature fits within the context of the novel, and it’s wielded perfectly by the book’s protagonist, Alex. In almost every way, it can be viewed as a gold standard for faux-profanity.
Previous Raunch Reviews
- “Cuss” from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
- “Feth” from Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts from Warhammer 40k
- “Shazbot” from Garry Marshall’s Mork & Mindy and Dynamix’s Starsiege: Tribes
- “Seven Hells” from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
- “Mudblood” from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
- “Frak” from Glen A. Larson’s, Ronald D. Moore’s, & David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica
- “Jabber” from China Miéville’s Bas-Lag series
- “Storm it”/”Storms”/”Storming” from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.