Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Raunch Review: Blade Runner

Raunch Review: Blade Runner

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.


Raunch Review: Blade Runner
Raunch Review: Blade Runner
The Author: Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
Work in Question: Blade Runner
The Profanity: “Skin job”

Dehumanizing or bigoted slurs have been prevalent throughout history. And they’re still with us today. Even in recent dialog, we’ve seen the powerful employing precise language in a manner to strip away someone’s value. It’s not a new phenomenon. I believe the best fiction serves as a mirror forcing those engaging with it to confront some of the uglier sides of humankind.

Blade Runner’s existential questions surrounding life and humanity and its fundamental question of “what makes us human” is why the faux-profanity “skin job” works so well. In concept, it combines that existentialist question with the bigoted language and aims it at the android replicants in the story.

Like “prawn” from District 9, “skin job” is born from fear and designed to dehumanize. This is why we see it wielded by the powerful to imply that replicants are less than human. Language is a powerful factor in creating “the other.” It allows our brains to trigger differently. It’s why we nickname enemies; it’s easier to kill a nickname than it is to kill a human with thoughts, dreams, and desires. By calling replicants “skin jobs,” one can logically make the leap that they’re disposable and easily replaceable.

Abusive language quickly leads to dehumanization, and dehumanization leads to atrocities. We see that in Blade Runner as much as we do in the world at large. It’s why “skin job” works so well, and it’s why it stings to hear it spoken out loud.

Score: Half Swear (4.5)

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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.


Raunch Review: Babylon 5

Raunch Review: Babylon 5

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.


Raunch Review: Babylon 5
Raunch Review: Babylon 5
The Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Work in Question: Babylon 5
The Profanity: “Frag”

Look, it gives me no great pleasure in going after an incredible and beloved science fiction show for faux-profanity related gaffs. And it’s no secret that censor-slips aren’t looked at too kindly around here. But they’re familiar, and if I have to deal with them, you do as well. It’s in the rules or something. Babylon 5’s “frag” is yet one more embarrassment in a long-running tradition among television, so we all knew it’d eventually have its day.

We all know what’s implied. It’s not cute, nor is it all that clever. With one notable exception (“Shazbot”), censor-slips tend to be unimaginative and lazy, and we see that here as well. Four letter word, starts with “f,” you get the idea—nudge nudge, wink wink.

But, “Frag” is worse. Since the Vietnam War, it has become common military slang—and because this is a show with a substantial military theme, we see it used as both a censor slip and in its traditional sense. Which only makes it weirder and adds in awkwardness. It’s easy to see the ingredients that lead to it, but in the end, it does little to enhance the universe of Babylon 5—if anything, its mishmash use takes something away, and that’s the worst disservice dialog can perform within a story.

Score: Half Swear (0.5)

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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 it’ll take a little while before it ends up here. I have a lot of books to read.


Raunch Review: Firefly

Raunch Review: Firefly

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.


Raunch Review: Firefly
Raunch Review: Firefly
The Author: Joss Whedon
Work in Question: Firefly
The Profanity: “Gorram”

Joss Whedon’s much-beloved Firefly did a lot of fascinating things with language. The mixing of refined Mandarin Chinese with backcountry dialects helped layer a world with a myriad of linguistic possibilities. Throughout the series, we see this intermingling of language with many characters shifting between English and Mandarin as they talk. While many bits of “profanity” are uttered in Mandarin, the word we’re looking at today isn’t one of them.

The minced oath “gorram” crops up a lot. Unlike the interplay of language, this term happens to be more of an exploration of linguistic drift borrowing from a more blasphemous origin and becoming a bit of a minced oath. (Not unlike “by golly,” “gadzooks,” “holy moley,” and “jeepers,” before it.) From a language standpoint, drift is essential. The English we speak today would sound like a foreign language to English speakers from five hundred years ago. So it’s easy to see how five hundred years in the future common parlance has shifted and corrupted further. Language tends to drift towards ease—words are simplified and shortened; binary becoming singular is a common occurrence. We see that with “gorram”—a drifting portmanteau of “god” and “damnation.”

As it stands as both a minced oath, a curse, and an example of linguistic drift “gorram” is a fantastic example of faux profanity. While you couldn’t do it for the entire show—it’d be impossible to understand—it’s nice to see little touches like this sprinkled throughout. They help a world feel as though it’s evolved; it gives it a sense of history.

So “gorram” does Firefly justice. But, you might be interested to know while generally attributed to Firefly, that short-run series wasn’t the first use of “gorram” in the English lexicon. Its origins are actually much older.

Score: Half Swear (5.0)

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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.


Raunch Review: District 9

Raunch Review: District 9

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.


Raunch Review: District 9
Raunch Review: District 9
The Author: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Work in Question: District 9
The Profanity: “Prawn”

Often when standard words are used as faux-profanity, they tend to rate poorly. But, today we’ll see where those common words can become an exception.

In the world of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, alien refugees arrived on earth above Johannesburg, South Africa circa 1982. Thirty years later, the aliens live in an enormous slum outside of the city. The lessons in the story are immediately apparent; this is a movie about xenophobia, bigotry, classism, and segregation. Even the title, District 9, is a not-so-subtle reference to the notorious District Six that existed in Cape Town during South Africa’s apartheid. These themes are an undercurrent to the plot. It’s evident in the way aliens are treated, and we see it in the language surrounding them. The word “prawn” is used as a slur to refer to the bug-like aliens— “prawn” also happens to be the name for a large African cricket. One that’s considered a pest. The symbolism is easy to see.

Racist slurs and bigoted epithets are designed to dehumanize. The moment one can think of someone else as an “other” is the moment you no longer have to care about their well being. It removes empathy. It dissuades guilt. The victim ceases to be a person. We see that at work here. This is why the use of “prawn” in this context is so pernicious. By calling the aliens “prawns,” the humans in the story don’t have to see them as people. They’re just big bugs. Why do they deserve respect? Why do they deserve a voice? After all, they’re just a bunch of stupid criminals draining the resources of the state—they’re only pests.

One of the jobs of fiction is to shine a mirror on society, to force us to reflect on our successes and ponder our failures. Faux-profanity can do that as well, building a world and giving it a bite, and in the case of District 9, it does so with aplomb.

Score: Half Swear (5.0)

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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.


Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle

Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle

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.


Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle
Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle
The Author: K. M. Alexander
Work in Question: The Bell Forging Cycle
The Profanity: “By the Firsts”

Sometimes you need to taste your own medicine, and here I am tasting mine. I’m proud of the strange and wonderful world of the Territories. I think it’s different and unique and yet in exploring those differences, it remains approachable. Although I believe my worldbuilding is excellent, I sometimes find myself wishing I had pushed it a bit further.

I feel this particularly in regards to language, and especially with the declarative: “By the Firsts.” It’s a fairly standard pseudo-oath and is used throughout the series. But it lacks the punch it should have—the Firsts, within the context of the story, have faded into myth and legend. The few who have transcended into deity status aren’t considered Firsts by the time the book rolls around. The word itself is also quite common, “firsts” holds no sacred place in the lexicon. So, it fails at being faux-blasphemous. (I’m not doing so well.)

If anything, the phrase ranks as a minced oath. This isn’t uncommon in language drift—we see it all the time as language evolves. Take “by Jove”—“pro Iovem,” in Latin—it means “By Jupiter,” but by the time it caught on Jupiter was myth. The phrase had long ceased being blasphemous. For minced oaths to truly work, the original intent needs to be hidden, often by layers. While “by the First,” is intended to follow a similar cadence, it lacks the obscurity that makes minced oaths so prevalent.

So, I earn some points with the minced roots. But overall it’s a low score for me. It’s always fun and enlightening to look at your own work, and being able to discuss successes and failures is essential for any growth. I would have done much better had I picked “Carter’s cross.” A lot more to unpack there. Perhaps for another time.

Score: Half Swear (2.5)

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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.