Narrative Profanity Filter
: Oh, fudge. Adult Ralphie
(voiceover): Only I didn't say 'fudge'. I said the
word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The "F-dash-dash-dash" word.
So you're writing a book, and one of your characters, for whatever reason, has to swear. Not a problem - unless your intended audience is children or people who are generally against swearing. Is the risk of offending them worth the artistic reward of using exactly
the right word? What can you do?
Easy. Just say that
the character swore, without going into exactly what
There are two ways to go about this. The first way is to use direct dialogue, with a note that the offensive word the character "really" used has been replaced with something tamer. E.g.:
"Do you want me to send the whole blasted army after you?" he snarled. Only "blasted" was not the word he used.
This has the advantage of capturing more of the character's content and phrasing, but only a Lemony Narrator
or a fairly intrusive first-person storyteller can get away with it.
The second way is to use indirect dialogue, more or less avoiding actual details. E.g.:
Carruthers cursed under his breath.
It can also overlap easily with Expospeak Gag
, like so:
This trope shows up in Real Life
, as well, as the source of common phrases like "Bob told Alice where to go
," and "Alice told Bob where he could stick it
Note that both versions involve the character
actually swearing, and the narrator
substituting less offensive language. That is what separates this trope from Unusual Euphemism
, Curse of the Ancients
, and Goshdang It To Heck
, in which the characters themselves use less offensive words rather than swearing. A combination of the two is occasionally used in which a character paraphrases an insult in-universe
, as in:
"She told you to go away. Except... she didn't put it so politely"
See also Foreign Cuss Word
and Pardon My Klingon
, in which actual swearing is portrayed, but is incomprehensible and therefore inoffensive to the reader. And compare Symbol Swearing
. Tactful Translation
is when a translator invokes this
to avoid offending someone. Also note that this is chiefly a Literature
trope. Sound Effect Bleep
and Curse Cut Short
are rough audiovisual-media equivalents, while T-Word Euphemism
is often used for print.
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- In All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder, after the Goddamn Batman throws "Jocko-Boy" Vanzetti into Gotham Harbor and lies that the hallucinogenic substance in his blood will never fade away, a text box reads "Standards of decency prevent us from printing Jocko-Boy's response." Later dialogue involves heavy use of 'fuck' and 'cunt', which raises the question of exactly what Jocko-Boy said that was so much worse.
- An early issue of Young Justice features Superboy being reminded to stop a plane crashing into a crowd. Superboy's response is "Oh, * !", with a text box reading "* Insert current popular but unprintable teen profanity here."
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall example in an early issue of Excalibur, when Arcade captures Courtney Ross:
Arcade: "Be a shame to miss a minute a' the last day o'your life, trey, trey gauche, don'tcha think?"
Courtney Ross: "What I think, Arcade...isn't printable."
- German comic Nick Knatterton: "The ladies accuse each other of having un-ladylike jobs" (during a Cat Fight)
- In the Marvel Boy mini-series, Noh-Varr carves "FUCK YOU" into New York using his space guns as a means of sending a message to Earth and his previous captors. The words itself are never shown in full, however - instead, you see SHIELD agents looking at the damage and noticing that it spells something, with the word "YOU" being shown along with the comment "There's more, sir..."
- For the "replaced the curses with another word" variety: A Christmas Story and "fudge".
- The in-universe version is used in Speed, when the main character is examining the bomb underneath the bus and one of the civilians on the bus is repeating what he says over a radio: the hero swears in shock at something he sees, and the meek-looking office worker instead translates it as "Oh darn".
- From Fargo, an upstanding citizen describing a conversation with a less savory fellow: "So he says, 'So I get it, so you think I'm some kinda jerk for askin',' only he doesn't use the word 'jerk'... And then he calls me a jerk, and says the last guy who thought he was a jerk was dead now. So I don't say nothin' and he says, 'What do ya think about that?' So I says, 'Well, that don't sound like too good a deal for him, then.'"
- The ending of Brick, in a shoutout to the Dashiell Hammet story mentioned below.
- Donnie Darko features an annoying teacher who forces Donnie and the other students to engage in an absurd "character-building" exercise. Donnie rebels and deconstructs the whole exercise, so the teacher simply tells him he will get zero. Donnie's mouth opens and the camera cuts away to Donnie's parents at the principal's office, listening to a droning report on Donnie's behavior. The teacher tells them, "(Donnie) asked me to forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into my anus." Cue a Funny Background Event as Mr. Darko starts laughing and chokes as he tries to hold it back.
- Herman Wouk, in the preface to The Caine Mutiny, assumes that readers will not want a more exact rendering of the sailors' habitual speech, and only notes that they use "horrible profanity". At one point, a CPO gives "vent to a string of profanities which meant roughly 'This is most unusual.'"
- Played with in the Known Space series, where "Bleep" and "Censor" have BECOME swear words. Lucas Garner is extremely smug about actually remembering why.
- In the book Speak, when Melinda is talking with the principal, her parents, and the guidance counselor, the counselor asks if her parents have a strained relationship, and Melinda explained that the father said something that wasn't nice and the mother told her to go to a not-so-nice-place.
- In Kingdom Keepers, Maybeck swears rather frequently. However, it is never stated what he says. For example, in book 2 (I think), he says "Close the freaking door!" (or something to that effect). The very next sentence is "Only he didn't say freaking." They do this frequently. Or they simply say "Maybeck said a word that would have gotten him kicked out of class if he had been in school."
- In Cheaper by the Dozen (or at least the book version), one of the kids calls a neighbor's kid a "son of an unprintable word". Most readers know what this means.
- Later there's "you unprintable son of a ruptured deleted."
- Shows up all the time in the Animorphs books.
I guess Rachel thought the same thing. She slowed down just a little and began yelling and waving her arms. "Come on, come on, you-" And then she said some words I didn't realize Rachel even knew.
- When Marco tells Jake that a kid in their school has found the morphing box, Jake sits bolt upright in the middle of class and says "something you're not supposed to say in school".
- In the third Megamorphs book, the team goes back in time and end up at Princeton during segregation. One of the boys calls Cassie something very offensive. It's not stated, but since she then turns into a polar bear and asks "am I white enough now?"...
- K.A. Applegate in general seems to like this trope, as it also shows up in Everworld. Of particular note is the incident in the fifth book when the resident Emotionless Girl goes Unstoppable Rage.
She erupted in a stream of obscenity, spitting the words at me, eyes bulging, face red, raging, hurling the filthiest insults imaginable. I turned and walked away.
- From The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones:
"Unprintable things!" I said—only I didn't say that. I really said them.
- In Wilkin's Tooth, Buster and his gang used purple, orange, blank language - and they wouldn't be half as menacing if they actually used 'orange', 'purple' or 'blanking'.
- The reason that all of the orcs in The Lord of the Rings spoke like British cadets instead of degenerate monstrous pillagers is that, as the appendix put it, their actual speech was too offensive to bother writing. (As he said, it was "only printable in the higher and artistically more advanced forms of literature".)
- As proof of this, we have the one line of genuine orc speech Tolkien ever actually published. Even the approximate translation still doesn't sound very nice:
Orkish: "Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búb-hosh skai!" Translation: "Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth - pig-guts, gah!" (That was one of the three translations he gave at different times, but all were in the same style.)
- In Great Expectations, there is a scene in which a character's repeated uses of the word "damn" are printed as "bless". It's unclear whether this is censored or whether it's what he's actually saying.
- In For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is full of Spanish-speaking characters, Ernest Hemingway rendered some words as "obscenity" or "unprintable" in dialogue, rather than either translating them or leaving them in Spanish. Hence the famous line: "I obscenity in the milk." Except for the expurgated word, this is a literal translation of the expression "me cago en la leche," which is not censored when the novel includes it in Spanish.
- David Eddings takes this trope and runs with it in The Belgariad and The Malloreon. The only actual curses in the entire series are the God's names like with Durnik's "Belar, Mara and Nedra" (which is described as swearing particularly well), but there are plenty of descriptions of cursing, including shocked reactions from the characters present. The absolute epitome of this is in the exchanges between Beldin and Polgara, which are so epically vulgar that they can drive hardened warriors from the vicinity. It is said that Polgara can curse for hours nonstop, in multiple languages (usually at the same time), without ever repeating herself.
- This appears in Harry Potter, about 50 times a book, usually with Ron doing it (indeed, "Ron swore", often "loudly", might be the Catch Phrase of the whole series), usually followed by Hermione or his mother berating him for it. It's quite effective — readers get the sense that Harry and company are normal teenagers who curse and make rude hand gestures, without it interfering with the story. There's more directly-reported swearing in the later books, reflecting both the Darker and Edgier subject matter and the increased age of the characters and readers.
- Sometimes Rowling makes it easy and just cuts off the dialogue (As in, "You—").
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire includes the line "Ron told Malfoy to do something that Harry knew he would never have dared say in front of Mrs. Weasley", giving us Narrative Profanity Filter and a Noodle Incident in one.
- In the scene where Harry, Hermione, and Ron are attacked in a Muggle cafe, Hermione "muttered a suggestion as to where Ron could stick his wand instead."
- Fred and George's sparklers "write swear words in midair of their own accord" when they are released inside Hogwarts.
- "Snape let out a stream of mixed swear words and hexes" during his Worst Memory in book 5
- Harry bangs his head and pauses to "employ a few of Uncle Vernon's choicest swear words."
- J. K. Rowling does it for obscene gestures as well as words, such as during the Quidditch World Cup final in Goblet of Fire:
"The leprechauns had risen into the air again and, this time, they formed a giant hand, which was making a very rude sign indeed
across the pitch towards the Veela."
- Ron makes a rude hand gesture in front of his mother, who threatens to jinx his fingers together.
- Uncle Vernon, Mundungus, and Ron all use "effing" at least once. Not a swear word, but we know what they mean.
- In her nonfiction book Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss uses the word fuck a few times in the introduction, but then adds a note saying, "The author apologises for the high incidence of the word 'Eff' in this book," and thereafter uses Eff even in direct quote.
- Tamora Pierce does this a fair amount — it shows up in the Song of the Lioness and Circle of Magic series. Comes in both "Alanna swore colorfully..." and "The cook speculated on Briar's parentage..." flavors.
- The "describe the obscenities in non-obscene terms" use is done fantastically in The Shining when Stephen King describes the reactions of another driver to the Magical Negro accidentally swerving across his lane.
"He invited the driver of the limo to perform an illegal sex act on himself. To engage in oral congress with various rodents and birds. He articulated his own proposal that all persons of Negro blood return to their native continent. He expressed his sincere belief in the position the limo-driver's soul would occupy in the afterlife. He finished by saying that he believed he had met the limo-driver's mother in a New Orleans house of prostitution."
- In Terry Pratchett's Nation, the narrator mentions a parrot shouting words "a 10 year old girl shouldn't know, but she was more concerned about the words she didn't know."
- He also uses it from time to time in the Discworld series. For example, in Reaper Man, Mustrum Ridcully uses a word "unfamiliar to those wizards who had not had his robust country upbringing and knew nothing of the finer points of animal husbandry" to cuss out the Dean for careless use of a fireball spell.
- Toyed with in The Truth; the brutal Mr. Tulip has a speaking habit punctuated with "—ing" (sic), used in ways that heavily suggest swearing. It's gradually revealed that the characters in the novel are actually hearing him saying "(pause)ing" or actually pronouncing the dash.
- When you reread it, knowing that he's not actually swearing this time, this bit of dialogue is much more funny.
Mr Tulip: It's a -ing virginal! So called because it was meant for -ing young ladies!
Priest: Gracious, really? I thought it was just a sort of early piano!
Mr Pin: Meant to be played by young ladies.
- From Guards! Guards!: "They felt, in fact, thoroughly bucked up, which was likely how Lady Sybil would have put it and definitely several letters of the alphabet shy of how they normally felt."
- Mort had this exchange between two thieves who tried to mug Mort, only to see him escape by walking through a wall:
"—- me, a —-ing wizard! I hate —-ing wizards!"
"You shouldn't —- them, then," said the second thief, effortlessly pronouncing a string of dashes.
- Conan the Barbarian, when he wasn't swearing by Crom or his other gods, would often let loose with curses in his native tongue, such as in one scene in "The Scarlet Citadel" where, as his final words to Evil Sorcerer Tsotha before being shut up in the dungeons, he "let loose a searing Cimmerian curse that would have burst the eardrums of an ordinary man."
- In one of Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, one character describes another as the offspring of a union that the compilers of Leviticus would not have approved of.
- In the Louise Fitzhugh book Sport, the (child) characters are described as using the worst language they can think of to describe bad situations, and, when even this isn't enough, substituting the word "blank". Naturally "blank" is the only blanking expletive that ever appears in the blanking book.
- Robert A. Heinlein loves this trope, since he was both writing in the days when such curses were still considered somewhat unprintable, and often for the juvenile market. So his characters sometimes will say things like "Expletive Deleted!" or the first-person narrator will merely describe the profanity in vague and general terms such as "I told him what I thought of him, using words I hardly ever use."
Juan Rico: He never once repeated himself and he never used either profanity or obscenity. (I learned later that he saved those for very special occasions, which this wasn't.) But he described our shortcomings, physical, mental, moral, and genetic, in great and insulting detail.
- In Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus:
"Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:
WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT
BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP
Only he didn't say 'doggone.'"
- Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolfe books does this frequently, including to himself. He claims to do it because he doesn't want to lose any readers (like this one grandma in Wichita).
- Joe Haldeman's The Forever War has this with the protagonist's far-future squad members. "He said a word whose vowel had changed over the years, but whose meaning hadn't."
- In one book of the Sword of Truth series, Annalina describes Zedd's reaction to one of Nathan's plans with, "Zedd has succumbed to a bout of loud cursing and arm flailing, he is swearing oaths about what he intends to do to Nathan, I am sure he will find most of his intentions physically impossible."
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- Han Solo tends to curse in every language he knows. Naturally, we never get to actually hear any of these curses, unless they happen to be Unusual Euphemisms....
- X-Wing: Solo Command:
- Big Bad Warlord Zsinj calls him up to mock him and demand his surrender, only for Han to have Chewie take the call so he can wander off to direct the rest of the fleet. Since Han is the only one present who understands Shyriwook, the novel's periodic cuts back to the ongoing call reproduce Chewie's lengthy rant indirectly. It's mentioned that Chewbacca lists up the various ingredients that make up Zsinj, none of them fit for polite company.
- Zsinj returns the favor at the end of the book, after he, being a reasonably good sport, calls Han to congratulate him on his victory, and Han, being Han, offers to let him kiss Chewie as a consolation prize. Zsinj launches into a similarly described five-minute long rant in 60 languages, with Han recording the whole thing so he can watch it again later.
- Apparently Wookiees have a thing for this - generally the writers are unwilling to write out "Arrn whooon urr" and such, and only a few will just translate, so just about anything they say is formatted like this trope. In Death Star, the viewpoint character, a doctor describing side effects for a treatment, doesn't understand the language and has to rely on a translator droid.
The next comment was one 4ME-O seemed reluctant at first to translate; when it did, Uli had to hide a smile. He hadn't been aware that members of this species were so imaginative. [...] Hahrynyar snarled an offensive remark concerning Palpatine's personal hygiene that Uli was willing to swear brought a blush to 4ME-O's durasteel skin.
- Star Wars novels seem to like the "swearing in a different language" variation, likely because in a galaxy with so many languages, it's bound to come up often. An example from Outbound Flight:
Ar'alani muttered a word that had never come up in Car'das's language lessons.
- Galaxy of Fear:
was right behind her, gritting his teeth and muttering something Zak had never heard before. It was either a different language or a swear word or both.
Sitting up, the youth said a word that Threepio knew in close to a million languages but was programmed never to utter in any of them.
- C. S. Lewis uses the word "bucking" in That Hideous Strength, where a more literal reportage of the events might be a word which begins with "F".
- Ian Fleming used the wonderful example "___" a few times. It's clear James Bond was referring to what he likes to do with the girl of the week . . . .
- In Goldfinger, the title character is trying to make Bond talk, and at one point Bond tells him to go and ____ himself. Goldfinger good-humoredly replies, "Even I am not capable of that, Mr. Bond."
- Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes has these lines:
And uses one disgusting word
That luckily you've never heard.
(I dare not write it, even hint it.
Nobody would ever print it.)
- Common in Dave Barry's columns, which had to use language suitable for family newspapers. Several of them quote remarks as having sounded like "duck shoe" or "ash sole." One titled "&*@##%$(!?,.<>+*&'%$!!@@$##%%^&" has this choice paragraph:
I felt pretty bad, saying the S-word right into my son's ear, but he was cool. "Daddy, you shouldn't say the S-word," he said. Only he didn't say "the S-word," you understand; he actually said the S-word. But he said it in a very mature way, indicating that he got no thrill from it, and that he was merely trying to correct my behavior.
- Atlas Shrugged:
"You can tell that railroad to—" followed by untransmissible words, was the message of the Smather Brothers of Arizona in answer to the S.O.S. of New York.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has two separate examples of this:
Then her [Katie's] father came down in his long underdrawers and, with quiet but intense profanity, told the fellow [Johnny] what he could go and do to himself.
"Let her give the kids a ride around the block. It ain't no skin off your teeth." (Only he didn't say "teeth," to the snickering delight of the youngsters clustered around.)
- In the Wing Commander novel Fleet Action, when a Kilrathi baron demanded humanity's surrender, Admiral Tolwyn said, "Direct your inquiry to President Quinson. I'm sure he will tell you to go perform a certain impossible anatomical act." When the baron specified he wanted the fleet's surrender, Tolwyn "replied with what he assumed the President would have said."
- Used throughout The Devil in Vienna which is written as protagonist Inge's diary. She says Seyss-Inquart's name sounds like "a certain dirty word", but fails to specify, mentions her mother saying "a word she hardly ever uses" and uses the old standby, "only he didn't say...".
- In Hickman and Weis' Rose of the Prophet trilogy, the djinn often 'made aspersions that his parenthood included a goat' and such.
- One of the books in the Pigman series has the narrator explain that he will use #$%& for swears, and @#$%& for really bad swears. He then praises the usefulness of this scheme because the reader likely has a better imagination than he does.
- James White loves the second version of this trope, especially in his Sector General series. Phrases like "Conway told him exactly where to go and what to do when he got there" happen at least once a chapter, making the book simultaneously incredibly vulgar and suitable for kids.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation has the following: "a bouncing soldierly oath that ionised the air."
- Ebling Mis from Foundation and Empire frequently says "Unprintable". This is assumed to be an example of the trope, but it is kind of funny when one thinks he's actually saying unprintable. He is described as being foulmouthed though.
- Dorothy L. Sayers in her Lord Peter Wimsey stories would also frequently use this, seeing how she was writing in a time when the radar sweeps were much lower than today. For example, one of her character once says something about another character that was "more flattering to his morals than to his manliness".
- She also sometimes has Peter swear directly in the dialogue, but edits it out with hyphens.
- From Breaking Dawn, Leah manages to do this in werewolf form.
And then, when he added those last three words, her hackles rose and she was yowling a long stream of snarls through her teeth. I didn't have to be in her head to hear the cussing-out she was giving him, and neither did he. You could almost hear the exact words she was using.
- There's also one with Alice:
Alice said a word that sounded very odd in her trilling, ladylike voice.
- Subverted in The Land of the Silver Apples when the heroes are running in a rapidly flooding cave, two of the female characters are described as letting out a stream of curses and the little girl asks, "What does filthy #$@!!' mean?"
- Extra humor comes from the fact that a priest was among the heroes.
- Done a few times in The Amulet of Samarkand usually for a Babylonian swear word. But one instance takes the cake when both language and violence make a censor when an imp is about to say something very inappropriate we get a line of asterisk and the footnote.
These polite asterisk replace a short censored episode characterized by bad language and some sadly necessary violence. When we pick up the story again, everything is as before except I am perspiring slightly and the contrite imp is the model of cooperation.
- In the Baby Sitters Club Super Special "Snowbound", Dawn's mother hits a mailbox while trying to drive in the snow. She says, in Dawn's words, "a word I have never heard her use before. In fact, I've heard it only in movies that Mom doesn't know I've seen."
- In the fourth book of The Indian in the Cupboard series, while climbing up into the barn's hayloft to reach Kitsa and her kittens, Patrick falls through the weak boards and lands on top of his friend, breaking his ankle in the process. When he does, the friend cries out "Oh shoot!" Omri then notes, via the narrative, "except he didn't say 'shoot'."
- The Queen's Thief books do contain some swearing, but the harsher words are taken out with this trope. A preview of the upcoming book A Conspiracy of Kings contains one example that actually does a good bit of characterizing the narrator, Sophos:
I screamed at them every curse I ever practiced when I was alone, trying to imitate the Thief of Eddis, but I doubt I sounded anything but hysterical.
- Gerald Morris does this in his series The Squire's Tales. For instance, in The Squire's Quest, he writes, "Kai... uttered a series of short, very blunt words. Terence sympathized with him. He didn't use those particular words himself, but had to admit that sometimes they felt right."
- And another rather amusing example in the same book, when Acoriondes is translating Alexander's conversation with his uncle. The running commentary goes something like "Alexander is saying many very vulgar words... even more... I don't think that one is even possible..."
- From The Lioness and Her Knight:
"I'm shocked, utterly shocked
," Rhience said. "Aghast, no less. I would never have imagined that a gently born young lady like you would have even known such words, let alone utter them! And all strung together like that, too!"
- From the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Solitary Cyclist": 'He had a fine flow of language and his adjectives were very vigorous'.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians does this quite a lot. Mostly in Ancient Greek. (Most of the swears used, however, were considered pretty bad during the time they were used.)
- Example with a modern day "bad word", Hera refers to Percy as "one of Poseidon's...children." Percy knows she's thinking of a much different word.
- When S.J. teased Mary-Em about her character's magic-induced pregnancy in The California Voodoo Game, her reply did have something to do with motherhood, but could hardly have been considered complimentary to S.J. (Or to S.J.'s mother, one presumes.)
- Vlad Taltos from Dragaera, Unreliable Narrator extraordinaire and Trope Namer for First-Person Smartass, occasionally falls into this. Given his vocabulary the rest of the time, it tends to be for Expospeak Gag-style humor, such as when he says in Iorich (after Norathar tries to get rid of him with some Blatant Lies) that he gave her "a brief dissertation on fertilizer." That's Vlad-speak for, "Bullshit."
- A Brazilian comedy book had a chapter being interrupted to inform that "we upset some Moral Guardians, so we're replacing cuss words with the word 'Palmito'". The word is used until near the chapter's end, when the authors inform the palm cultivators got upset.
- Mary Rodgers's A Billion for Boris (sequel to Freaky Friday) has a "Brooklyn-born Chinese Puerto Rican" character resorting to this:
"#%* °@+ !" he said darkly in inscrutable Mandarin.
- Brooklyn-born Chinese Puerto Rican? Sounds like Finster.
- Eragon uses this a lot.
- Outdoor humorist Patrick McManus describes an instance when he and his fishing companion Retch Sweeney decide to go skinny-dipping in a mountain stream that proves to be ice-cold. They emerge from the water just as a small group of mushroom enthusiasts come walking past, and McManus expresses his relief that "a particularly bad twelve-letter word had frozen on Retch's lower lip and didn't thaw out until we were in the car driving home."
- Lord Brocktree features a searat using "very colourful language" when he breaks a key off in a lock. It's also mentioned a few times that characters are singing a Bawdy Song, but we never even get a hint of the actual lyrics (except for "Slaughter of the Crew of the Rusty Chain", which isn't so much too crude as too violent - at least the verses we see). The notoriously foul-mouthed squirrel Grood usually mumbles his curses too quietly for anyone except Jukka to hear, and when we finally see what he's actually saying, it's all in Unusual Euphemism: "Gorokkah! How'd that splitten flitten gurgletwip get up so high?"
- "Holy (Insert swear word of your choice here)"
- H. Beam Piper, in the short story "When in the Course", had a character "curse Styphon's house for ten minutes without repeating a single malediction". In other books, he included phrases "I'll fix the expurgated unprintability!" and "He used a word you won't find in the dictionary but which nobody needs to look up."
- Another example, from Piper's story "A Slave Is a Slave": "Shatrak's face turned pink; the pink darkened to red. He used a word; it was a completely unprintable word. So, except for a few scattered pronouns, conjunctions and prepositions, were the next fifty words he used."
- His novel Four-Day Planet includes the folllowing lines, as recounted by the novel's first-person narrator, a young journalist note :
- "That's a double two-em-dashed lie, you etaoin shrdlu so-and-so!" somebody yelled. "Who are you calling a so-and-so, you thus-and-so-ing such-and-such?" somebody else yelled back, and a couple more chairs got smashed and a swirl of fighting started.
- Police Operation has the 'he cursed' variation, as a very nasty animal attacks.
- Time Crime has this: "Tortha Karfnote began, alphabetically, to blaspheme every god he had ever heard of." This is a universe with a lot of alternate timelines.
- Wuthering Heights averts this trope, which was so unusual at the time that an introduction written by Charlotte Bronte specifically praises Emily Bronte for not giving in to the common convention.
- Dashiell Hammett:
- The Continental Op short story "The Girl with the Silver Eyes" uses this trope (as do some of his other stories).
She put her mouth close to my ear so that her breath was warm again on my cheek, as it had been in the car, and whispered the vilest epithet of which the English language is capable.
"The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second 'you.'"
- Oddly, Jeremy Clarkson of all people occasionally indulges in this. One car review involved a reference to "an expression that rhymes with bucket."
- In "The Ghost in the Third Row" by Bruce Coville, Nine and Chris are trapped in a very small, very dark room, and don't know what to do. Chris points out that "being picky won't get them anywhere." Nine tells the reader that "actually, that was the meaning of what she said. Her actual words would probably burn the page."
- In Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book of The Dark Is Rising, the three Drew children encounter Bill Hoover down at the harbor, with Jane almost getting run over by him on his bicycle. After exchanging some heated words, he rides away:
"—off, the lot of 'ee," he snapped; they had never heard the word he used, but the tone was unmistakable, and Simon went hot with resentment and clenched his fists to lunge forward.
- In Gust Front, Captain April Weston, commanding the frigate Agincourt, is said to curse two minutes straight without repeating herself, in response to an official e-mail.
- Though the first Flora Segunda book didn't use this trope much, if at all, the second features it practically every other page. Although since Califan swearing seems to consist of things like "fike" and "scit", and Flora's willing to record those as-is, one wonders what exactly is being censored.
- P. G. Wodehouse often used this.
- Mercedes Lackey usually uses the "he/she swore" method. There is a more elaborate example late in The Silver Gryphon, when:
In a calm, clear voice, (Blade) suggested that the wyrsa in question could do several highly improbable, athletically difficult, and possibly biologically impractical things involving its own mother, a few household implements, and a dead fish.
- In Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox, after the titular character has again outwitted the farmers after his hide, one farmer is described as exclaiming in language that "could not be typed."
- Quite common in the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Chacters are just said to have sworn, and nothing else. There are some instances where it appears that a character has sworn, but it's not clear to the modern audience if the word used was truly offensive or the character himself was just using a substitute for an actual curse.
- There is one instance where Laura overhears a confrontation between migrant railroad workers. The dialogue in the book is clean, but Laura notes in the narration with some shock (and, this being Laura, also some guilty fascination) that the railwaymen were using "rough language. She was hearing rough language."
- She also quotes Pa a few times as saying "blanked" in phrases where the most logical assumption is that he actually said "damned", but there is no disclaimer explaining that Pa actually used a different word. She simply quotes him as if "blanked" was actually the word he used. Can be confusing for some young children who don't realize that "blanked" wasn't what he actually said and aren't sure what it means to blank something.
- Mortal Instruments uses this. Examples include, in the first book, City of Bone, Alec said something that sounded like 'ducking glass mole' and in the second, City of Ashes, has Jace suggested that the whole cast of Gilligan's Island could do something anatomically possible to themselves. These would be quotes if this Troper had the books for reference.
- A rather interesting version of this appears in All Quiet on the Western Front, where one of the main characters is, on a few occasions, described to be "using the most famous quote from Götz von Berlichingen. For those of you not acquainted with the more obscure works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the quote referenced is "But he, tell him, can lick me
on in my ass". In German, that has the same connotations as 'Go fuck yourself.' More usually one says "lick me on my ass".
- This phrase, "leck mich im Arsch" (and variants) is famously the name of two canons by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The correct translation ("Lick me in the ass," "Lick me in the arse," "Kiss my ass/arse," and "Go fuck yourself") is Serious Business on The Other Wiki's page on the pieces in question.
- In Smoke and Mirrors by Tanya Huff, the headsets are staticky. Most of the fuzzy words are recognisable swears. There are also some other forms used, including the POV character being unable to translate a co-worker's speech properly because he didn't know many French swearwords.
- In "Mirror, ɿoɿɿiM, Off the Wall", one of Spider Robinson's Callahan's stories, Fast Eddie is at a loss for words trying to describe the taste of "Wonderbooze":
"Dat incestuous child is de best oral-genital-contacting booze I ever drank," Eddie said approximately.
- In Michael Grant's Gone series, this happens quite a lot. (He's gotten praise for it, too.) Once, Drake Merwin (resident Ax-Crazy psycho) calls Diana (Smug Snake, Snark Knight, etc) a witch. Only the book says that wasn't the word he used. Also, in the fourth book Plague, when Sam and Astrid the Genius are having some relationship problems it says that Astrid told him he could go make out with someone else, only she used a phrase Sam was really surprised to hear coming from good Christian girl Astrid's lips.
- This isn't entirely surprising, given that he cowrote Animorphs with K.A. Applegate.
- Subverted in that curses actually are spelled out in the series, just rarely, such as when Diana refers to herself as bitch. Possibly the most direct subversion was in Fear, the fifth book, when Penny said a phrase to Caine that wasn't very nice, and "ended in "you"". This is immediately followed up by Caine's correcting her; she should have said, "Fuck you, your highness". Dashed out, but still.
- The Outsiders has this at work in the whole book. It's usually in the second way, although there's one line that actually blanks out a character's cussing.
- Used frequently in The Saga of Darren Shan the word bull is used to replace bullshit and when characters swear it usually says he cursed or he swore.
- Honor Harrington does this at times.
- Happens a couple of times in The Hunger Games and its sequel, as Katniss describes her fellow tributes Cato and Johanna "swearing like a fiend" and "scream[ing] a lot of really insulting things at me." Katniss later gets in on the action herself in the second and third books by screaming "terrible things" at people, usually Haymitch.
- In Such Is Life and Rigby’s Romance, both published before 1910, “Tom Collins” (Joseph Furphy) is reporting the speech of rural workers, mostly bullock drivers. He regularly replaces “bloody” by “(adj.)” and “hell” by “(sheol)”, which is a Hebrew word for hell. In chapter 15 of Rigby’s Romance the character Dixon says “hell” so often that it is replaced by synonyms from other languages / mythologies (such as Hades, Tartarus, Acheron, Abyss, Phlegethon, Niffelheim) and occasionally by other words: as when a character is reported as asking “who the (adj. Townsville) do you think you’re talkin’ to?”. which would not please residents of that North Queensland city.
- Deltora Quest features the line 'Barda cursed under his breath', usually in response to the book's villain, a lot.
- Both types are used in The Saint books, with people 'cursing or 'blaspheming' and the occasional phrase along the lines of 'gentlemen was not the phrase he used'.
- Subverted in The Witch Doctor, when a holy knight in training gets entangled in some underbrush:
He kept crashing around, coming up with an amazing variety of expletives that had absolutely no need to be deleted
- Used by Cody in Vampire High
He told me to go do something that I'm pretty sure was physically impossible.
- Harry Turtledove isn't shy about writing out profanity, but this pops up from time to time. There's even some subtle Leaning on the Fourth Wall when it happens, as the offending language is described as "unprintable".
- One of the more memorable occasions is in his TL-191 series, when Jefferson Pinkard gets orders from Ferdinand Koenig:
"What Pinkard said when he saw that had an f and a k in it, too, with a couple of other letters in between. He said several other things right afterwards, most of them even hotter than what he’d started with."
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Lady Clara Vere de Vere":
She had the passion of her kind,
She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear.
- In Cycle of Hatred, a Warcraft novel, an orc uses the foreign language variant when arguing with a human. It's actually mildly plot-relevant. The human doesn't speak Orcish, so he doesn't realize how bad the insult is, or how likely the orc will attack him.
- In Massacre in Marienburg, a Warhammer novel, the protagonist, a city watch captain, receives orders he doesn't like from a rival captain he doesn't like either. He loudly questions the rival's parentage and makes suggestions on how he can procreate without a partner. He still follows the order.
- In the BIONICLE book Challenge of the Hordika, Sidorak curses in an ancient language that was "old when Metru Nui was new". In Legacy of Evil, Reidak lets out "string of curses that could have seared the scales off a stone serpent", after one of his teammates flipped him over like a coin, into the sea. in Time Trap, Vakama mutters something that "would have gotten him tossed out of a Ga-Metru school". And wise old Turaga Nuju is known to have at times used his special bird language for such purposes, which his aide was always hesitant to translate, although the others around him could still guess what he was saying.
- In the Vattan Saga, at one point a character is quoted to have told someone else to do something "Kylara was sure was anatomically impossible".
- At least one time in Treasure Island, the narrator Hawkins says that he won't repeat a curse that a pirate makes.
- Normally The Dresden Files isn't afraid to use harsher curse words when appropriate. But they do this in one book where after hearing bad news the narration says "Hendricks said a bad word." "Sideways", Harry responds.
- A variant is used in Hidden Talents. The narrator mistakes the sound of swearing for chickens clucking at first, then realizes that a single swearword is being said over and over, implying a Cluster F-Bomb.
- The Big Sleep has this as Running Gag. After a young suspect gets caught, his only words from then on are shown as "Go —— yourself." Marlowe will occasionally narrate that the kid said "his three favorite words" and refers to him as "he of the limited vocabulary." When Marlowe asks a cop if the kid said anything while he was away, the cop whips, "He made a suggestion. I'm letting it ride."
- Kimball Kinnison in Gray Lensman:
"Did I ever ask you for a drink, you (unprintable here, even in a modern and realistic novel, for the space of two long breaths)... !"
- In Tarzan The Return of Tarzan]], Edgar Rice Burroughs has one of his villains call Tarzan "Name of a name!"
- Parodied in The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross. As protagonist Bob Howard narrates:
- Ciaphas Cain: The Traitor's Hand has a scene where a strike team from the 597th attacks a Slaaneshi-run brothel and are, for lack of a better term, inspecting the artwork. The porn is mostly left undescribed, other than one of the troopers wondering aloud if a scene depicted is even anatomically possible. Cain says it isn't and that even if it was, it would be against regulations.
Live Action Television
- Often used on How I Met Your Mother, most notably in ''How Lily Stole Christmas", in which "Grinch" is used to substitute for a much stronger word.
- Although there is one point where she takes all the Christmas decorations, leading Ted to say "What a Grinch!", which the voiceover informing the kids that "That time, [he] actually did say Grinch."
- Extended to calling a joint a sandwich and going as far as to making the characters eat a (very large) sandwich and giggling like stoners, and carrying around smaller sandwiches in rolled-up plastic baggies.
- And, in a later episode, they made... sandwich brownies.
- Another episode begins with Ted describing how he and Robin had some new neighbours upstairs, who liked to "play the bagpipes" frequently, and loudly. The scene ends with Ted finally shouting "shut the bagpipes up!" at the ceiling.
- Another visual one: the thumbs-up sign was used as a substitute for the middle finger in one episode.
- In "The Wedding Bride":
Barney: Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!
Future Ted: He didn't say 'kiss'.
(a little bit later) Barney: Who the kiss are you?
- In the episode "The Murtaugh List"
Future Ted: Stuff! He said, "I'm too old for this stuff."
- When Ted's mom remarries and her husband presents Ted with a painting of himself and Ted's mother, both naked with a strategically placed guitar.
Future Ted: Kids, there was no guitar.
- "But I didn't say fudge."
- Just Shoot Me!, "How the Finch Stole Christmas" (sensing a pattern?): The narrator explains that Finch "expressed his displeasure with color and flair, using words that our censors will not let us share."
- On The Big Bang Theory, Raj whispers something to Howard, which he translates as Raj comparing Sheldon to "a hygiene product used by women who are not feeling fresh as a summer's eve." Penny adds, "and the bag it came in."
- From a later episode: "Yeah, she's pushy, and yeah, he's whipped, but that's not the expression."
- From The Robotic Manipulation:
Penny: Leonard said "cockamamie"?
Sheldon: Actually, I'm paraphrasing. Having been raised in a Christian household, I'm uncomfortable with the language he used. And to be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable with "cockamamie".
- In The X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," Scully describes what she saw, and we see it, with Detective Manners saying "bleeping" over his profanity. Then we cut back to Scully talking with Chung, and she explains that "he didn't actually say 'bleeping.'" Chung replies that yes, he's familiar with the detective's speech style... Most of his curses are little gems: "Like blankety-blanking BLEEP I will!", and Scully's reported speeches as well: "Mulder, he says they found your bleeping UFO."
- In one Friends, Joey gets Phoebe a job as an extra on Days of Our Lives, where she annoys the director with her incompetence. Relaying the director's frustration, Joey tells Phoebe:
Joey: He can be a little rough around the edges, so I'm gonna replace a word he used a lot, with the word "puppy." Okay, so he said: "If your puppy friend doesn't get her puppy act together, I’m gonna fire her mother-puppy ass.
- In an episode of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show, Gracie keeps asking George how long until their train arrives in Los Angeles:
George: Gracie, you've asked that question fifty times since we left San Francisco last night.
I know what I said. (Beat
) And I apologize.
- In The Vicar of Dibley, Hugo and Geraldine discuss Hugo's father's reaction to the news that he is dating Alice:
Hugo: Well, I can't actually tell you what he said, because... because you're the vicar. But, well, let's say a certain word is represented by another word that sounds like a little like that word, like, um, like duck, for instance. He asked me what the duck I was playing at, said he didn't give a flying duck if I ducking loved Alice ducking Tinker, and if I ducking kissed her again, he'd make sure I was well and truly ducked.
Geraldine: Well, duck me!
- Grimm: Wu to Nick at murder scene quoting an employee of the deceased: "He said, and I quote, 'I'm surprised somebody didn't stick a tire iron in him before this'. Actually, that was a paraphrase. I left out the bad language because I couldn't write that fast."
- Blackadder's memorable line "I believe the phrase rhymes with "clucking bell". Notably, this is his eminently understated response to finally receiving orders to lead his troops over the top.
- Have I Got News for You had great fun mocking a BBC News broadcast which quoted a politician's scandalous remarks to a policeman as "Best you learn your [swearword] place. You don't run this [swearword] government. You're [swearword] plebs." Quoth Claire Balding: "What a bunch of [swearword] fuckwits."
- In the penultimate episode of Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy is on the phone with Willow, and they're talking about the argument they had with Xander.
Buffy: Yeah, Xander was pretty much being a...Willow! Where did you learn that word? My God. You kiss your mother with that mouth?
- Captain Picard of all people, describing his youthful encounter with Naussicans:
I stood toe-to-toe with the worst of the three and I told him what I thought of him, his pals, his planet and I possibly made some passing reference to his questionable parentage.
- During the ''M*A*S*H episode "Carry On, Hawkeye", Hawkeye has Radar call around asking for supplies and extra surgeons when most of the camp gets sick with the flu. Radar is on the phone with one officer, and is stopped cold by what the officer says to him; when Hawkeye asks him what it was, Radar says the officer told him to do something, but it was physically impossible. Hawkeye then grabs the phone and asks for supplies; he then listens for a minute, hangs up, and tells Radar, "You're right, Radar; he has no understanding of human anatomy." Presumably, the officer told both Radar and Hawkeye to go fuck themselves.
- One episode of Babylon 5 featured Bester and Garibaldi sharing an elevator. As Bester gets off, he stops, turns around, and says "Anatomically impossible, Mr. Garibaldi, but you're welcome to try."
- Played for laughs in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Fail Safe" when Jack is explaining to General Hammond how a negotiation with the Asgard went south.
And after that, I kinda lost my temper. Hammond:
What exactly does that mean? Daniel:
Let's just say Jack made a reference to Freyr's mother
- Used in one episode of The Vicar of Dibley, right after Hugo has told his father he's in love with Alice. Cut to Hugo describing the encounter to Geraldine.
Well, I can't tell you what he actually said because, because you're the vicar. But let's say a certain word is represented by another word that, that sounds a little like that word, like, uh... like... "duck," for instance. (beat)
He asked me what the duck I was playing at. He said he didn't give a flying duck if I ducking loved Alice ducking Tinker, and if I ducking kissed her again, he'd make sure that I was well and truly ducked. Geraldine:
Well, duck me.
- Subverted in mewithoutYou's "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie". The third verse begins:
Using most unfriendly words / that the village children had not yet heard / the baker shouted threats by canzonette / to curse the crafty bird.
- Rodney Atkins' "Watching You":
My four-year-old said a four-letter word
It started with "s", and I was concerned
- Similar to an earlier country music classic, "Kids Say the Darndest Things," by Tammy Wynette:
My first-grader just said a four-letter word
And it sure wasn't "love."
- "Keep the Customer Satisfied", by Simon & Garfunkel:
I get slandered, I get libeled
I hear words I never heard in the Bible
- Eric Bogle's "Do You Know Any Dylan?" has him react to the titular question
And I usually reply
In my own quiet way
With a totally indecent suggestion
- Barry Cryer has appeared on Just a Minute quite frequently, and often claims people refer to him as "that noun off the television".
- In Himself, Bill Cosby relates the tale of his eldest daughter's birth. He describes his wife's response to a contraction as "She informed everyone in the room that my parents were never married."
- A Büttenredner in Cologne carnival was asked to describe the reaction of his parents after an unfortunate event. He asked: "With or without the curses?" After the other person said he should tell it without them, the reply it short: "In that case, they said nothing!"
- Woody Allen is frequently quoted as saying, "I told him to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words."
- On his album Werewolves and Lollipops, Patton Oswalt, known for having a particularly blue act, talks about how Comedy Central never tells him, "Don't do that bit at all!" but instead asks him if there's a G-rated word he could come up with for something, then proceeds to demonstrate how G-rated filth is way more disturbing than regular filth: "I'm gonna fill your hoo-ha with goof juice!"
- One standup routine by Dennis Wolfberg describes the argument that ensues with the other driver with whom he was involved in a car crash in terms like, "He called me not so much a person as an orifice" and "I implied that he was the offspring of a female dog" and, "He advised that I engage in an activity which, had I complied, would have resulted in my becoming pregnant."
- Exile/Avernum III has a few sailors who constantly pepper their speech with gibberish-as-narrator-replaced-profanity.
- The Kingdom of Loathing Item-of-the-Month "My Own Pen Pal kit" finds you an (NPC) penpal, who sends you a rather Mad Libs-like letter with an item attached to it each day. One of the sentences that might be generated is about a teacher who told him that if you ignore a bully, he'll leave you alone, and that his dad says it's "a crock of bullcrap (except he didn't say bullcrap, he said a bad word)".
- In the second Advance Wars game for the Game Boy Advance, a Green Earth soldier reports to Eagle that Sami has refused to surrender to Adder. Eagle orders the soldier to repeat Sami's response to him. The soldier replies that the response was very vulgar, but Eagle insists. In the end, the soldier writes down the response (invisible to the player) and Eagle laughs when he reads it.
- Fallen London provides this excellent example, as a riposte to a woman making insinuations in regards to your heritage and relationships with certain kinds of farm animal:
"You spit foul recriminations and vicious calumny. Ladies faint dead away and gentlemen stagger under the barrage. Your target runs, weeping, with her hands over her ears. You follow her! Your tirade continues in the street, where hansoms careen hastily off and urchins fall from rooftops. You pick up your victim's dropped letters and wave them as a final salute. You are spent."
- The failure message for that storylet is pretty excellent as well:
"Three ladies faint. So do three gentleman and a passing waiter. Two cats fall off the roof and and an elderly horse outside keels over. You are denounced in two newspapers and a sermon. What words! You have definitely gone too far this time."
"The argument goes on for a good hour. It explores the pedigree, the reputation and the anatomical idiosyncracies of both participants in some detail. It’s not exactly soothing, but it is entertaining."
- In the Whateley Universe, Fey (an ancient Sidhe) and Carmilla (descendant of Great Old Ones) have cursed in languages which have been dead for millennia.
- Protectors of the Plot Continuum seems to like this trope a lot. They will also happily use profanity from any 'verse other than our own.
- An ancient bit of hacker-lore quite predating the web is the poem "The Song of Hakawatha" (a pastiche of H.W. Longfellows "Song of Hiawatha", one stanza of which reads
This occasioned some frustration
Caused the noble Hakawatha
To commit profane expletives
Caused him to cry out "Debug her"
(Or, I think that's what he shouted).
- Newshounds uses an interesting version of this trope: swearwords are "censored" by being blacked out with scribbling.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja covers profanities with black boxes reading things like "POTTY MOUTH", "OH MY", "FAMILY FRIENDLY COMIC", "FILTH", "FLARN"...and on one occasion a pirate shouting "HE SAID A BAD WORD!"
- Erf World has one that's actually plot-relevant (maybe). Parson is the only character who ever tries to swear, but in his dialogue it's always replaced with "boop." It's also subverted at the very end of the first book:
Game over? Yes. Dream over? ...No. Boop. Y'know... every time I swear, you remind me. You are
controlling me. I mean you
. "Erfworld." So who did this
, huh? You? Or me? What d'you have against obscenity, anyway? You're fine with this
obscenity. You brought
me here to do this. I'm the real tool. Well... I won't be a gamepiece. You hear me? I'm a player! FUCK YOU!
- In Prophecy Of The Circle, it gets used in-universe at one point. When Shanka relates how he confronted his mother about cheating on his father, he only says "I called her what she is" (with a flashback panel showing the woman's clearly shocked expression).