Pop Culture

What the frak? Faux curse sweeps geek nation

Lee Goldberg thinks Glen A. Larson is a genius, and not because the prolific television writer and producer gave us “Knight Rider” and “B.J. and the Bear.”

It was Larson who first used the faux curse word “frak” in the original “Battlestar Galactica.” The word was mostly overlooked back in the ’70s series but is working its way into popular vocabulary as SciFi’s modern update winds down production.

“All joking aside, say what you will about what you might call the lowbrow nature of many of his shows, he did something truly amazing and subversive, up there with what Steven Bochco gets credit for, with ‘frak,”’ Goldberg said.

There’s no question what the word stands for and it’s used gleefully, as many as 20 times in some episodes.

“And he was saying it 30 years ago in the original goofy, god-awful ‘Battlestar Galactica,”’ said Goldberg, a television writer and novelist whose credits include “Monk” and “Diagnosis Murder.”

The word is showing up everywhere — on T-shirts, in sit-coms, best-selling novels and regular conversation.

“I have to start by saying that I’m drinking coffee out of a mug that says ‘frak off’ on the side of it, so much has it seeped into my life,” “Galactica” star Jamie Bamber said.

The word is insinuating its way into popular vocabulary for a simple reason.

You can’t get in trouble. It’s a made-up word.

“It may have been the great George Carlin who talked about these things so cleverly,” Larson said. “He’d say, ‘Mother would say shoot, but she meant ... when she reached in and burned her fingers on the crocker.’ And the child says, ‘I know what you meant mom.”’

The new ‘shazbot’?The word has slipped the bonds that tethered other pretenders like Mork’s “shazbot” in “Mork & Mindy” or Col. Sherman T. Potter’s “horse hockey” in “M*A*S*H.” Its usage has moved from the small but fervent group of “Galactica” fans into everyday language. It’s shown up in very mainstream shows like “The Office,” “Gossip Girl” and “Scrubs.” One YouTube posting has 2 minutes of sound bites that cover the gamut.

“I’m in my own little cocoon of science fictiondom, but it is certainly used around here and amongst the people I know,” said Irene Gallo, art director at the sci-fi imprint Tor Books where employees held a “frak party” to watch the season premiere. “It’s sort of a way to be able to use a four-letter word without really getting into any kind of HR trouble or with people you’re really not quite comfortable being yourself with.”

The word has even appeared in the funny pages where Dilbert muttered a disconsolate “frack” — the original spelling before producers of the current show changed it to a four-letter word — after a particularly dumb order from his evil twit of a boss.

“Dilbert” creator Scott Adams calls the word “pure genius.”

“At first I thought ‘frak’ was too contrived and it bothered me to hear it,” Adams said. “Over time it merged in my mind with its coarser cousin and totally worked. The creators ingeniously found a way to make viewers curse in their own heads — you tend to translate the word — and yet the show is not profane.”

Best-selling novelist Robert Crais slips the word into the prologue of his latest Elvis Cole mystery, “Chasing Darkness.” He did it because “Galactica” is his favorite show, like calling out in the wilderness to his fellow fans. But he sees the word popping up everywhere, even among those who have never watched the show.

“It’s viral, it spreads like a virus,” Crais said. “That first wave of people who use it are all fans. They use it because they’re tickled by it and like me they’re paying an homage to the show. When they’re using it, they’re probably doing it with a sly wink. But as it gets heard and people use it, it spreads.”

The re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica” tells the story of the human survivors of a war with a robotic race known as the Cylons. Fewer than 40,000 humans remain in a ragtag fleet being pursued across space by the Cylons, who wiped out the 12 colonies in a surprise nuclear holocaust.

Their destination is the mythical planet Earth, a legend passed down in religious texts. Shooting wrapped in July and the final 10 episodes will appear beginning in January.

Getting away with doing something ‘naughty’Larson, one of television’s most prolific and successful writers, doesn’t much care for the new series. He used “frack” and its cousin “feldergarb” as alternates for curse words because the original “Battlestar” was family friendly and appeared on Sunday nights. The words fit in with his philosophy that while the show was about humans, it shouldn’t have an Earthly feel.

In what he said was his first interview about the series, Larson says there were no red fire extinguishers on his Battlestar Galactica and characters wore original costumes, not suits and ties.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Neil P. Mockford / GC Images

    Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

  • Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Idris Elba -

    Actor Idris Elba seen on the set of :A Hundred Streets" on Aug. 8 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass -

    Actors Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass arrive at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nick Kroll -

    Actor Nick Kroll arrives at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson -

    Actors Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson arrive at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Cast member D'Arcy poses at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" in Hollywood

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James D'Arcy -

    James D'Arcy arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Julianne Hough -

    Actress Julianne Hough arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Hannah Simone -

    Actress Hannah Simone arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nina Dobrev -

    Actress Nina Dobrev arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Murphy, Brandy Norwood -

    TV personality Nicole Murphy and singer Brandy Norwood attend The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Tara Reid -

    Actress Tara Reid attends The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James Wirt, Julia Stiles -

    Actors James Wirt and Julia Stiles stand on stage during the opening night curtain call for "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    AnnaSophia Robb -

    Actress AnnaSophia Robb attends the opening night performance of "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Madame Tussauds New York To Unveil New, Never-Before-Seen Selena Gomez Wax Figure

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Selena Gomez -

    A boy gives the wax figure of Selena Gomez a kiss at the unveiling of the new new, never-before-seen Selena Gomez wax figure at Madame Tussauds New York on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Chris Martin Visits "The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Chris Martin -

    Chris Martin of Coldplay performs during the Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show at Z100 Studio on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Apple Store Soho Presents: Meet the Actors: Michael Fassbender And Domhnall Gleeson - "Frank"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Michael Fassbender -

    Actor Michael Fassbender attends "Meet the Actor" at Apple Store Soho on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Mickey Rourke -

    Actor Mickey Rourke is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Jordana Brewster -

    Actress Jordana Brewster waves outisde of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: G. Garvin Live

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Keshia Knight Pulliam -

    Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam attends G. Garvin Live at Buckhead Theatre on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Reese Witherspoon -

    Actress Reese Witherspoon is seen on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Miley Cyrus

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Miley Cyrus -

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: 67th Locarno Film Festival - Day 2

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Melanie Griffith -

    Actress Melanie Griffith attends a press conference during the 67th Locarno Film Festival on Aug. 7 in Locarno, Switzerland.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Lily Allen

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Lily Allen -

    Singer Lily Allen performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: "The Expendables 3" Paris Photocall At Cinema UGC Normandie

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    'Expendables 3' -

    The stars of "Expendables 3," from left, Kellan Lutz, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes attend "Expendables 3" at Cinema UGC Normandie on Aug. 7 in Paris.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Meet The FilmMakers: "The Rover"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Robert Pattinson -

    Actor Robert Pattinson speaks during the Meet The Filmmakers event for "The Rover" at Apple Store, Regent Street on Aug. 7 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In New York City - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman -

    Actors Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman are spotted filming Bateman's "The Family Fang" in Westchester, New York, on Aug. 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Africa: New Partnership Models For Growth

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Akon -

    Grammy-nominated artist Akon, who is the founder of Akon Lighting Africa Project, discusses at the US-Africa Leaders Summit "Africa: New Parnership Models for Growth" news conference, held in Washington, DC, on Aug. 7, the progress that African heads of state have made.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

“Our point was to whenever possible make it a departure like you’re visiting somewhere else,” Larson said. “And we did coin certain phrases for use in expletive situations, but we tried to carry that over into a lot of other stuff, even push brooms and the coin of the realm.”

When new series producer Ron Moore first introduced “frak” in early scripts, Bamber said the actors were dubious. But as writers expanded its use, they caught on to the possibilities.

“I mean why are we not offended by ‘frak’ because it means exactly the same thing as the other thing?” said Bamber, who plays fighter pilot-turned-president Lee “Apollo” Adama. “So it raises questions about language and why certain words are offensive. Is it their meaning? ... Clearly it’s not their meaning. Clearly it’s literally their sound.”

Co-executive producer and writer Michael Angeli, an Emmy nominee for the episode “Six of One,” said using the word in scripts is satisfying for anyone who’s been censored over the years.

“It’s a great way to do something naughty and get away with it,” Angeli said. “One of the things that television shows do constantly is they battle with Standards and Practices over what can be seen and what can’t be seen, what can be said and what can’t be said.

“A lot of our characters are soldiers. That whole sort of view and that subculture, that’s how they speak. They’re rough and tumble, and they’re bawdy and they swear.”

He said producers have gotten no complaints from SciFi owner NBC Universal or the Federal Communications Commission. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft.)

Goldberg believes Larson should get more credit for “frak” and has posted an appreciation on his Web site. He even sought out Larson to let him know how he feels: “I told him, ‘Frak is fraking brilliant, Glen.”’

0:00
 
0:00
Your video begins in
0:00
TOP