A casual friend, who never has demonstrated any penchant for science fiction, last night expressed to me his lack of interest in a local political issue (which he himself raised as a topic for discussion) by saying, “Why should I give a frak?”
I had no good answer (I live in another town anyway), so I responded only to his vocabulary.
“I wasn’t aware you were a Battlestar Galactica fan,” I said.
“I’m not,” he answered with a puzzled expression. It turned out he had heard the term on The Big Bang Theory (whose main male characters are scifi fans) and had assumed it derived from the technique for extracting shale gas. “Frak” (alternate spelling “frack”), in the sense he used it, is, of course, actually an expletive invented for the 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica in order to get past the censors on broadcast TV. When the series was reimagined in 2004, the writers kept the term largely as an homage to the original.
I’m afraid my discussion of the word dissuaded him from using it again (perhaps permanently), which was not my intention, especially since he reverted to the similar but far older Anglo-Saxon expression instead.
Lots of familiar words have entered English as neologisms from fiction: yahoo (Swift), chortle (Carroll), grok (Heinlein), robotics (Asimov, but derived from Capek’s “robot”), utopia (More), and thoughtcrime (Orwell), to cherry-pick a handful. Burgess, a linguist as well as a novelist, invented Nadsat, a Russian-influenced slang for his teenage gangs in A Clockwork Orange, some of which made it onto Kubrick’s screen version (spatchka, yarbles, ultraviolence, et al) and to a limited extent into common speech. Science fiction is especially rich in neologisms that have made it into colloquial English, and many are rudely insulting in a way my interlocutor would find useful given the usual nature of his conversation.
Mutie (a person odd in appearance or character)
Space cadet (unrealistic and airheaded person)
Fembot (most commonly applied to an attractive woman with whom one disagrees politically)
Pod People (unfeeling people, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
Eloi (from The Time Machine, useless pampered rich people)
Redshirt (someone likely to be killed)
Bastich (bastard/bitch, from Judge Dredd)
and the old standby
Martian (someone whose way of thinking is not down to earth)
to name but a few.
Nor is there a shortage of expletives, which might be more useful still:
Zarking fardwarks! (Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Twonk (Red Dwarf)
Tanj (“there ain’t no justice” Heinlein, but popularized by Niven)
Cagal (Harry Harrison)
and so on.
Perhaps I should make a fuller list and pass it along. It’s possible I thereby simply would entrench Anglo-Saxon further in the recipient, and perhaps even evoke some of it. But then again maybe he’ll take up a few of the samples, and I’ll have done my bit to help enrich the common tongue.
From Battlestar Galactica (2004)