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Damn it, Jim: A brief history of swearing on Star Trek

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The fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery ventured into old territory and new, pairing the return of classic Trek character Harry Mudd (really just known as Mudd, and played here by Rainn Wilson) with a couple of firsts for the franchise. As promised, there was the sweet reveal of Discovery couple Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber (Wilson Cruz), who are the first openly gay characters in a Star Trek TV series. And though it wasn’t quite as progressive an occurrence, the word “fuck”—or rather, “fucking”—made its debut.


The use of profanity was teased in the lead-up to Discovery’s premiere, including in the TV-MA rating slapped onto one of the trailers. Co-executive producer Aaron Harberts also brought up swearing on the Discovery set visit (which The A.V. Club attended) as part of how the series intends to make use of its streaming home. He even alluded to the “fucking cool” exchange between Tilly and Stamets in “Choose Your Pain” in a previous interview with The A.V. Club.

Because we are streaming, so we could do whatever we want. It doesn’t all look good on Star Trek. Violence is violence. You know, okay, maybe we can show a Klingon bat’leth going into somebody, couldn’t do that on network. Sex on Star Trek, to a degree. Nudity on Star Trek, not really, it just doesn’t feel right. Language, there are a couple moments where we got a little creative with language, but again it was in the context of like three scientists having a victory and celebrating in a way that’s a little colorful. Which I loved, because it was sort of like nerds unite, they kicked ass, and dropped a few F-bombs, fine.


Although that no-nudity clause certainly puts a damper on the “sexy, vital Klingons,” swearing isn’t really new to Star Trek (and certainly not to “Swear Trek”). Oh sure, we’ve never heard an f-bomb before, let alone two, on any of the previous series, but the films boldly inched us closer to that all-purpose obscenity. Hell, The Original Series regularly featured Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) reminding Captain Jim Kirk (William Shatner) of his “damn” title. So here’s a quick trip down profanity lane in the Trek universe.

The Original Series/Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Bones got to spit out most of the “damnits” and “hells” on TOS, a habit he kept up in the original film series. Here he is wishing Jim a “happy birthday,” goddamnit, in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
If you want to talk history, this Leonard Nimoy-directed entry in the film franchise revealed that “hell” and “damnit” survived the 20th century, but not “dumbass.” Witness Kirk’s hilariously incorrect use of the term while on the streets of San Francisco.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Although he didn’t develop a catchphrase from it, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) occasionally swore on TNG. But, like the sexy, shiny-pated polyglot he was, he always did it in a language other than English.

Star Trek: Generations
Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) got his wish in this first film in the second Trek movie franchise: He “became” human and got to experience all kinds of emotions, including fear, which Generations writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga demonstrated by having him drop the first s-bomb in Trek history.

Star Trek (2009)
And finally, we learned that bad words also exist in the Kelvin timeline, when a disbelieving Kirk (Chris Pine) calls “bullshit” on an older Spock’s (the late Leonard Nimoy) description of their future friendship.