Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Foiled, Curses Again

I was reading Wil Wheaton's blog this weekend, and was briefly confused by one line – “…I swear to the FSM: why is it so _ing hard for these idiots to get the _ing story right?” After a moment of thought, I finally realized, to my amusement, that he was referring to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

That reminded me of something that has bothered me for years – how should an Atheist curse? Obviously, we have full access to profanity and scatology…but is it really proper for us to blaspheme? And if we do, does it really express the same depth of feeling as it would for a believer for whom it is a sin?

I’ve seen various treatments of the problem in Science Fiction – more as a way around censorship by the publisher than as a real prediction of future speech patterns. However, a good SF author puts a little thought even into those minor details. Larry Niven handled it at least three different ways in various books and stories. For instance, in his Known Space stories, people on Earth had converted the euphemisms we currently use to hide profanity into curse words themselves – “Censor that, what the bleep do you think you’re doing?” The residents of the Asteroid Belt, however, had a different environment to cope with. When living in space, anything that CAN go wrong, WILL…kill you. In such hostile conditions, the Belters made a joke-religion of Finagle and Murphy, so that every curse became a reminder to minimize the chance for disaster – “Finagle curse you, get that airlock closed!” Most interestingly to me was the choice he and his co-authors made in the Dream Park trilogy. In a near future where most of California has dropped into the Pacific, “Drown you!” becomes the vilest of curses. I can imagine Katrina survivors picking this one up in real life…

None of this really answers the question, though. I’ve heard of Atheists cursing to “replacement gods,” like Ghu, or Roscoe, or now, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Other fictional worlds create their own, like “By Grapthar’s Hammer” from Galaxy Quest or Thundarr’s “Lords of Light!” I’ve considered adopting “smeg” from Red Dwarf, or “shazbot” from Mork and Mindy – I’d look to Star Trek, but where they use it at all, they mostly use standard 20th Century words. Of course, the problem is that none of those alternatives leap to mind at the right time – when you hit your thumb with the hammer, what pops out of your mouth is what your parents said in similar circumstances when you were a baby…regardless of your conscious beliefs or intentions.

Just out of curiosity – does anyone out there know from personal experience how believers in other religions curse? Islam, Buddhism, Paganism, Communism? If you were brought up in one of those traditions, or have hung around with someone who was, add a remark.

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