Sunday, December 6, 2009

What the Frak?

Those of you in the know will know that frak is a bowdlerized version of the real-life F--- word, an expletive sound-alike used by residents of the Twelve Colonies on the television series, Battlestar Galactica.

The Battlestar Galactica I refer to is a stylish remake of the original 1978 tv series. In it, a race of cyborgs created by humans have rebelled against them and wiped out most of humanity by nuking the Twelve Colonies. The remaining fifty thousand humans inhabit a fleet of spacecrafts. Led by the lone surviving military vessel, Battlestar Galactica, they search for a legendary planet known as Earth, where they hope to find refuge.

The people of the Twelve Colonies smoke, drink, worship, and curse. Sound familiar? Everything's just a little bit off, though. Instead of "God forbid," it's "Gods forbid" in the polytheistic Twelve Colonies. There are sleeper cells of Cylons rather than Al-Qaeda. And there's plenty of "fraking" going on.

Apparently the word "frack" was used in the original series because any real expletives would not have been permitted by the FCC. In the modern series, which was broadcast on the Sci Fi Network, no such verbal manipulations were required, Sci Fi being a cable network and not subject to those FCC sanctions, but either the catchiness of the word or the desire to air reruns on broadcast tv prompted writers of the newer series to adopt the variant "frak."

Eric and I have recently been watching the series on Netflix. It's a little slow-going at times, but addictive nonetheless, with a good cast and the allure of cyborgs that look, behave, and apparently feel exactly like humans. Until a friend recommended it, the series flew under my radar—I had no idea it had reached cult-like status among some.

The other night, I ran out of Battlestar Galactica dvds, so I decided to watch an episode of 30 Rock available On Demand. At one point during the episode, Judah Friedlander's character, Frank Rossitano, bursts through the door, distraught, and yells "What the frak?," a reference I never would have gotten had I not so recently been initiated into the language of the Twelve Colonies. I did a little research on the Internet and discovered that Salma Hayek appeared on another episode of 30 Rock wearing a "What the Frak?!" tee shirt.

I realized I had already seen that Salma Hayek episode, yet the Frak reference had totally passed me by. Now that I'm a Battlestar Galactica initiate, though, I immediately understood it's use in Frank Rossitano's outburst. My experience is part of a larger phenomenon that happens to most of us—after we encounter an unusual word or phrase and learn its meaning, suddenly it's everywhere, in magazines and books, on radio and tv. 

It's disconcerting to imagine how many references pass me right by in the course of a day. But at least now I'll catch the Battlestar Galactica allusions. And thanks to my husband and sons, who have watched every Three Stooges episode a hundred times, I'm pretty good at picking up those references, too. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

1 comment:

  1. Coming from a long line of prolific cursing loggers, over the years I've had to learn (for the sake of my children, grandchildren and polite company in general) to put together all kinds of vowels and consonants to use like curse words. Thank you for giving me another. Yesterday, while on the phone with my 22 year old granddaughter, I dropped a pan on the floor. "What in the "Gonga" was that?" she asked, using one of my favorite curse replacements.

    I too have missed the resurgence of Battlestars Gallactica even though I enjoyed the original. Frak, maybe I'll have to look into it. :)