If you’re making a movie that’s ‘family-friendly’ with a PG rating, then you can forget about having any real swearing in the dialogue. This is generally not hard to do, but certain dramatic or funny moments (e.g. imminent death, huge tidal wave, just finished beating up bad guys) can call for dialogue that, if it doesn’t contain any swearing, at least has a little edge to it. The solution is to create a word that sounds like a curse, but actually isn’t.

Take Evan Almighty, which I caught on a recent flight. Steve Carrell’s building an ark, and he drops a heavy piece of wood on his foot. What does he exclaim?

Motherf… ather, sister and brother!

This is a perfect example of the ‘stealth swearing’ that I’m talking about. To be honest, I thought it was the funniest part of the entire movie (which tells you how good it was). Of course, Evan Almighty wasn’t by any means the first to make a joke out of the censors.

Take Spy Kids 1 and 2. They were surprisingly good kid-parent crossover movies, and the eponymous kids had a real fondness for talking about ‘shiitake mushrooms‘. Screen It’s Parental Reviews weren’t impressed by this, singling out the following lines as potentially causing ‘imitative behaviour’:

“Oh… shiitake mushrooms,” (with a pause in the word “shiitake” to make it sound like one is preparing to say just the “s” word)

“You’re so full of shiitake mushrooms,” (said with a slight pause in the middle of shiitake)

You might very well wonder what’s the point of avoiding swearing when you’re just going to say ‘shit’ anyway, and then turn it into another word by appending a few syllables – but what’s really happening (obviously) is that films are making fun of the notion that kids aren’t supposed to swear, and aren’t supposed to even know swear words. I suspect adults get a kick out of seeing kids pretending to swear, as well.

Do you know of any other ‘stealth swearing’ examples? Please post comments with them here!

5 Replies to “Motherf…”

  1. I once got to sit in on a looping session for a film that shall remain nameless where they were inserting new words for the airline version of the film.

    The one I’ll always remember was the substitution for mother-f***er:

    Melon Farmer. 🙂

  2. Shrek always had that slightly-adult edge. I never worked out if “Lord Farquad” in the first one was a sly adult joke (it’s all in the pronunciation), or just an unintentional allusion. EIther way, it amuses me every time I watch it…

  3. Shiitake mushrooms was also used in the animated animal film Madagascar and its spin-off short. The film also used Sugar Honey Iced Tea! for s***, in addition to names of dams in America for damn, i.e. Hoover Dam! and Grand Coulee Dam!

    I also stumbled across this huge and fantastic list of fictional expletives that’s really fun to glance through, with lots of sci-fi examples:

    My personal favourites though are the ones from classic British tv comedies.
    For example, as in Father Ted, in the Old Grey Whistle Theft episode (watch it here: at the 6:00 mark) when Ted accidently takes someone else’s favourite picnic spot, and the picnic area rules include ‘no swearing’ (as well as ‘no single women’ and ‘no tree climbing’). The rude couple whose spot Ted’s taken start screaming things like “What the fup are you doing here? Fup off, you grasshole! This is my fupping spot, get the fup off! Fuppin baxterd! Fup off, you pedrophile!’

    And in the Vicar of Dibley (watch it here: at the 3:28 mark):
    Hugo (after his father’s outraged response to news of Hugo dating the rather brain-cell challenged Alice): ‘Well, I can’t actually tell you what he said because you’re the vicar, but well let’s say a certain word is represented by another word that sounds like a little like that word like, like um, duck for instance… He asked me what the duck I was playing at, said he didn’t give a flying duck if I ducking loved Alice ducking Tinker and if I ducking kissed her again, he’d make sure that I was well and truly ducked’.
    Vicar: ‘Well, duck me!’


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