Swearing in Star Trek has a weird history up until this point. Aaron Reynolds is something of an expert on Star Trek and cussing; he’s the creator of the popular Twitter account “Swear Trek.” Reynolds tells Inverse that there was “very little swearing in the sixties. Some ‘dammit, Jim’ that got upgraded to ‘Goddammit, Jim’ for The Motion Picture.”
But that’s all different now. When Tilly, Burnham, and Stamets get amped about saving the Tardigrade alien nicknamed “Ripper,” Tilly says it’s “fucking cool.” And while it feels like Star Trek is breaking the fourth wall a bit in terms of making a big deal out of being able to use this word for the first time, it’s still endearing as hell. By having the nicest, most idealistic character on Discovery — Tilly — drop the f-word first, the show played this move smartly. Tilly represents the wide-eyed idealism most fans associate with Star Trek, meaning, if she swears, we’re okay with it. Had Lorca or Landry (RIP) said “fuck,” it wouldn’t have meant anything. But because Tilly seems cut from the same outer space cloth as Wesley Crusher or Lt. Saavik, the f-word has taken its place among all the tools Starfleet has at its disposal.
Though Reynolds creates regular GIFs in which characters from across the entire franchise are swearing like space sailors, he admits it rarely has happened in canon before the big f-drop on Discovery. “Captain Picard slyly swore en Français,” he says. “And, finally, Mister Data memorably said “shit” in Generations.”
Because The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise were all either syndicated or broadcast on a network, nobody said anything worse than “hell.” And the Star Trek films didn’t really develop a filthy mouth until Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when Kirk and Spock freely started saying “hell” and “damn” constantly. However, at that point, their swearing had an in-universe explanation: Because the crew was time-traveling to 1986, Kirk believed they would blend in better by swearing more often. Spock, with childlike wonder about his newfound use of “colorful metaphors,” took this a little too far. After that, Chris Pine’s Kirk called “bullshit” on old Spock in the 2009 Star Trek, but no one has ever dared say “fuck” before. It’s been so out of bounds on Star Trek that full-frontal nudity seemed more likely than the F-word.
But we live in different times now. Because CBS All Access is a streaming on-demand service, it doesn’t have to adhere to the same regulations of network TV. Meaning, having characters say “fuck” on Star Trek is totally allowed.
Let’s just hope they treat this new ability like emergency saucer separation or mind-melds — something to be used sparingly.
Star Trek: Discovery’s first five episodes are streaming now on CBS All Access. New episodes air on Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
We finally know why the Klingons look so different on Star Trek: Discovery. Check out this video to find out more.