Raunch Review: Star Trek

Raunch Review: Star Trek

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.

The Author: Gene Roddenberry & Ronald D. Moore

Work in Question: Star Trek (Specifically, TNG and beyond)

The Profanity: “petaQ”

Universal Translators are a finicky class of technology. It seems like they’re incredibly accurate until the speaker uses faux-profanity. Suddenly, the translator ceases to work and interjects the untranslated word in the selected dialect. It’s handy from a writing perspective as a particular malfunction like this allows a writer to interject a little alien cultural spice without much effort. It’s convenient in a plot-holey sort of way. 

Generally, Star Trek has done a decent job managing to avoid this awkwardness. Most cursing in the series is mild, and easy enough to slip or shift that it doesn’t jump out. With one exception that first appears in season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That word? The Klingon curse of “petaQ.” The word’s spelling is as varied as is its use ranging from “Pahtak,” “Pathak,” “p’tahk,” “p’takh,” “patahk,” “pahtk,” “p’tak,” or “p’taq” allow you to choose your desired amount of vowels and apostrophes. (Though I will be using the official Klingon Dictionary spelling going forward.) So what exactly is a “petaQ,” well, according to the aforementioned Klingon Dictionary, it’s translated to something akin to “weirdo,” stemming from the verb “taQ,” which translates as “to be weird.”

It’s easy to dismiss this. “Weirdo,” even as an insult, is relatively mild in English. However, often translations lack nuance. Translations tend to be very direct, and they can ignore the significance placed on the word. They can lack the weight of cultural history. This isn’t uncommon in translation and is why a good translator doesn’t do a one-to-one translation, but instead works to carry the significance and meaning from the original work into the translated text.

As we’ve seen in real life, words can pick up extra meaning. What one generation thought of as mild could become strikingly offensive to the next. The same applies to cultures. There’s nothing unsurprising in this—language never stops evolving. It’s malleable. You can see this with “petaQ,” where the word serves as a severe cultural insult among Klingons, the sort that drives a warrior to violence. A substantial bit of faux-profanity with well-constructed history, and as a result, it scores well.

Final Score: 4.0

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews

Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Not sure what it says about Garden of Horrors, but we seem to feature a whole lot of parasitic plants. It’s not intentional. Perhaps it’s a nature vs. nurture thing—maybe if they weren’t so disgusting these plants wouldn’t become parasites! You know? Maybe if they had gone to college, bought a house, and settled down, things would have turned out differently! You ever thought about THAT plants?

Ahem—regardless of the reasoning, today’s featured plant is one I’m sure many of you expected to see sooner or later. After all, it looks like a cheesy prop from the Star Trek: The Original Series and it smells like rotten meat. That’s right; we’re looking at the Rafflesia more commonly known as the carrion flower or corpse lily.

"Rafflesia keithii" by Mike Prince
Rafflesia keithii by Mike Prince, 2014

The Rafflesia (technically a family of twenty-eight distinct species) is often called “Queen of the Parasites.” It’s such a parasite that you can’t see anything other than its goofy-ass blossom. There are no leaves. No roots. The rest of the plant—mostly made up of the rootlike haustorium—spreads like a creeper through the tissue of its host vine. There it gathers the nutrients needed to grow its enormous fleshy flower.

And what a flower it is. This is the largest flower on earth. Others are mere pretenders. How large is this thing? Well, this sucker can be nearly three and a half feet wide and weigh up to twenty-two pounds. “A beaut” or “an absolute unit” as they say on the farm. Across the genus, the look remains mostly the same, but the details shift. Some are wartier than others. A few wilt quicker. Others grow smaller. Some are more star-shaped. But they all have the distinctive five-petals, the fleshy look, and… oh, and the smell.

There’s a reason this is called the carrion flower. The title is more than appropriate for something so gross. Most often, the buds take months to develop, and when they blossom, they smell like rotting flesh. Neat? This Eau de mort (Yeah, okay. Look, I know that translates as “death water” but I’m trying to evoke the concept of perfume. Work with me here!) attracts carrion flies which in turn pollinate the unisexual flowers. I have to say; you need to rethink your pollination strategy if you have flies working as your go-between during sexy times.

Goofy looking, parasitic, and smells like death—I’d say this is a fitting entry into the Garden of Horrors. Thankfully, many of us will never have to smell these flowers, it’s generally found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and they’re rare, taking months to blossom and then lasting only a few days when they do. If you want to see what this strange flower looks like opening, I’ve embedded a video above. Silly as it is, let’s all take a moment and be thankful we can’t smell it.

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

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Garden of Horrors: Hydnora Africana

The idea of parasites is already creepy enough. Something deriving nutrients at the expense of a host can give one the willies. This has been amplified in fiction—many of our monsters are parasitic in nature. But parasites are common in nature and particularly common in the plant kingdom. While most look harmless, some can be downright disturbing, looking more like a movie monster than a plant. Think I’m kidding? Enter the Hydnora africana.

The flower of the Hydnora africana
The flower of the Hydnora africana

Not that’s not a Graboid. It’s a parasitic plant that lives mostly underground attached to the roots of its Euphorbia host. It has no leaves and doesn’t produce chlorophyll—but it does flower. After heavy rainfall, it reproduces by means of a creepy-mouth flower that emerges from beneath the ground and attracts pollinators. How does it do that, exactly? Well, it emits an awful odor that smells like poop. Fun! This, in turn, attracts dung and carrion beetles. The flower then traps the bugs for about a days allowing them to gather up pollen, then the flower opens like a monstrous mouth and the bugs are free to go find another Hydnora africana. It’s all very romantic.

PBS Digital Studios (arguably the best YouTube channel today) did an episode of Gross Science where Anna Rothschild explores the weird life of the Hydnora africana. She goes into more details on how this parasitic plant lives and reproduces. You can check it out below.

So, not only does the Hydnora africana look like a special effects monster taken from an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, but it also smells like feces, and apparently (if you’re interested) this horrific thing is edible. After pollination, the Hydnora africana grows a fruit underground and apparently it tastes pretty dang good. So, if that sounds delicious to you… uh, have at it.

Happy gardening.

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Pay the Writer

Pay the Writer

Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison. You incredibly complex man, you.

I’ve seen many good folks sharing all sorts of stories about Ellison. Three that stuck out: John Scalzi’s piece for the LA Times, Neil Gaiman’s heartfelt blog post about their friendship, and this wild thread where Ellison publically plans a conspiracy to commit murder at Dragon Con. I’m sure there are many more.

If you are interested in reading Ellison’s work (there’s a reason he’s an SFWA Grand Master), I recommend starting with either I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream or Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman. He also wrote the greatest episode of Star Trek ever.