Snakes on a Plane was, if nothing else, a success of marketing over, well, every other aspect of filmmaking. Even those who resisted watching it are likely to be familiar with a line from Samuel L. Jackson, so successfully did it percolate into pop culture (video NSFW; assume the same throughout):
It’s a good line and a great delivery, but family-friendly it ain’t. So as a happy consequence it was dubbed for TV into the wonderful non sequitur ‘monkey-fightin’ snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane’ (and with fuckin’ softened to freakin’):
Already we can see a variety of approaches to taboo avoidance in film dubs. Sometimes the sense is entirely scrambled; sometimes it’s retained in part or a congruent new sense is created. Some dubs attempt to match lip movements; others don’t bother or else cut away to avoid egregious unsyncing.
Sticking with motherfucker for now, dubbing has given us mothercrusher (Robocop):
motivator (Resident Evil: Apocalypse):
and little sucker (Pulp Fiction):
All preserve the original word’s vital double trochee. In Snakes, the swear in ‘Turn this big motherfucker left’ – referring to the plane – is replaced by the ridiculous but perhaps tenuously meaningful ‘money-fueller’, while ‘My ass’ sees the speaker’s injury moved to his rib, the bowdlerisation clumsily bypassing all attempts at close lip-syncing:
The multi-film montage below has a few clever euphemistic manoeuvres: ‘Hand me the keys, you fairy godmother’ (for fucking cocksucker); ‘My eyes are wide focused open’ (fucking); ‘This is bozo, man’ (bullshit). Some aim for rhyme as well as reason: maggot for faggot; and Scarface’s witty ‘This town [is] like a great big chicken just waitin’ to get plucked’ (replacing pussy . . . fucked):
The last item in that video is another classic of the type, a dub of The Big Lebowski that conjures up ‘find a stranger in the Alps’ and ‘feed a stoner scrambled eggs’ as substitutes for ‘fuck a stranger in the ass’. It’s hard not to be impressed by their inventive silliness. Here’s a longer clip that includes both:
Likewise casserole for asshole in Pineapple Express, which works so weirdly well it cries out for casserole to be inducted as an honourary pseudo-swear. (I expect this has already happened in campus slang.)
Freakin’ for fuckin’ is a popular minced oath, the kind you hear in real life. Still, its use in a police station, as in this Die Hard 2 redub, strikes me as implausible enough to constitute a minor misdemeanour, unless Dennis Franz’s office has an extortionate swear jar system:
The clip also features the unvernacular use of joke for fuck:
Reporter: Colonel Stewart, can we have a few words, please?
Colonel Stewart: You can have two. Joke and you.
Expletive joke is totally fanciful, a flat meta-joke, but stuff for fuck in heated situations is more realistic (except when it’s Joe Pesci). I’ve heard Stuff it, Get stuffed and similar exclamations in real life; Stuff you, not once, but the Bravo edit of Casino uses it anyway. And don’t miss the comically underplayed ‘Freak you!’ outburst at 1:39:
Of the many euphemisms for the Oedipal polysyllable, as Jonathon Green calls it, melon farmer is among the more subculturally salient. I first encountered it as the name (in plural) of a clearing house cataloguing censorship by the BBFC. The Melon Farmers took their name from the cult film Repo Man: director Alex Cox, asked to dub it for television, used the phrase to stand in for motherfucker:
The Melon Farmers’ websites, once you ignore all the advertising, remain a useful resource for ‘watching the censors watch what we watch’. The origin of melon farmer as a euphemism is uncertain, but Repo Man undoubtedly brought it to a wider audience. It has since popped up in other sanitised broadcasts, such as Die Hard With a Vengeance:
Here’s the transcript, with the original dialogue struck through:
Zeus: Damn, McClane, you know I was just starting to like you.
McClane: Yeah, well don’t, I’m an asshole a liar.
Zeus: What are you talking about now?
McClane: I lied to you, Zeus.
Zeus: About what?
McClane: You remember, I said Weiss found that bomb up in Harlem?
McClane: They found it down in Chinatown.
Zeus: Oh. Oh, now that’s low, even for a white motherfucker melon farmer like you, that’s low.
McClane: I told you I was an asshole a liar.
Some TV versions of the original Die Hard apparently swopped the swear in John McClane’s famous ‘Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!’ with ‘melon farmer’, while another used ‘my friend’. (The Yippie-ki-yay bit originates in a song from the 1930s.) A dodge I’m more familiar with, from a Die Hard 2 dub, is the slightly more cinematic, if mysterious, ‘Mister Falcon’:
A ‘Yippie-ki-yay, monkey fighter!’ variant would complete the circle nicely, but I haven’t found it yet. There are so many of these bizarre muggerfugging dubs, I hardly know where to stop. TV Tropes has an amazing list of examples, and I haven’t even mentioned dubs in other languages. But that will do for now.
Somehow I’d forgotten Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s comedy skit ‘Badfellas’, which perfectly satirises TV dubs of salty language (h/t Helen Stevens):