The Major Profanity Hidden In Star Trek TNG

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

If you mention Star Trek profanity, most fans will imagine you are talking about NuTrek shows like Discovery and Picard. Those shows went out of their way to include f-bombs in the dialogue, and while we’re not prudish about language, those cringe-inducing lines always seemed weirdly out of place. However, the more extreme cases of Star Trek profanity began with The Next Generation because Captain Picard secretly said “sh*t” right in front of us.

Star Trek Profanity Goes Way Back

To contextualize this tale, we need to conduct a brief review of Star Trek’s use of profanity over the years. Back in The Original Series, the most common bit of profanity was the word “damn,” and many fans mistakenly remember Dr. McCoy as saying this line as “damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer” (the actual line had no profanity).

Interestingly, the first time “hell” was spoken on television was in the episode “The City On the Edge of Forever,” with Kirk somberly saying, “Let’s get the hell out of here” after he had to save the future by letting Edith Keeler die in the past.  

From Light To Heavy Profanity

For the most part, Star Trek: The Next Generation and spinoffs like Deep Space Nine and Voyager stuck to the light profanity established by The Original Series. The movies featuring Captain Kirk and crew ventured into slightly more extreme profanity, including McCoy saying “Godd*mmit” in The Wrath of Khan and Kirk and Spock learning (and misusing) the term “dumb*ss” in The Voyage Home. Later movies continued pushing the envelope: Data said “sh*t” for the first time in the franchise in Generations, and the Kelvinverse Captain Kirk one-upped him by saying “bullsh*t” to the older Spock in Star Trek (2009).

Movies Influenced Later Series

Intentional or not, Star Trek established a pattern that the movies got to use heavier profanity and the series had to use lighter profanity. This went out the airlock in Discovery when Tilly blurted out “this is so f***ing cool,” opening the floodgates for other characters in this show to swear. That extended to other NuTrek shows, and even Picard got in on the action by complaining that after the shuttle he and Jack Crusher stole got damaged, it took them “ten f***ing grueling hours” to limp back home.

That line occurred in the final season of Star Trek: Picard, and many fans were shocked to hear the title character engage in such profanity. They really shouldn’t have been, though: back in The Next Generation, Captain Picard dropped some major profanity on us in the first and second seasons. However, most audiences didn’t catch it because the captain was cursing in French.

Of Course He’d Swear In French

The first such instance of this occurs in “The Last Outpost,” an episode with a moment straight out of Star Wars. Picard wants the Enterprise to “blast full power into warp nine,” but when he gives the order, the ship simply vibrates without moving. Before giving more orders in this Star Trek episode, Picard mutters “merde,” which is the French word for “sh*t,” introducing profanity to the premise.

The captain gives us a repeat performance in “Elementary, Dear Data” when a chagrined Geordi La Forge admits that he accidentally created a holographic supervillain (Moriarty) who could endanger the ship by giving the holodeck vague instructions to develop a foe capable of beating Data. From the captain’s perspective, this was his newly-minted Chief Engineer admitting that he put the crew’s lives in danger by adjusting the difficulty level of his nerdy video game. Understandably, Picard uses “merde” again to respond to this bad news.

The Subtlety Was More Sophisticated

As you can see, Star Trek: The Next Generation hid profanity in plain sight for years. Back then, some of the few fans who noticed thought it was very awkward to shoehorn in such vulgarity for a refined character like Picard. Now that NuTrek has characters dropping more extreme language left and right, though, we can’t help but feel like the days of the franchise using sneaky cursing were, as Tilly might say, “so f***ing cool” compared to what we have now.