The Lingo of Futurama
If it has invented more new words than any other show on television, why hasn't the Futurama language caught on?
I was among the legions of fans delighted when Futurama returned to the air on June 24. This inventive comedy scratches my humor itch, my sci-fi itch, and, to a ridiculous degree, my word-nerd itch. Hard as it is to believe, Futurama might even top The Simpsons, The Colbert Report, and Seinfeld in terms of volume of new words.
For the non-fan, the show features the adventures of Philip J. Fry and friends. On New Year’s in the year 2000, Fry fell into what he later calls a “freezer-doodle” that kept him on ice till the year 3000, when he joined Planet Express, the delivery business run by Professor Farnsworth—an extremely old, semi-mad scientist who is Fry’s descendant. Along with his best friend, the alcoholic bending robot Bender, and unattainable love interest Leela, Fry has had a metric galaxy-load of adventures, as summed up here by Zapp Brannigan.
The future setting functions as a blank check for wordplay: Any unusual word can be explained as either a new gizmo or a linguistic evolution, like how “axe” becomes the proper pronunciation of “ask.” Much of the show’s lingo mocks the technobabble that is a staple of sci-fi, especially the Star Trek universe. A substance like “diamondillium” is a pretty direct spoof of the dilithium crystals that power the Enterprise, while the recently coined “negative mass neutrino fields” somehow allowed Prof. Farnsworth to travel forward through time, though not backwards. Other terms and inventions include “wristal jackometer,” “foodamatron,” “career chip,” “probulator,” “truthoscope,” and “scram jets”—so helpful when you need to scram—not to mention “mega-fonzies” and “millidooms,” which measure coolness and likelihood of death respectively.
And then there are indefinite words, which in our world include “thingy,” “whatsit,” “thingamajig,” “doowhackey,” and “whatchamacallit.” In Futurama, Fry coined two of them when he asked, “What if I never fell into that freezer-doodle and came to the future-jiggy?” The freezer-doodle is later referred to as a “freezer-thingy.” In another episode, a robot elder implores Bender to murder his human friends by saying, “Here, use the ceremonial killamajig.”
Indefinite words are often a type of euphemism, and the show has come up with at least one restaurant-quality term that is both a synonym for “sex” and a mockery of alien love rituals like the Vulcan pon farr: “snoo-snoo.” That’s what a certain race of Amazonian women call sex. Unfortunately for their non-Amazon-sized partners, snoo-snoo is a pelvis-shattering experience for the small-boned.
As with many comedies, insults make up a large part of the verbal palate. A few years ago, I wrote about Futurama’s many insults for humans. In turn, robots can be insulted with terms like “soupcan,” “scuzzbot,” “bolt-bag,” and “wuss-factory.” Then there are insults that could apply to any old spleezball, like “spleezball” and “scazzwag.”
Nothing will probably ever top Anchorman in the awesome-exclamation department—that movie featured “Odin’s ravens!” and “Knights of Columbus!” and “Hot pot of coffee!”—but Futurama comes close. New Ph.D Amy is a wealth of interjections, such as “spluh,” “guh,” “fuh,” “gweesh,” “shmeesh,” and “splee,” to name a few, while her boyfrog Kif has said, “Oh monkey trumpets!” Hermes frequently says lines like “Sweet manatee of Galilee,” “Great cow of Moscow,” and the meta-interjection “Sweet something of someplace!” The greatest, however, might be Professor Farnworth’s “Sweet zombie Jesus!” Farnsworth is also the character who comes up with the most BS synonyms, which are mainly used as exclamations. Whether you call it “blithery-poop” or “baldercrap,” the meaning is pretty clear.
One sad fact about this banquet of terms is that they are mostly found in discussions of the show and Futurama itself: They haven’t made a Seinfeld-like march through the culture. So do your part to end this injustice: Call your swaddling infant a mini-meatbag. Campaign for mega-fonzies to be added to the metric system. Invent a probulator, or use Bender’s “Bite my shiny metal ass!” as trash talk when playing basketball or mixed martial arts. These words are too good to languish in a single show. They want to make snoo-snoo with the rest of the world.