“To the men I write about profanity is adornment and ornament and is never vulgar and I try to write it so,” John Steinbeck wrote to his godmother in 1939.
If we didn’t already know that the author of Grapes of Wrath wasn’t writing in the science fiction genre at the time, that line would tell us.
Today everyone feels free to sprinkle those unspeakable (on TV anyway) words throughout a novel – Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” stories are my latest reminder.
In 1939, however, the saltiest language E. E. Smith could put in print was something like Kimball Kinnison swearing by “Klono’s brazen hoofs and diamond-tipped horns!”
And, of course, swearing by any generally-recognized deity would have been out of the question. So in Gray Lensman our hero fills us in on the theology:
“By the way, Kim,” she asked idly as they strolled back toward the ball-room, “who is this Klono by whom you were swearing a while ago? Another spaceman’s god like Noshabkeming, of the Valerians?”
“Something like him, only more so,” he laughed. “A combination of Noshabkeming, some of the gods of the ancient Greeks and Romans, all three of the Fates, and quite a few other things as well. I think, originally, from Corvina, but fairly wide-spread through certain sections of the galaxy now. He’s got so much stuff—teeth and horns, claws and whiskers, tail and everything—that he’s much more satisfactory to swear by than any other space-god I know of.”