The 'frickin' Wolf of Wall Street: swearing and the art of overdubbing

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Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street contains more F-words and derivatives of it (506) than any other movie drama thus far.

But with nine others already containing more per minute (Nil By Mouth is tops at 3.34, against Wolf's 2.83), the work for expletive-friendly directors seems plentiful. And with every F-bomb comes more work for editors skilled in dubbing over such expletives for different markets, age groups and broadcast times:

■ The version of Fargo originally overdubbed for US channel TNT is considered a classic because of the variety of its alternatives for the F-word and its derivatives. One F-word remains, possibly because – having run the gamut from freakin', fruitless, fruitful, frizzin, froozin and freezin' to flip, faking, forget, feel and full-of – the editor was simply lost for a word.

■ Ken Locke, known as the BBC's "de-f***er", developed the method of swearing into a mirror in order to match explicit mouth movements with "lesser words or spliced components" from elsewhere in each film. He overdubbed 101 of the 102 F-words in Apocalypse Now.

■ Of all words, the MF-word – partly because of its "quadrisyllabic pronunciation" – encourages the most inventive solutions from editors of alternate editions. In Do the Right Thing it became "micki-ficki"; in Me, Myself & Irene it was "mamma jamma"; in The Running Man, "mound of flesh"; in Die Hard 2 "kemosabe" and "Mister Falcon"; in Snakes on a Plane "monkey fighting" and "Monday-to-Friday". The editors who overdubbed "melon farmer" into Die Hard and Jackie Brown may not have known that it's an insulting term for people of Hispanic origin.

■ It is Fuck, a documentary about the F-word itself, that holds the cinematic record for most F-words and derivatives – 857 in total, with two more per minute than The Wolf of Wall Street. In Portugal the title became F K, on Australian cable TV F**k, in Brazil F*ck, in Greece Fuck: I apagorevmeni lexi (the forbidden word). In America, the Swedish film Fucking Åmål became Show Me Love, and its expletives were "translated into appropriate American language".

■ The Watergate tapes popularised the phrase "expletive deleted" and Richard Nixon is depicted using the F-word eight times in one scene alone of Oliver Stone's Nixon, and often the CS-word (which is most effectively overdubbed, for family viewing, with "fairy godmother"). Yet of 60 hours of tape Nixon had transcribed, under subpoena by the house judiciary commission, his coarsest expletives were eventually revealed as "shit" and "asshole". Nixon said "If my mother ever heard me use words like those she would turn over in her grave."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by John Hind, for The Observer on Sunday 12th January 2014 00.05 Europe/London

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