A question for Aubrey/Maturin fans

I’ve finished Master and Commander and am halfway through Post Captain. Something that I’ve begin to wonder about is the way O’Brian occasionally places dashes in the text to replace what I take to be swear words, and then, scant lines later, uses swear words of equal intensity in their unexpurgated form.

For example, on page 19 of Post Captain:

So why would he do this if so much of the rest of his dialogue is filled with salty language?

I’ve been listening to them on tape (unabridged – almost done with HMS Surprise). Is it possible that your edition has undergone some strange form of bowlderization? I haven’t noticed anything like this on the tapes.

That being said – aren’t these great books? I feel like I’ve discovered a treasure. I wish I had a glossary for the naval terms, though. I’ve had a little trouble distinguishing my taff rail from my futtock shroud.

I think O’brien uses the dashes to draw our attention to the swearing. Otherwise, we’d get numb to it after a few books.

If the apparent editing-out of vulgarities were consistent, I would assume that the author was indulging in a bit of 18th century style self-censorship. Or that the book had been bowdlerized. This much I could understand, though my 21st century sensibilities would be more annoyed than mollified. It’s the inconsistency that confuses me. Perhaps there is a pattern that I haven’t detected yet.

It varies from chapter to chapter, page to page and book to book. In some books he will say “damme,” but not “damn.” In others, “damn” is fine. In some, you’ll see “fuck” written out, but other words bleeped. It’s all random and I don’t know why.

I can’t help you with the cursing but for those in need of a glossary or lexicon this is a great one.


It’s called “A Sea of Words” and it was created specifaclly for this series.

I’ve always thought a couple of things were in play. One, the dashes in Diana’s little curse allow you to fill in whatever you think would be shocking for a young woman to say, and thus your imagination does a better job than O’Brian would. Two, I think that the dashes are in the parts that read like Jane Austen, and where actual vulgarity would shock as much as it would in Austen. I think (I could be wrong – I haven’t read the books since my three year old was born) that you’ll find that most of the vulgarity is by the sailors, and particularly the common sailors – amongst them it would be the dashes that would seem out of place…

Shoot, you’d think I would have noticed this by now, since I’ve gotten all the way to The Nutmeg of Consolation. Guess I need to pay more attention.