Douglas Adams' American publishers forced him to change some of the text in Life, the Universe and Everything: "Asshole" became "kneebiter", "shit" became "swut", and most bizarre and hilarious of all, "fuck" became "Belgium".

Has anyone associated with the US publisher (Harmony/Crown/Random House) ever explained why they made Adams change the text?

  • 151
    @RedCaio Citing profanity is perfectly acceptable on StackExchange sites, and censoring it is actively discouraged, except in titles. Citing uncensored profanity is not a valid reason to downvote a question. Commented May 13, 2016 at 7:46
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    @RedCaio - Don't like it, don't read it. I'm not going to do the thing the publisher never should have done, and site policy is very clear on this - profanity is fine in quotes or proper names.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 8:05
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    @WadCheber surely you agree that 'Belgium' is a better fit in Life, the Universe and Everything than 'f***'... it just adds to the overall quirkiness of the book instead of detracting from the dialogue.
    – user32390
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:27
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    I like to cite this as one of the few (if not only) Good instances of censorship, in that it gave us an additional chapter (to explain why Belgium was such a bad word).
    – aslum
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 13:10
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    CAN WE JUST STOP SAYING THE B WORD? seriously guys... I know this is the Internet, but come on, this is getting REALLY profane.
    – Patrice
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


According to Adams, because kids were reading it

As recounted in Hitchhiker's Guide, by M.J. Simpson:

"I think what happened was my U.S. publisher was unhappy about using the word "fuck" because of the number of kids who read the books," explained Adams later. "I was a bit frustrated by that, but then it gave me an idea and I put in the whole Belgium piece."

Of course, this was merely the author's impression of what his publishers wanted, not a statement from the publisher itself.

I was unable to find any direct statement from the publishers.

  • 18
    I have the same (excellent) book and one thing I learned is that Adams is something of an unreliable narrator even where his own life is concerned. Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:36
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    @TheMathemagician - Alas, it may be the best we have.
    – Adamant
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:37
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    If American publishers are so out of touch with American kids that they think they would be shocked/offended/unnerved by the traditional Big 5 Bad Words, this explains why kids don't much read their books any more. And @TheMathemagician, you mean "Adams was ..." because he's dead, and not just for tax purposes either.
    – frank
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 10:32
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    @frank, the kids wouldn't mind. Some parents would. Just look at what they get books banned from schools for.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 10:39
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    Interesting note and timeliness on this question and answer: My 13-year-old nephew will be required to read Hitchhiker's in public school. Now 13 is not really a young age to be exposed to profanity, but in American public schools the teacher probably would have a hard time assigning any book that had the f-word. Commented May 13, 2016 at 13:59

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