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The Hitchhiker's Guide wiki states that 'Belgium' is the rudest word in the galaxy. Why?

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    For the same reason that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question. – Mr Lister Mar 11 '15 at 9:28
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    I am shocked that language like this is being tolerated on the Stack Exchange Network. You should really restrict this sort of vulgarity to something artistic. – MikeTheLiar Mar 11 '15 at 18:03
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    It even SOUNDS rude. Bell-jum. Now imagine it used in England... "Up yer belljum, ya wanky sod!" – Omegacron Mar 11 '15 at 21:31
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    Worth noting that Adams has an two entire books dedicated to giving new meanings to place names. I never found them that funny though, and I can't remember if Belgium was included. I suspect that the answer is just "because it's funny". Adams is a master of the non-sequitur. – naught101 Mar 12 '15 at 3:31
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    I find it really appropriate that the 2 first comments are both at 42. I'm scared of upvoting either of them. – Nzall Mar 12 '15 at 23:19
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Back in the late 70s/early 80s in the UK there was a meme doing the rounds that Belgium was the most boring country in Europe. For example there was a joke:

Name five famous Belgians - not including Hercule Poirot

Poirot is, of course, fictional - the point being there are no well know famous Belgians¹.

I would guess, though I know of no documentary evidence for this, that this is why Adams chose Belgium as the rudest word. It fits with his taste for the absurd.

¹ before I get flamed, this says more about the English than the Belgians

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    WRT your last paragraph, now you'll get flamed by English instead of Belgians. – Mr Lister Mar 11 '15 at 11:27
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    Now I am thinking about it, all the movies, series, people, etc. I know making fun of Belgium are english. what do the english have against Belgium? – Dries Mar 11 '15 at 12:44
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    @Dries They're English, so they'll flame him politely which makes all the difference – Andreas Mar 11 '15 at 13:25
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    I don't think it's jealousy (well, maybe the chocolate women), just that it's a conveniently small country to use as a joke. I don't think Monty Python had anything against Belgium when they wrote this. – Fruitbat Mar 11 '15 at 14:14
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    It's like Americans making fun of small Midwestern states. We're all sure Indiana is a fine place, but it crosses your mind so rarely that using it as a punchline has a "oh yeah, that's a place" quality to it. – zeldredge Mar 11 '15 at 14:31
73

I read somewhere that Adams ran into problems with his US publisher in 1979 for including a reference to

A Rory award for the most gratuitous use of the word "fuck" in a serious screenplay

He was forced by the publisher to change this, and chose the innocuous word Belgium instead.

He then got his "revenge" by writing about Belgium being actually the most offensive word in the universe, allowing him to suggest he hadn't given in, but had actually made it worse.

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    I still wonder why Belgium, guess it's just random just as '42' – Dries Mar 11 '15 at 10:15
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    Probably just the best sounding one in a list, also not a word likely to be revealed to have an alternative meaning, just a safe, inoffensive choice for the rudest word in the universe. – The Wandering Dev Manager Mar 11 '15 at 10:26
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    The quote has "gratuitous" rather than "prestigious". I'm sceptical about this explanation. Fit the Tenth (in which we hear about Belgium) was broadcast on 23 January 1980. First US publication was October 1980. The US text looks like it is lifted from the radio script, see: web.archive.org/web/20030214214643/http://… so I think your causation is wrong. Sorry. – Francis Davey Mar 11 '15 at 13:28
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    @FrancisDavey - from the linked page: Finally, the greatest Belgium-up of all times. Original UK phrasing (page 114): 'The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word "Fuck" In A Serious Screenplay. It's very prestigious.' 'I see', said Arthur, 'yes, and what do you get for that?' Has been filled out to become: "The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word "Belgium" in a Serious Screenplay. It's very prestigious." - As I said I'd heard it and was working from memory, I seem to recall the incident with the publisher happened in 1979 – The Wandering Dev Manager Mar 11 '15 at 13:41
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    Aha, in books.google.co.uk/books?id=cimXAgAAQBAJ at Chapter 9 it explains that Douglas Adams used the Belgium piece from the radio show. Of course because the Rory Award doesn't appear until Life, the Universe and Everything. So I am afraid this answer is wrong - the causal order was the other way around. Shame, because it would be a great answer otherwise. – Francis Davey Mar 11 '15 at 16:11
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I consider it likely that the meme started with the "Prejudice" sketch from Monty Python. It was broadcast first in 1973.

The choice of "Belgians" could well be arbitrary here as the sketch suggests being only one of a series.

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    This seems like reasonably good documentary evidence for @JohnRennie's answer. – mattdm Mar 12 '15 at 0:22

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