I read Ender's Game about a year ago, and saw the movie shorty after. In the book the aliens are always addressed as "Buggers", however in the movie they are always called "The Formic". What was the reason for the change for the movie? I haven't read any of the other books yet, but in the other books do they start calling Buggers Formic too, or is that name specific to the movie?

It sounds like "Buggers" would be a slang term, while "Formic" might be a more scientific term. But, it seems out of place for the movie to change to only using a more scientific term especially when for children it would be more natural to say the slang term.

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    in the book bugger was the slang term, and formic was the "proper" name. id hazzard they just didn't want to use the word bugger in the movie in case it had any other meaning in current day to day usage. which it does >.< urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bugger it has a very bad connotation in English speaking countries out side of the US it appears.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:41
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    @Himarm Ever heard of The Last Airbender? Everyone is refereed to as a bender at some stage during the series, so it's not the word as such which was the issue. We have to remember Orson Scott Card was incredibly homophobic and so the word Bugger has some unfortunate connotations in modern English.
    – Daft
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:48
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    In my particular UK English variant, it wouldn't have been offensive so much as cringey. It'd be like calling the scary aliens "dumb-dumb-heads". It was bad enough in the books, but in a movie it would be harder to ignore.
    – Blorgbeard
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 20:16
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    @Blorgbeard But I could totally see a bunch of 10 year old kids calling scary aliens "dumb-dumb-heads" which is why it makes sense the kids would use the slang when talking about them. I would expect the adults to use the more scientific name.
    – onewho
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 20:25
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    @Daft In the UK The Last Airbender was called The Legend Of Aang, precisely because of the bender connotation. Admittedly they didn't remove it from the actual show itself, just changed the title, (thank goodness) but still.
    – DavidS
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 11:36

3 Answers 3


According to this CraveOnline interview with the film's director, Gavin Hood, the decision to remove the offending word from the screenplay was taken by Card himself, after he supposedly had a change of heart regarding the possible upset that his choice of name could cause:

Q. Was it your decision to never refer to the Formics as “Buggers” in the movie?

A. It was actually a request from Orson Scott Card in his conversation with Gigi Pritzker early on if you can believe that. I think he recognized that the term might mean something that he didn’t realize, that’s what he said, it meant when he wrote the book in 1985.

Obviously by the point that the film was made, the name had been retconned out of the prequels and sequels, leading to the odd situation that chronologically the people of Earth start referring to them as Buggers, then stop abruptly.

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    [snip] - If you wish to discuss the author's religion or personal opinions, chat is the place to do it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:45
  • All editions of the Ender's Game book have still used the term Bugger. Card will likely change it when he makes the revised edition he keeps on talking about, but that hasn't happened yet.
    – ibid
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 22:37
  • There's a specific passage in Ender's Shadow, in the middle of chapter 2; "Or should I say Formics, since they're now saying Buggers is a bad word in English, even though I.F. Common is not English..." So, the author has been trying to change it since at least 2000. But I'm not sure Retcon is the right word, as it suggest removing and pretending it was never there in the first place.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:16
  • @Jontia - Rumours abound that in the new edition of Ender's Game (fully revised to fit all the previous retcons) the term will be disposed of entirely.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:24
  • Very interesting. I shall have to see if I can grab a library copy when the new edition comes out. Thanks for the additional details.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:39

I read somewhere that "Formic" was used to draw a distinction between them and the alien bugs in the Starship Troopers movies. I don't recall where I originally read that but I did find this comment by O.S.C. on a message board http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbmain/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=002830;p=1

Until the movie Starship Troopers came out, I thought of the buggers as vaguely insectoid, which meant I thought of smooth-carapaced creatures with six limbs and multi-faceted eyes.

Starship Troopers cured THAT idea. The last think I want is for anyone to look at Ender's Game and think of that movie. So not only did we change the name, for film purposes, from Buggers to Formics, but also we reconceived the buggers as being warm-blooded and furry. No smooth shell.

And we were free to do this precisely because I had not described them beyond "insectoid." Which they still are, being wasp-waisted and six-limbed.

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    I could see that being a possibility, do you have any evidence to back up that claim?
    – onewho
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 18:37
  • edited above to add a reference
    – Matt1618
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 14:32
  • @matt1618 - Great find. You have my +1
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 14:36

Wikipedia covers this rather succinctly:

The term "Formic" is derived from formica, the Latin word for ant; whereas "bugger" is a pejorative used by humans; yet it was not until 1999's Ender's Shadow that the term 'Formic' was first used, interchangeably with 'Bugger'. Later books used 'Formic' almost exclusively, as the more 'scientific' term.... The feature film adaptation of Ender's Game uses "Formics" exclusively.

So, it's a mix in the books, and the movie picked one. One might suppose that using a pejorative sounding term like "bugger" would make movie execs nervous...

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    yeah, in the US, 'bugger' isn't really a bad word, but for foreign English speaking markets it is a quite bad.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:44
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    I'm English and I don't see myself as being 'foreign'(!). In British English 'Bugger!" is a swearword. A bugger is someone who performs anal sex or is being disparaged. The only benign meaning of 'bugger' in UK English would be "a poor bugger", i.e. someone who deserves sympathy. Even this version should be used cautiously. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 20:22
  • In Australian English bugger is a pretty soft curse actually about on the level of "oops". This ad features only the word bugger and was played in prime-time Australian TV.
    – user20155
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 22:44

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