Star Trek Guide

Did Dr. McCoy Never Actually Give a 'Damn' On Star Trek?

TV URBAN LEGEND: Doctor McCoy never said, "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a..." on Star Trek.

Recently (as in, earlier today), I finally got around to doing a legend for the whole "Did Captain Kirk ever actually say 'Beam me up, Scotty?'" However, in the case of the classic phrase from Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy of "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a....," not only did McCoy not say it, he COUDLN'T have said it!

Longtime commenter, Christoper L. Bennett, wrote in a while back to point out a fascinating fact about the original Star Trek series.

You see, as we all know, Doctor Bones McCoy would often complain about being expected to do more than he could do.

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When asked something that he felt was asking for too much, McCoy would retort that he was a doctor, not a (whatever he felt he was being unreasonably asked to do).

Some examples include, "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer," "Look, I'm a doctor, not an escalator," "I'm a doctor, not a mechanic" and "I'm a doctor, not an engineer."

However, the word "damn" was basically banned on television in the 1960s (it wasn't, like, an express "thou shalt not say damn," but it was considered an expletive that you knew not to say). The exceptions were when you used it as a verb, like "The evidence is damning." It was actually uttered for the first time a year before Star Trek debuted, but it was in an episode of My Favorite Martian and it was A. an ad-lib went awry and B. almost certainly not noticed by many people (it's about 23 minutes into the clip below)...

But whatever, the main thing to note is that they couldn't say "damn" on Star Trek, so McCoy never says "Damn it, Jim" on the show.

He eventually says "Damn it, Jim" in the second Star Trek MOVIE, but not in the context of "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor" line.

When the Star Trek films were rebooted, Karl Urban's McCoy said "Damn it, I'm a doctor, not a..." in the first two films, but it was not until the final one that he actually said it TO Kirk, giving him the "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not..." line for the first time.

Christoper theorizes that it might come from McCoy saying "Damn it" on this old SNL Star Trek sketch...

It's certainly a possibility! Back in the old days, you didn't get a chance to watch shows over and over again, so it was very easy to misquote stuff like this and have the mistaken quote become famous.

The legend is...


Thanks to Christopher for the great suggestion!

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV. Click here for more legends specifically about Star Trek.

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