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Wikipedia talk:Profanity

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See also Slang, m:Should Wikipedia Use Profanity

Q. What ought our policy to be on foul language?

  1. We must absolutely avoid it at all times.
  2. We ought to discourage it in most articles, on the grounds of quality control and encyclopedia style, but in some articles it can be necessary and useful for completeness. Tact is important.
  3. We should allow it when it is warranted. We should not fuss over it.
  4. We shouldn't worry about it at all -- any article can contain foul language.

NB: the previous list of names represents a wildly inaccurate summary of previous comments made by me in the hope of cutting this page down to size. Actual comments can be obtained from Older Versions. Martin 16:49 Jan 16, 2003 (UTC)

Archive of previous comments can also be found here: [1] (http://meta.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Should_Wikipedia_Use_Profanity)

Some long-time contributors to Wikipedia feel that converting profanity within quotes to the first letter and a series of asterisks is censorship, and not in keeping with the philosophy of Wikipedia. Others feel uncomfortable with foul language, although recognizing that it is appropriate in some contexts. Still others may feel comfortable with such language, but find it inappropriate in a reference work that may be used by young children.

I don't see the point of having the above on the policy page. The last point is a non-starter -- paper dictionaries include swearwords. -- Tarquin 21:07 Jan 15, 2003 (UTC)

I agree

Paper dictionaries include definitions of swear words, but don't typically use swear words when defining other words, or giving sample sentences when the swear word is not the main subject. I'm not sure offhand how printed encyclopedias deal with them. Perhaps this policy should be adapted by wikipedia? Wesley

I agree. Something like:
  1. Profanity is discouraged and should be used only where necessary.
  2. Wikipedia is not a dictionary, therefore there is no need for definitions of profane expressions. Very good reasons should be provided on the talk page for including profanity in article titles.
  3. Wikipedia is written in an encyclopaedic style, therefore profanity should, as a rule, not be used in articles, unless necessary for reasons of correctness or factuality. Where not obvious, reasons for including profanity should be given on the talk page.
  4. Where used, profane expressions should not be censored (with asterisks or ellipsis or such).

Please be bold in updating :) Zocky 17:19 Jan 16, 2003 (UTC)

I'm a pretty open-minded person, but I find the user name cumguzzler to be pretty offensive. I'm writing this here because Wikipedia won't allow me to edit the appropriate page on user names. Cumguzzler is obviously meant to be in-your-face offensive, and in such a context, intent is almost everything. It's also asinine to intentionally create an atmosphere of antagonism that interferes with the functionality of the process.


See wikipedia:no offensive usernames, if you haven't already. I'm under the impression that this will be fixed soon. Martin

Foul language has no place in Wikipedia articles. This so called "freedom" or "non-censorhip" is a load of crap being promoted by a select few who, quite frankly, put forth this as valid expressionism to cover their personal inadequacies. Foul language or articles titled "Monster Throbbing Cock" are designed to gain attention to those who desire but cannot achieve acclaim for their efforts. They all are one more reason for Wikipedia to be dismissed as a place without value.....DW

I agree that gratuitous profanity undermines the credibility of the project. But I cannot agree with a flat out statement, "Foul language has no place in Wikipedia articles." As others have pointed out, an encyclopedia should be, well, encyclopedic. So-called foul language is an important part of language and culture. Moreover, the very labeling of a pasrt of speech as "foul" risks violating our own NPOV policy. An article that considers NWA's song, Fuck the Police, for example, should do so dispassionately. Along the same lines, a good article on the history of English, or sociolinguistics, ought to consider why some words are considered foul (and by whom) and to what ends.

Is a username like TMC "one more reason for Wikipedia to be dismissed..." Maybe. But frankly, I am dismissive of anyone who would dismiss an encyclopedia for foul language. There may be other reasons why people would dismiss Wikipedia that have to do with the quality of articles -- these are "reasons" worth attending to.

That said, I've seen talk pages marred by cuss words wielded with the clear intent to demean and offend others, and although I hesitate to advocate censorship as such, I think such acts should be censured. But even here, the point is not that people use "foul language," it is how they use foul language and for what purposes; it isn't the fould language per se I dislike, it is the fact that some participants resort to ad hominem attacks on other participants. Even if such a person carefully avoided using foul language, I still think what they are doing is shitty. Slrubenstein

This bit was added to the page today:
There is rarely any need to use profanity in article titles. Since Wikipedia is not a dictionary, there is no need for definitions of profane expressions or euphemisms for them.
This statement adds no information and will not change anything. In the article profanity we find two lists of "profane words". One is the FCC's "big 7", made famous by George Carlin, the other is a slightly different list of nine words. Only two of these words have actual articles associated with them. Five show up as redirects to articles on the general subject they cover, including dog. The others have no article at all and are not likely ever to have articles. If they do show up, most of them can easily be turned into redirects, or, possibly, into articles. None of the words is in common use in the Wikipedia.

So, is the author of this paragraph advocating the removal of fuck and motherfucker? Neither of them is a dictionary entry. Both of them go far beyond a dictionary entry in discussing the cultural significance of the terms. Both warn that the terms are considered profane and vulgar. Thus, this paragraph has no function other than to muddy the water and add hypocrisy to the page. Can anyone make a case for keeping the paragraph? Ortolan88

Well, I can. Of course an entry for fuck is needed - it's THE four-letter word. I think the wording may have been to strong... It should probably say "generally no need".

I'm refering to individual articles on every euphemism for penis (that seems to be the organ that people find profane), and definitions for expressions like (making this up) "Dumb ass motherfucker" that sometimes appear. Zocky 00:57 Jan 24, 2003 (UTC)

OK, this probably really needs rewording. Anybody care to help?

There is rarely any need to use profanity in article titles. Since Wikipedia is not a dictionary, there is no need for definitions of profane expressions or euphemisms for them.

Zocky 01:00 Jan 24, 2003 (UTC)

Thanks for moving the paragraph here for discussion. I think the policy as is covers what you want to say. The only synonyms for penis that I could find were dick and dong. Dong is a genuine disambiguation page and dick is in as a nickname for Richard, a slightly doubtful entry, but not put in by a giggling teenaged prankster either. If such articles as you fear do appear, they can be deleted or redirected under the policy as stated (or the "not a dictionary" policy, without a need for the additional paragraph. Ortolan88

A few weeks ago there was an afternoon when all penis euphemisms got their own articles. I mean somebody really put some work into them. They've been deleted since.

And I thought that the "don't use profanity unless needed" could use a nice waklthrough "username-title-article" with policy on each. Zocky 01:29 Jan 24, 2003 (UTC)

So, they're being deleted already. The "walkthrough" would be a hoot, an article supposedly against profanity consisting largely of profane words and saying don't use these words in articles. Contradictory and self defeating, if you ask me. Ortolan88

You misunderstand. What I thought by "walkthrough" was something like:
  • user name - don't use profanity, it's bad because...
  • title - don't use profanity unless you're writing an article about a profane expression that is more than a dictionary entry
  • article text - don't use profanity where not needed. where needed, use without censoring.
Zocky 01:42 Jan 24, 2003 (UTC)

Oops. Pretty funny mistake! But the policies are already in place. Your rewording as in point two might be added, I guess, but I don't think it's necessaryOrtolan88

Isn't it POV to say "don't use profanity"? -- Zoe

Policy pages may be non-neutral. Talk pages may be non-neutral. Only encyclopedia articles need to be neutral. Martin

There are many encyclopedias in print. I challenge anyone to cite more than one that makes use of foul language (as opposed to using euphemisms). Does using foul language mark an improvement over existing encyclopedias, or is it perhaps a violation of parents' trust in a site claiming to be an encyclopedia? David 15:40 Apr 17, 2003 (UTC)

The new edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music, if I remember correctly, has an entry on the Sex Pistols, and therein reference is made to Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols (not Nevermind the B******* or anything). I would expect any encyclopaedia to do the same thing. Many books of quotations include the WC Fields quote on why he didn't drink water ("Fish fuck in it"). Any dictionary or encyclopaedia of art which discusses Bruce Nauman's 100 Live and Die will have to mention the word "fuck", as it is central to the piece (the The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists does just this; see [2] (http://www.xrefer.com/entry.jsp?xrefid=651882&secid=.-&hh=1)). Likewise, there is Andres Serrano[?]'s Piss Christ and Helen Chadwick's Piss Flowers - no serious encyclopaeidia is going to censor those names. Encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and other reference works, will not shy from using "foul language" where it is necessary to do so. Books specifically for children, of course, will. We are not a publication specifically for children. We should use "foul language" if it is necessary, as the policy page says. --Camembert

I find your examples thoughtful and persuasive. My only remaining reservation concerns children. Most parents want to prevent their children from being exposed to violence, sex, and other harmful influences. As adults we have become sophisticated, which is another word for hardened, so that exposure to negativity has much less effect on us than on children. This is also, I believe, the logic behind age limits for drinking and smoking.

So the important question for me is whether Wikipedia will be used by children (I agree with you that it is not designed specifically for children). My belief is that as Wikipedia grows, and as its information starts to rival and perhaps surpass that of professionally-written encyclopedias in print, it will become a favored resource with teachers, home educators, librarians, and others who are in a position to make it available to children.

At that point I feel that it will be vital for Wikipedia to use foul language only where absolutely necessary (such as in the examples you give). For me the criterion is that children should not see foul language in normal use; if they specifically look for it, I am in favor of their being able to find it. My standard is the dictionary, where in normal use one never sees foul words, but if one wants to look up the 'f' word, for example, it will be found. David 22:04 Apr 18, 2003 (UTC)

Wikipedia does not or should not endorse any particular style of parenting. The effects you presume are far from uncontroversial. If language that is considered "foul" by some people has a legitimate place in an article about a particular subject, it should be used, regardless of whether or not children can or will read about this subject. --Eloquence 22:09 Apr 18, 2003 (UTC)

I echo these sentiments. Pursuant to Jimbo Wales' Statement of Principles, Wikipedia should remain entirely free of polemic moral precepts; those who feel the need to sanitize Wikipedia's content should create their own derivative works. -- NetEsq 02:16 Apr 19, 2003 (UTC)

use foul language only where absolutely necessary
Can you give any examples of places that use foul language where not absolutely necessary? Martin

Rude article titles Moved from Wikipedia:Village pump

I'm going to suggest that the article Fuck (and ALL others like it) be moved to a catagory under a heading that is not offensive to a great many people. I just searched Google for Norman Mailer and up came WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE FUCK. User:Black Widow.

Let's be serious, your ten year old son will have heard the word ten thousand times before he read the article in Wikipedia.
Ericd 20:44 Apr 14, 2003 (UTC)

I also suggest everybody to try :




just to verify that it's not obvious to get some fuck while searching Norman Mailer ;)
Ericd 20:51 Apr 14, 2003 (UTC)

I'm not sure just what those searches are supposed to prove, but a more reasonable comparison would be that a search for "norman mailer" (no quotes in the actual search) returns 129,000 results, but "norman mailer fuck" gives 2,010. And the first one is probably hitting lots of pages that are just genealogy and such and happen to have a "Norman" somewhere, and a "Mailer" somewhere else. Just for further points of reference. -- John Owens 21:04 Apr 14, 2003 (UTC)

I think that if we have a choice of two images that convey the same information, but one image is less offensive than the other, then we should consider choosing the less offensive one. Eg: in beach volleyball, if we have photos of the different signals players make by placing their hands in certain configurations behind their backs/bums, then it would be preferable to choose photos where the players aren't nudists... but only if we have such photos available. Martin

Hard to argue with that. However, please let's use reasonable definitions. For example, an image should not need to be replaced because it places "too much focus" on the player's (clothed) butt. Also, the "only if we have such photos available" part is very important -- removing a photo just because you find it offensive without providing a reasonable alternative is usually not OK. --Eloquence

Martin, is this something you have discussed? I think it's a really bad idea: an open invitation to vandals. Tannin

Hence marking tentative :)

You're referring to the bit (now moved below)on not deleting images without due process? I think that overwriting the picture with one that reads "image pending deletion" will be a sufficient deterrent to vandals. It has the benefit that it can be done by any logged in user, not just sysops, and it is revertable and reviewable. Having an orphaned image hanging around for a few days does no damage. Martin

I disagree. If somebody uploads, say, the goatse.cx image, it should absolutely be deleted without warning - it has no encyclopaedic value, and is the visual equivalent of those articles that people make reading "I am Chaz and I am kooolll!!!!!!" (with an added queasiness factor). If you leave such an image lying around on the server for a week, you're making it easier for people to vandalise - if the link to the image is removed from the article, or the image is overwritten with something else, such a change is quite easily reversable by the vandal. If the image is deleted, well, they can upload it again, but the process is a good deal more strenuous, and I don't think I've seen any vandal bother to do it yet. Perhaps there are other ways to deal with such vandalism, but deleting the image outright without listing it on Votes for deletion seems a reasonable way to me.

Now, of course, in general, sysops shouldn't delete images they feel are no good (for copyright reasons for example) without listing them on votes for deletion - but this is as true of non-offensive images as offensive ones, and also true of articles - I don't see why it needs special mention. --Camembert

I tried to self-revert the paras myself, but you beat me too it, Camembert :)

While I accept that it is easier to revert an image than re-upload it, I don't feel that the difference is sufficient to outweigh the loss of transparency/accountability. Every time we delete some vandal text from, say, George W. Bush it can be easily reversed - I don't see that we need to have unreversable changes to images where reversable changes work for text.

The case that made me think of this was :image:penis.jpg, where I feel that deletion was over-eager (considering that :image:clitoris.jpg is still around and it hasn't caused any major problems merely by existing), but I'm unable to properly peer review it. That makes me feel uneasy.

I'd be happy to make an exception for pure vandalism, were it not for the tendency of people to expand the definition of "vandalism" to mean "stuff I disagree with"... Martin

That's certainly an annoying tendency, I agree, and not being able to review image deletions is indeed troublesome. I think my "strong disagreement" to what you wrote below has turned to "disagreement" and is softening further. On the other hand, it's easier to delete true vandalism than write another image over the top of it and if it's right to delete an image then it's right to delete an image, regardless of whether some people might abuse their ability to do so.

The thing is, I've had experience of somebody rapidly adding the goatse.cx image to a large number of pages and me not being able to do anything about it apart from remove the links while they continued adding it to other articles - this was before I was a sysop (in fact it was one of the main reasons I became a sysop), and they were linking to the image directly on an external website back in the days when that was allowed (in fact, I think this was one of the main reasons this stopped being allowed). The effect was that I was in the same position that you're asking sysops to put themselves in with this policy - I couldn't do anything but delete the picture in the article and watch as the image spread across the Wikipedia regardless. I couldn't upload something else over the image because I didn't have any graphics software at all.

Somewhere in this rambling, I've stumbled to some conclusions: I don't think we should say simply "never delete an image without listing it on votes for deletion", but we should encourage extreme caution in doing this - only do so in instances which are clear-cut (like goatse.cx), and always give a (tactful) description of the image in your summary when you do so.

Also, I think you're idea about writing over objectionable images with something less objectionable (a message saying "Image pending deletion" or whatever) is a good one, but some people won't be able to provide such an image themselves, so lets provide a boilerplate image which people can use. Then, anybody can just download it from wherever we put it, and re-upload with a changed name as appropriate. I think that whatever else we do with offensive images, this is probably a good idea.

And thirdly, this probably isn't the right place for this discussion, since it isn't necessarily related to profanity or offensiveness (inappropriate images might be so for some other reason). That said, I can't think off the top of my head where we might thrash this out instead - feel free to move it if you can. --Camembert

Well I can solve the one problem by creating such a boilerplate image. That might be worth doing anyway, just so that non-sysops have a solution, even if we decide to allow sysops to delete quite freely. And I think I actually agree with you that never is too strong - one could always think of exceptional circumstances. The ideal solution would be if the wikipedia software allowed review of image deletion... but developer time is limited... Martin

I do not find profanity to be particularly offensive, but I do try to limit my use of it in conversation. (Though I often fail at that, finding few alternative interjections that wouldn't make me sound silly, prissy, etc.)

That said, I think that profanity policy should have as little as possible to do with our personal views on the issue, and as much as possible to do with the reaction of our readers. As others have already said, respectable literature, and encyclopedias in particular, refrains from using profanity. We need to realize that even if profanity scares away fewer users than it attracts, the users it scares away are much more valuable than those it attracts.

I find the censorship argument to be a total fallacy. Encyclopedic writing is not a form of personal expression; it is a cataloguing of facts. There is not one factual statement that requires the use of profanity, save for those that concern profanity itself.
Smack, the newbie

That sounds like a good description of our curren policy, Smack :) Martin 08:20 16 May 2003 (UTC)

Very well then. IIRC, I just wandered into this talk: page without actually seeing the page it's attached to. --Smack

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