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Wikipedia:Words that should not be used in wikipedia articles

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There are no words that should not be used in wikipedia articles. That said, there are things to watch out for.

There are some words which many consider to be inherently biased and elicit more emotions than contents. Other people think that they're just words and can be used appropriately, and that Wikipedia shouldn't have any fixed policy against any particular word.

Of course that doesn't apply to reporting opinions.

Table of contents


Arguments for use:

  • It's a legitimate word with well-defined meaning. Dictionaries, encyclopaedias, textbooks on political science, etc. will readily provide definitions. So will most governments, who tend to see it as something like "doing bodily harm for political reasons without actually being a government." When governments accuse each other of "state terror[?]" you are over the line into political science and no definition will help you.
  • The fact that most groups called "terrorist" deny such accusations is not relevant to the fact that they are indeed terrorist (if they are, under a given definition). A comparison with the word "pseudo-science", which has been used in Wikipedia, might be illuminative.
  • Unlike traditional media, Wikipedia can fully explore the semantic nuances of words. In fact, terrorism is a good example; it's cross-linked to asymmetric warfare and doublespeak and guerilla and assassin, etc. Instead of censoring ourselves, which would lead to a neurotic project (since it would have a rules which are in direct conflict with its mission), we can provide more information, better information, etc. Instead of simply calling someone a terrorist, we can say *why* we're doing that--say exactly who is calling who a terrorist, etc.

Arguments against use:

  • There is no strict definition in use worldwide
  • Any definition that could be agreed say in English-speaking countries would be biased towards those countries (which have the world's most dangerous weapons in state hands already).
  • One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. It is impossible to use this word with NPOV.
  • Most groups called "terrorist" deny such accusations
  • Many groups call all their enemies "terrorist"
  • There is no hope that we will ever all agree who is "terrorist" and who is not.
  • There are many groups that some people call "terrorist", but embracing such labels would be very controversial, for example:
    • State of Israel
    • States of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan under the rule of Taliban
    • United States and CIA
    • Contemporary Palestine Liberation Organization
    • Almost all guerilla groups (like Tamil Tigers or Chechen rebels) are accused of being "terrorist"
    • Almost all guerilla groups accuse countries they fight against of being "terrorist"
    • Participants in the Boston Tea Party would be considered "terrorists" by British standards at the time--so labels of "terrorist" or not often depend on whether the so-called terrorists are successful in their "liberation efforts."
    • Resistance movement during World War II. Some historians even claim that resistance in Poland used biological weapons.
    • All forms of colonization which exposed indigenous peoples to diseases they had no immunity to, especially if they were vaguely aware they were doing it.

Why the title of this page might be misguided:

  • Even very loaded words can be used carefully to achieve NPOV discussions of controversial topics. See profanity for a perfect example (that I've worked on) of how even touchy words can be used wisely.
  • It is better to discuss how to use words appropriately, rather than to advocate the word not be used at all - since no one listens to us about that in the larger/real world.


(about Boston Tea Party): What on earth are you talking about?? Did they kill any civilians by any chance? By this logic you'll be calling a pickpocket a terrorist soon. I urge you to show any real evidence to the claim that labels of "terrorist" often depend on whether the terrorists were successful in their efforts. --AV

user:Lee M re: Boston Tea Party "terrorists": facetious reply: They probably poisoned a few innocent fish....

Attacks on property, without killing or injuring anyone, could still be considered terrorism. Suppose instead of flying planes into the WTC, they had placed a massive bomb in the basement, set up in such a way that it would go off in two days, and no one could possibly remove or disable it without setting it off. They then tell the authorities. The authorities evacuate the WTC and surrounding buildings. The bombs go off two days later, destroying completely the WTC, but no one gets killed or injured, but billions of dollars of economic damage are caused. The terrorists release a communique saying "this is payback for [insert your favourite U.S. misdeed here]". Wouldn't that be terrorism? -- SJK

The Earth Liberation Front does stuff like that on a small scale, and they "are terrorists" according to the FBI, but clearly not according to the DOD, who is interested only in groups that do bodily harm. Presumably if the "economic damage" (whatever that is) was extreme, it could be argued to have done bodily harm, e.g. people shooting themselves for losing jobs, etc., but by that logic so did the Enron collapse, and the DOD would have to go bomb office towers in Houston or Chicago. Definitions of "terrorism" that don't require direct bodily harm to non-combatants are simply broken - the Boston Tea Party and the Earth Liberation Front don't qualify.

Wanted ? Here it is: do you know a single person who calls Resistance Movement during WWII "terrorists" ? Taw

Sorry I don't have a hard cite on this, but I seem to recall that the Nazis actually did call the resistance fighters terrorists. The Nazis lost. Therefore we say that the resistance fighters were "freedom fighters" not "terrorists".


Sorry, all wrong. First, we don't call them freedom fighters, we call them resistance fighters. Second, we don't call them terrorists not because they won, but because they weren't. If Nazis called them terrorists (and that is yet to be shown), they were simply wrong. --AV

Sorry again, terrorists are the ones who use terror. Very simple, so why not use that word when it fits?

all governments use terror by definition - terror of law enforcement and covert action by the military, even-handed or otherwise, which is also used against civilians, and may well terrify them, and be intended to do so. The issue is legal vs. illegal terror, not terror vs. not, when the word "terror" is used by governments. But governments can't comprehend a world where they aren't doling out the terror.

Reagan called the "Contra" characters "freedom fighters", but they were arguably terrorists. - 24


Be careful with use of the verb "to be". Remember that sometimes "seems", "appears", "is said to be", "is believed to be" are more accurate.

(discussion follows:)

The above discussion stands as evidence that we should never use the word "is" in a wikipedia article. Two people arguing about "what is" or "what are" can take up infinite attention. In the time you took reading this, a child probably in Africa has died, and s/he "is" more important than this kind of argument. So write your articles in E-Prime, the subset of the English language minus all forms of "to be."

I can see that in a lot of cases, but what about:

  • Shakespeare was born in 1564.
  • George Bush is the president of the United States.
  • The number 19 is prime.
  • Ducks are birds. (Substitute: "Scientists classify ducks as birds"?)

By your system, I should not even be allowed to give the day of the week! ("Today is... ")

This is an excellent objection, because it actually reinforces the point about "is".

In fact, Shakespeare may very well have been born in any of several years. We know his baptism date, but not birthdate. George Bush will not be President several years from now, so the "is" statement would then be incorrect. The number 19 is prime, so this is a rare example where "is" may be justified.

I think the point here is that what seems to be a truth to one person may not actually be the truth, or it may change with time, and so forth. (David)

E-Prime is, frankly, ludricrous. One must be careful with the verb "to be", and be on the lookout for other verbs which are more descriptive, but to ban it completely is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. -- Tarquin

Further: take something like "Malting is a fermentation process applied to cereal grains". Korzybski would presumably have us write "Malting refers to the process ...". But malting doesn't refer to anything. The word "malting" refers to something. So it's now "The word 'malting' refers to the process ...". Needless, fussy overcomplication. A bad case of Haddocks eyes.


Against use: Statements about what X "fundamentally is" ignore the fact that we create all categories and can do with them as we please. People who prefer different category schemes (i.e. any two people) may disagree about the "fundamental nature" of X, and unless they share some arbitrary set of definitions they can never settle the question.

Take, for example, the statement that from a religiously neutral point of view Christianity is not fundamentally different from the stories we call myths. I agree with the sentiment, but I think Hegel considered Christianity fundamentally different because of its resemblance to (Hegel's) philosophy. Do we want Wikipedia to deny Hegel's philosophy? Or to claim that only Christians could accept it? -- Dan

For use: Some of us might produce hopelessly awkward-looking prose if we try to avoid it.


Since recently, people have disagreed whether a billion is 109 or 1012, and in Spanish, French, Norwegian and German the word still stands for the latter - which was also the original English usage. So it's best to avoid it altogether or at the very least explain it at its first occurrence in an article. Same issue with other large number greater than a million. See detailed discussion in Number names.


Wikipedia has a set style for dates, for example March 24, 1995. Don't write dates in the form 10/1/2001 or 1.10.2001 because it's not clear what the month and the day is. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers) for more details.

Natural number

The main argument against use is that it has two meanings:

  • positive integer
  • non-negative integer
One of them should be explicitely used instead of natural numbers.
What about uses where it does not matter which is chosen? For example, "Aleph-null is the cardinality of the natural numbers" is true regardless of which definition is used. I see no problem with using natural number in those circumstances -- SJK

the term "Natural number" should be used ONLY in those cases where "it does not matter which is chosen". That's it's purpose. If something is true of a Natural number it is true of a "positive integer" (i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc.), and a 'non-negative integer" (i.e. 0, 1, 2, 3, etc.). Problems arise when you talk about say 1/x "where N is a Natural Number" and don't deal with x being undefined (which it *can* be if x is a positive, and *might* be if x is non-negative).

In Wikipedia, "natural number" unequivocally means "non-negative integer", as the natural number article explains. So if you link to the natural number article, it's clear what you mean. --AxelBoldt

accordingly, you should always be sure that what you're saying applies when that number is zero.


This word is very controversial, and has several different meanings, mostly negative. In general it should be avoided--don't say "X is a cult", say "so and so has called X a 'cult' because...".

The one exception is the technical use this term has in sociology, which is quite neutral (i.e. small religious group with novel religious beliefs and a high degree of tension with the surrounding society). However, you shouldn't use the term in that sense without explaining exactly what you are doing, since that meaning is unfamiliar to most people.

The word 'sect' is far more neutral and inoffensive, as it doesn't imply novelty or tension. There are lots of sects: Sufis, Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, etc., who aren't very novel (they even kind of avoid novelty) and don't make anyone else very tense. Often, sects follow guidelines that undergo some slow modification over time using some kind of consensus process while cults follow charismatic leaders or doctrines in writing that never change, giving all power to the person currently editing the dictionary.

Yesterday's cults are today's mainstream religions. Christianity was considered a cult by the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. Falun Gong and some branches of Chistianity are considered cults to the Chinese government. Scientology was a cult in the USA at one time. In general, any New belief system clashes with the "tried and true" extant system in place within a social or religious order. (However, some relatively young Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian denominations call the Catholic Church a cult. What's at stake is the power to pass judgement on what beliefs are considered "mainstream" or "true".)

However, it's entirely legitimate to observe that sects often stay small and neutral in politics to help people cooperate, while cults acquire weapons of mass destruction (e.g. belief itself) and wipe out empires - and thus become "great religions". Then, they break up into more peaceful sects...!

  1. For interest's sake, I might point out that in French, culte means worship, and secte means cult. See false friend. -m


The word 'cult' is very loosely used in today's society. The media frequently refers to the 'cult' of fashion, the 'cult' of Star Trek and so on. General usage seems to be for any group or thing or idea that inspires a dedicated following among a smallish subsection of the population, rather than reserving the term for religion/s. Karen Johnson


Use naturally for "in a natural manner," such as:
  • Plutonium can be naturally occurring.
  • Obsidian is a type of naturally occurring glass.
  • Cultural anthropologists assume that human beings are naturally social.

Do not use naturally for "without a doubt," such as:

  • Machiavelli's life falls naturally into three periods.
  • The point of Brahms's work has naturally been lost by critics.

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