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Profanity and offensive language are generally to be avoided on the stackexchange network, as I understand it. While Jeff Atwood seems to take a hard line on this, judging by English Language and Usage, there seems to be some latitude for communities to decide their limits.

So, should offensive language and profanity in quotations be allowed? Censored? Banned altogether?

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I don't believe there should be any policy to censor or abridge quotes. They should be left intact.

Even outside quotes, offensive language should be left intact, if it's helpful to the discussion. I don't think that will come up very often here (unless one considers sex or sex organs offensive), but I can imagine a question that might require, or be helped by, what would be considered offensive or profane words.

I believe a certain level of professionality should be the goal here. "Bad words" shouldn't be casually peppered into your writing, be it in a question, answer or comment. But if it's part of a quote, or actually relevant to the the topic, it should not be censored*.

If the rude language isn't relevant or quoted (or the quote isn't really relevant to the discussion), then words shouldn't be censored, the unnecessary language should be removed or rewritten, or the question closed, whichever is most appropriate.

* Except in the title, a policy I may have already run afoul of...

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One additional point: Titles should always be Safe For Work, because of the consequences if an offensive word reaches Hot Network Questions. This is not open to debate (I could only find this post from Jeff Attwood, but there are many others), and it is better to have your post censored by someone sympathetic than by an overworked SE employee.

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I made that edit. That particular word has become one of the most charged and volatile slurs in the English language. I wanted to preserve the outlines because at the time, that word was commonly used and not considered as derogatory, but today that word carries such baggage that it tends to overwhelm any discussion it's in.

Banning it is counterproductive and causes more problems than the word itself. I would never wipe out, erase, or overwrite history; the word was used, it was used in that quote, and we should see the context and know it was there.

In this particular instance, the word was not the focus of or necessary to the quote. The quote wasn't discussing race or race relations in general. If it had been, an argument could be made to keep the word uncensored, and I'd probably be okay with it.

I think leaving enough of the word to get the idea and bleeping the rest is a fair compromise between historical accuracy and modern respect.

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  • Since the question in question has been deleted, I think I should point out that this had nothing to do with your edit (which I approved, even if only to avoid the Scunthorpe problem). I deleted it because I (somewhat embarrassingly) misread the quote, the whole premise of the question was wrong. – yannis Jan 28 '16 at 11:43
  • @Yannis I didn't think the question had been deleted because of the word or the edit; no worries. :) Since I was the person who made the edit, I thought it would be useful to the discussion to explain what I was thinking. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 28 '16 at 13:35
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I just want to add a perspective on this that I think might be useful.

If this was the real world, I would agree completely with femtoRgon's answer. Concepts like race and gender (which tend to have slurs associated with them) are essential to understanding both ancient and modern society. So if a historical account uses a slur, it's important to understand why that account uses a slur, and for the slur to not be censored. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I also think the role that concepts like race and gender played in history will help explain the role of such concepts in the present day.

But this isn't the real world; it's the internet. Most people today have (to put this as vaguely and as mildly as I can) strong opinions about gender/race. Given the anonymous nature of the internet, having a productive conversation about gender/race is infinitely more difficult than having on in real life.

I personally don't like to talk about race/gender on Stack Exchange, even though Stack Exchange is very well moderated. I'm writing a post (probably multiple posts) about race on my blog, but I'm only doing that because my blog doesn't have comments, and because I have admin powers on my blog.

If you all want to discuss gender/race on this site, then go ahead. If you can pull it off, then I will be incredibly inspired and impressed. But I think you underestimate the difficulties involved in discussing gender/race on the internet.


This meta discussion was prompted by an edit that censored a racist slur (which was quoted from a historical account). However, because only some of the letters of the slur were censored (e.g. sh**), it was still possible to tell from the context what the slur was.

If this was real life, I would revert the edit and explain why it's necessary to keep slurs contained in historical accounts uncensored. But this is the internet; that conversation is hard enough to have in the real world, and (from my experience) virtually impossible to have on the internet. So the current situation -- the word is partially censored, but it's possible to determine what the word is from it's context -- isn't that bad of a compromise.

There are some incredibly brave people who talk about race/gender online. All of them do so using a personal blog, and even then they receive violent hate mail on a regular basis. If you want to talk about race on Stack Exchange in a meaningful way, then I think the entire internet would benefit. But you need to think about what that entails. In effect, the moderation team (and the community) would have to make a huge commitment to make this work.

If you want to make that commitment, then that's great. But you should understand what that commitment entails.


I don't really know if this changes anything. But there's a long history of anthropologists/folklorists ignoring sexual elements in the cultures that they study, and then making false conclusions about those cultures because they ignored the sexual elements. I guess that's something to consider in this discussion.

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