# Is potentially offensive language welcome in our community?

This answer makes a reasonable explanation but I have downvoted it for the use of the word "slut" and its sexual analogy to explain carbon chemistry. My objection is not to the use of promiscuity as an analogy, but to the use of this word to indicate it. Promiscuity is not inherently good or bad, but this word has traditionally been used to insult only one gender and not the other.

Is this something that the worldbuilding community want to welcome, tolerate, or reject?

Following BESW's advice, I have replaced the word with [snip] in the linked answer until the answer poster is available for a rewrite.

• I didn't down-vote the answer for it...but I very nearly did and fully agree with/support you doing so. Oct 5 '14 at 12:37
• I agree that the analogy usage is problematic and unnecessary. The real problem is that "s---" is gender-specific, and thus implies the validity of an ugly gender stereotype. The [snip] edit strikes me as a good basic policing method. Oct 5 '14 at 21:37
• "s---" is not gender-specific... It added nothing to the answer, though. Carbon's promiscuity could easily have been referenced without it. Oct 7 '14 at 15:43
• It's ironic that this has now made it onto the Hot Meta Posts and is therefore visible on every page... Oct 9 '14 at 11:54
• @Liath yes that was the opposite of my intention - thanks for editing it out of the title. Oct 9 '14 at 12:28
• This is working its way towards being the new policy on conduct at SE. As it covers (in)appropriate language in general and language that would alienate or make unwelcome whole categories of users in specific, it seems extremely relevant. Possibly relevant enough to make this question moot! Oct 12 '14 at 18:53
• @SevenSidedDie certainly relevant enough for this question to be an extra route to it, but when needing to quote something quoting the be nice policy direct usually makes most sense. This ones's handy as a back up to show that our specific community also agrees. Oct 12 '14 at 21:34
• @githubphagocyte Agreed! The only thing that it might make moot is dissenting opinions, I should probably have said. Affirming it right here is a good indicator of local community culture, yes. Oct 12 '14 at 23:25

Like any other offensive word or phrase, it's appropriate when it's genuinely necessary and at no other time.

Stack Exchange is a site for thirteen-year-olds and up, and we should write our posts accordingly. Even beyond that we should --as a matter of courtesy-- avoid unnecessarily offensive language. This will sometimes mean avoiding phrases which we are personally not offended by, because we know that they're commonly inappropriate for polite company. That's the price of participating in the Stack Exchange.

In contexts where a "bad word" is necessary to communicate an otherwise-valid question (as english.se allows profanity in questions about profanity), then it SHOULD be used--albeit as sparingly as possible. However, it's hard to imagine many worldbuilding questions which require offensive language. Outside of that context, crudity for the sake of emphasis or 'entertainment' should be considered inappropriate and proactively removed from any post which contains it: Edit the phrases out, or flag as offensive. I've seen an RPG.SE mod just replace profanity with [snip], and if that compromises the post's usefulness (it rarely does) then-- oh, well. The poster can fix it himself: we probably shouldn't put extra effort into fixing a post which didn't have the original effort of trying to fit basic Stack politeness standards, because it just shows the person they don't need to make that effort since we'll do it for them.

• Does "proactively remove" mean editing it out rather than waiting for the poster to edit it out? Where this would require a major rewrite, is it more appropriate to just flag the answer, or to edit to replace all content with "pending rewriting by answerer"? Oct 5 '14 at 10:35
• @githubphagocyte Yes, I think it should mean editing it out. I've seen an RPG.SE mod just go through and replace profanity with [snip]. If that compromises the post's content, oh well, the poster can fix it himself.
– BESW
Oct 5 '14 at 10:38
• @BESW I think either [snip] or rephrasing it to keep the promiscuity (or overall tone) in the expression but avoid expressions that are distractingly offensive is best. Personally, I don't care about offensive language but answers are not made for me :P. However, there is always a matter of a slippery slope so I'd prefer to keep the tone but change the language enough so it doesn't needlessly aggravate someone when reading the question (when said language is not adding to the answer). For example, an atom being an electron slut can be rephrased to electronically promiscuous. Oct 5 '14 at 11:41
• @ivy_lynx Agreed, and anyone who wants to put that kind of effort into the edits is welcome to, but I'm disinclined to suggest it because it's asking other citizens to do the work which the original poster should have done. Aside from potentially changing the answer's meaning, it supports bad behaviour by setting the precedent that citizens can post inappropriate material because other citizens will clean it up for them.
– BESW
Oct 5 '14 at 11:44
• @BESW Yeah I thought of that then my comment ran out and my brain juice as well - perhaps just suggest [snip] as the default and let the poster fix it or, if it's way overboard just flag for deletion and let the poster fix it :P Extra effort should only be expended to fix a post that has extra effort put into it. Oct 5 '14 at 11:51
• TL;DR: you can edit the word out without loosing any meaning yet loosing possible offensiveness. This the edit is a good one, independent of policy or larger issues. Oct 5 '14 at 19:23

I object to the use of the word and feel uncomfortable using it even in quotation marks for the purpose of asking about it. I would not want to be part of a community that welcomes it.

The only place I could see a justifiable use for the word would be in a question or answer that specifically deals with insults and conflict, and discusses its use.

I appreciate a light hearted analogy to aid understanding, but such an explanation ceases to be light hearted when it uses a word that divides the population into offensive stereotyped groups (regardless of whether that was the writer's intention).

I would like to see the answer edited so that I can remove my downvote.

• I generally agree, but will you extend that to any other offensive stereotypes? Or only ones you personally deemed valid? Oct 5 '14 at 17:33
• @DVK I brought it here because it needs to be a community consensus, not my decision. I will flag anything I consider offensive, including offensive stereotypes. I'm raising it here so the community can express its feelings in discussion and votes. Oct 5 '14 at 18:28
• I agree that offensive language should not be used if it can be replaced with a better word Oct 5 '14 at 21:05

I object to the use of the word and feel uncomfortable using it even in quotation marks for the purpose of asking about it. I would not want to be part of a community that welcomes it.

The problem here is that we are or will be a very diverse community. Some of our community will understand the anthropomorphism technique being used here to make the subject more interesting to some. I think your downvote is appropriate and if you are offended by the text then you should flag it as offensive.

That said, while I find the answer in poor taste and believe it could and would have been better had the OP toned it down, I am against censoring it. There are already mechanisms to handle this. Pop into chat and ask for others to flag this, or take it upon yourself to rewrite the answer to improve it. I also think it is appropriate to bring the answer here and ask for it to be fixed or removed. But if inaction on that request is enough to drive you away then you might be better off just leaving.

• If the community welcomed such offensive posts and defended them, indicated by upvotes on an answer, then I would no longer be part of this community. As I've seen a very encouraging response here I know that the majority of the community are considerate of others and interested in keeping our site inclusive. This is very much a community I want to be part of. Oct 6 '14 at 19:52
• I think my question is clear about not being opposed to the anthropomorphism or the use of promiscuity as an analogy, but only to the gender stereotyping word. Oct 6 '14 at 19:57
• @githubphagocyte I am with you there. Its a very poor answer and I think a flag is appropriate.
Oct 6 '14 at 20:18
• @githubphagocyte - I guess my thought here is that in the overwelming majority of answers the word is not appropriate at all. How ever I can also imagine a question or 2 where the term is not inappropriate. I doubt that any questions like that will be asked in a way that is ontopic and constructive.So rather than an outright ban on the word I think that handling individual cases as they arise is perferable to a blanket restriction. When you draw a line in the sand people are more likely to try to test that line, better to just handle them on a case by case basis unless it becomes endemic
Oct 7 '14 at 13:26
• Do you consider the edit that was done to be consistent with your answer, or censorship? Oct 10 '14 at 0:16
• @MonicaCellio - The word choice in that answer served no real purpose other than being salacious. An edit to clean the answer up is definately in order, so yes the edit was consistant. If for some reason the word choice made a better answer than other words like promiscous or (as I feel is the best word choice here) compatatible that would be different. Censoring it would be deleting the answer because we want to hide the idea, or banning the word outright.
Oct 10 '14 at 13:23

I'm going to have to play devil's advocate here... Just to add another perspective.

I think we should be cautious about censorship. Yes there are some younger users, and yes we should lean towards respectful discourse, but we should weigh the context and intent of a post rather than being overly concerned about particular words.

We all know that you can be incredibly rude using the the "nicest" of words, and be completely benign using the "crudest." Intent should matter more than the words used.

I'm certainly​ against "slut shaming" I think it typically demonstrates an unbalanced, dated world view, and that people should get past such things, but honestly I feel the same way about censorship.

What's worse is that censorship often replaces what could have been discourse about why some people find some words offensive. Rather than saying "hey that word offends me because x, y, and z..." People often just end up saying "you can't use that word here..." The important exchange of ideas part gets skipped too often...

As far as the "think of the children" argument goes... Well... It doesn't really go very far. I've raised children, by the age of thirteen they have a pretty good sense of, what is, and what isn't ok to say. If they're saying "bad words" they know that they're bad words. Show me a 13 year old who doesn't know your common "curse words" and I'll show you a kid who's playing dumb.

In a recent question, the poster used the lengh of time it takes to smoke a cigarette as a way to indicate an approximate time span. By these same rules, should we [snip] that? The reference had nothing to do with the question and doesn’t add anything, so it’s completely gratuitous. Besides being disgusting — especially as used to evoke a first-person experience — we have to remember that this site is for 13 year olds and we want to avoid public display of such things. After all, it's not allowed on a billboard or magazine ad! Television shows in prime-time must avoid depictions in order to meet ratings standards. It can certainly be replaced by a better phrase!

I will flag anything I consider offensive…

The commenter and those who agree with that sentiment are using their own cultual and personal standards, not a common measure. Even among one person, it can vary with context of where it’s being read or which day it is.

• I don't think wordings like "in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, X happened" is offensive. It might perhaps be unnecessary, and maybe also unclear particularly to people who don't smoke, but it hardly counts as offensive in my book. If a part of a post is unnecessary, as in does not contribute to the reader's understanding of that post, then it can be edited out regardless of whether it's about a cigarette or a puppy; if it's necessary, something like that can be edited to be clearer or more descriptive to a wider audience by replacing it with "in Y seconds/minutes, X happened".
– user
Jun 13 '17 at 20:49