We have already established that this is a language site, and even offensive words are part of language. As such, these may be discussed on the site from time to time, in which case they might appear uncensored (at the writer's discretion). I think this is appropriate.

On the other end of the spectrum, if someone used offensive language in an inflammatory way to actually insult others on the site, rather than to discuss the words in an academic fashion, such uses would have no place on EL&U, and would be censored or removed.

However, this answer and comment bring up an interesting point. The use of the word "masturbation" here is not inflammatory but it is not germane to the answer either. (Bear in mind that I am not saying that "masturbation" is actually an offensive word; it is, arguably, not work safe though.)

I see three possible approaches to the above issue.

  • Option 1: ignore this use of the word "masturbation", as it does not insult anyone, and since all words are "fair game" for discussion, nobody can have the expectation of a thread being completely SFW
  • Option 2: remove/censor/edit this use of the word, because it is not strictly necessary to be used for that point, and a person reading the site would not expect to encounter NSFW words within this particular question thread (whereas a question about, e.g., the "n-word" would alert the reader to wait until after work to read it)
  • Option 3: allow this use, but introduce a NSFW tag, and attach it to any question thread where potentially NSFW or offensive language is used. (This is probably not a real option because the page can be directly linked to from other pages, and might not be noticeable enough as a tag.)

Or, some combination of these.

Which direction do we, as the EL&U community, want to take regarding this kind of language?

share
7  
My first thought would be that 3 is not really an option, for the following reasons. 1) not every user looks at tags. 2) not every user would be willing to do so from now on (and not everybody realizes that he could use the "Ignored Tags" feature for that). 3) Not every visitor is even able to check the tags before opening a question (e.g., he might be coming from a badge page, where they are not displayed, or following a link from a different site). Most importantly, 4) it is not fair to tag a perfectly SFW question as NSFW just because of one of the answers to it. –  RegDwigнt Nov 29 '10 at 16:25
2  
As far as I know, on most other sites the purpose of flagging things as "not safe for work" is that someone passing by might catch a glimpse of you looking at inappropriate material. So I don't understand how simply mentioning a word in a passage of text where it doesn't really jump out and catch the eye of a passer-by can be hazardous to people's work environments. Am I missing something? If it is merely a question of propriety, that would make it a different discussion. –  Rahul Nov 29 '10 at 19:03
1  
@Rahul: Someone can certainly glimpse words. This would not be the only site to consider text to be NSFW in addition to pictures. Also, I understand that some office IT departments flag visits to webpages that have certain keywords they deem inappropriate. There is definitely a difference between offensive/inappropriate and NSFW. –  Kosmonaut Nov 29 '10 at 21:09
1  
@RegDwight: I think you make some really good points about the NSFW tag. –  Kosmonaut Nov 29 '10 at 21:20
11  
The word "masturbation" is not work-safe? As in, since that word is mentioned in a forum post (which is not a discussion about masturbation), the post (question or answer) is NSFW? If your workplace is so uptight that even an innocent mention of a word like that gets you in trouble (or might get you in trouble) then you have no business reading forums of any kind at work (if you value your career there). In a work environment such as that even a google search could land you in hot water. People (bosses too!) need to lighten up a bit. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 2 '10 at 14:51
    
Given that any word is fair game here, nobody can expect anything here being SFW. In this instance, I think the edit is fine. But that's just because it's okay here. Many places would censor this site anyway, in toto, because it can't be guaranteed to be SFW. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jul 9 '12 at 12:07

4 Answers 4

I don't see the point of getting upset about this sort of thing. I don't see anything wrong with that usage of the word at all.

share
2  
I don't think Kosmonaut sees anything wrong with that usage either, but it does make that answer Not Safe For Work. –  Marthaª Dec 1 '10 at 16:18
5  
"NSFW" of course strongly depends on the W-place. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 22:47
    
@JürgenA.Erhard Is workplace a bad word where you're at? =) –  bobobobo Jul 9 '12 at 0:34
1  
@bob: You know, I really have to effing (hehe) idea what I thought back when I wrote that. :D –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jul 9 '12 at 11:54
    
@JürgenA.Erhard. Over on h2g2, we often talk about wrk. It seems a reasonable word to star out. Of course, it's a British site, so sometimes we discuss the Protestant w*k ethic. –  TRiG Jul 9 '12 at 12:15
    
Eats, w**ks and leaves? –  smci Aug 10 '13 at 2:52

I actually support option 2. People looking for English usage help would be justifiably irked by getting an off-color joke (which is what the answer in question is) that doesn't have a direct relation to the question or the purpose of the site.

share
6  
Technically, there is a point to using the word "masturbation" in that instance, which is that this is an activity done on one's own and thus deserving a singular "beginner's" in the title. However, the answer could have used any number of other activities that nobody would deem off-color. Still, I want to be extremely conservative about editing posts for propriety. –  Kosmonaut Nov 29 '10 at 21:24
1  
I wouldn't be irked. But then again, I'm German... –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 22:50
    
I agree with @Kosmonaut that we should be careful with censorship and editing posts for propriety (well put!). Joel and Jeff constantly talk about optimizing these Q&A sites for usefulness. Many of their policies and changes reflect that ultimate goal of bringing useful information to people ("high signal-to-noise ratio" as they like to say). If we look at it from a "how do we best make this site useful" perspective, then it seems like editing unnecessary words like "masturbation" would further that goal by making the answer more socially acceptable and less likely to offend potential users. –  Sean Hanley Aug 24 '11 at 18:48

How about option #4: like #2, but prefer strongly encouraging the original poster to make the edit rather than doing a 3rd-party edit, at least in most cases?

Of course, I suppose whatever decisions "we" (well, really "you" at this point -- I joined english.SE some tens of minutes ago) make here on meta are subject to the [insert appropriate noun here] "they're more like guidelines anyway".

P.S. I really wish SE's markdown had proper dashes...

share
2  
+1 for the Pirates reference. (Also, you can get proper dashes by using the html entities - — and –.) –  Marthaª Jan 15 '11 at 0:26

The world might not yet be ready for what is good for them, but the day will one day come where the entire manufactured concept of 'offence' is done away with, for good.

You do not need to use colourful language to offend people. You can take my word for it, if you're unaware of this fact. In fact, you can offend people as casually as asking them an innocent question! I swear I'm not making this up - ask anyone guilty of wrongdoing to clarify their position or clear the air or state their case; and watch the heavens open with offensive rain.

Yep. Offensive. Anyone who - gets - offended offends those who have nothing to hide (but wouldn't mind firing some polite and pointed questions at others who do) are an offence themselves, against decency. True decency, not the polite society that says it's not okay to talk to another man's slaves without his express permission.

Do you remember that Polite Society? You should endeavour to. Where else do you think this whole getting offended at letters in unique ordering came from? Think about it. I mean, really Think about it. It'll come to you.

For what it's worth, and quite frankly it's worth quite a bit (you can have it for free, but), I vote to make a stand against the Offence against Decency that is tenderised and coddled sensibilities. If not for you, do it for those who have been maliciously coddled and tenderised. Why, what else did you imagine accounted for that marinading fo their sensibilities? I assure you that it was for the Obvious reason.

Think about exploitable such a poor victim like that would be. Why, with a well-chosen word you could get them to do just about anything. Maybe even...die for you? Or if you're not that telegenetic, perhaps a flag might do the trick?

Don't give up if that doesn't work. Someone who is emotionally affected by reading a emotive four letter word? Trust me, that someone will kill for you - it's just a matter of selecting, then framing, then presenting. And over the top they go....

share
1  
There is the possibility of people under 13--non users--who can land on this site. Are you saying 5 year olds deserve to see off-color jokes? Censoring them doesn't hide much, and people who already know the words know what it means. But 5 year olds don't need to see 4-letter words being flung around in their entirety. –  simchona Aug 20 '11 at 20:30
    
I don't think it's up to individual web hosts to protect the sensibilities of children - which is to say, I absolutely believe it is every human being's responsibility to protect the children of humanity from those who would exploit them. I'm not sure how widely you roam online but I assure you no child could possibly be corrupted by colloquialism used on this website. Please take a look at YouTube, and the music videos they watch - the lyrics make me blush. But OTOH, there are millions of kids being exploited in the open every day. You didn't know? How strange! Surely it's not..censorship?! –  jonny Aug 20 '11 at 21:49
    
My point being is the "slippery slope" isn't so much a slope, as a vertical drop. Good intentions. But if they're assessed emotionally if not quite rationally, with well-meaning sympathy rather than pragmatic / callous realistic awareness of limitations (and limited potential); haphazardly or lazily applied with inadequate rationalisation / justification - all very Pure and Noble in Intent - just so happens to be Evil's preferred environment. He'll settle right down. For all the Noble Intent, it's something of a tragic irony that this is an almost sickeningly-brutal, Results-orientated world. –  jonny Aug 20 '11 at 22:02
    
@jonny: +1, great answer. –  CesarGon Sep 12 '11 at 15:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .