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A recent answer was posted with a joke tagged on at the end. I wouldn't normally mind and might even find it funny most of the time, but the joke in question is an overtly sexual double entendre, which I don't think is appropriate for a Q&A site "for professional and enthusiast programmers" (to quote About).

I proposed an edit to remove it, which was accepted, then reversed by the answerer. I'm not sure what to do here.

Is using such jokes acceptable? If not, how should I respond when I find them in questions or answers?

Please note this is not and was never intended to be a question about whether one is permitted to have a sense of humour on Stack Overflow, or about jokes in general. This is just a question of whether sexual innuendo jokes belong in questions and answers.

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Unfortunately this seems to require social context, seeing as pussy here means pussycat - the (old) BBC comedy "Are you being served" is actually mentioned here as the social context and as such, knowing the series I don't find it offensive. –  Oded Aug 7 '13 at 11:16
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I was expecting it to be about forking or something about big dongles. –  JonW Aug 7 '13 at 11:16
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That's noise anyway and should be removed, same way like signatures or "please please help" etc. Removed again and if he keeps bringing it back, downvote. Three 20K+ users can then delete it, or one mod if you want to flag. –  Shadow Wizard Aug 7 '13 at 11:16
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@DannyBeckett - But if you don't know the show? Regardless the joke, in the show is exactly about the double-entendre of the word and can easily be misconstrued by those not familiar with it. –  Oded Aug 7 '13 at 11:17
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@Oded I actually haven't seen the programme, and don't understand the reference, but I still understood from the context that it was to do with cats. The line of code above it refers to cats. –  Danny Beckett Aug 7 '13 at 11:19
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@DannyBeckett - sure but referring to Mrs. Slocum's feline in that manner can be seen as offensive if one doesn't get it. –  Oded Aug 7 '13 at 11:20
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Considering the entire lack of context, for anyone who hasn't seen the joke, there isn't really much to get. Either you read a quote about someone talking to a woman about her cats, or you read a quote in which someone is using conspicuous wording and possibly referring to something entirely different. –  doppelgreener Aug 7 '13 at 11:24
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@Danny Yeah, and the quote reads "pussies". In my country (Australia), few people use that word to refer to cats when not making sexual innuendo. If you told a racist joke about Asian people to your Asian boss, and he wanted to fire you, would you say it's "just a joke"? It might be a joke, but it also appears to me as sexual innuendo. –  doppelgreener Aug 7 '13 at 11:41
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For heavens sake my Gran use to watch "Are you being served?". My mother loves it and she has two pussys and a dog. Anyway double entendre is a staple of British comedy. If you want to read more into the alternative name for something then this is in your mind. –  Ed Heal Aug 7 '13 at 12:49
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@EdHeal You're telling me it's a double entendre, and Bill Woodger explained that the joke is in the second meaning, and yet simultaneously you're telling me the second meaning, which the joke is all about, is in my mind? :P Of course it's in my mind. But it's also right there in the joke. –  doppelgreener Aug 7 '13 at 12:53
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@EdHeal A crusade? :P Really? No, I just don't think StackOverflow questions and answers are the place for it. Go ahead and tell that joke to your friends, or tell it in chat, or tell it to me off the site. I did respond to Bill saying I found the idea of that skit pretty funny. I don't think it's very tactful to have sexual innuendo in the questions and answers here. –  doppelgreener Aug 7 '13 at 13:07
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@EdHeal I think the primary problem here is the one Sha mentioned, i.e. the humor isn't incidental to your explanation, it is just tacked on at the end as a reference to a show. Since the last paragraph is devoid of content, it's best to omit it, no? –  Asad Aug 7 '13 at 17:10
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It didn't say pussies, @JonathanHobbs; it said pussys. And that spelling error alone is reason enough to delete it. –  TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Aug 7 '13 at 17:31
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It's breathtakingly the things people manage to care, and argue about on Meta.StackOverflow. –  Adam Rackis Aug 7 '13 at 18:32
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@EdHeal Free speech is fine (even though this is just an internet forum, and guarantees none). I'm trying to gauge what is appropriate here, as not everything one can freely say is appropriate. I've always related to this place as having a professional atmosphere: I wouldn't say here what I wouldn't say in the workplace, and sexual innuendo isn't something I'd bring up in the workplace. Apparently, the community sort of agrees and sort of doesn't, and thinks it would be a safer bet to not do that, going by TimPost's response –  doppelgreener Aug 8 '13 at 22:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 31 down vote accepted

If someone puts what they feel is an innocent joke in a post, presumably they've done so because they want people to laugh, not feel offended, and wouldn't mind the joke being removed if it were discovered to be potentially offensive.

If changes to a post raise an argument over its content, or who has the strongest right to decide what it contains, it's time to involve a moderator. Don't get into a rollback war with anyone even when you have the best intentions. Flag the post as 'other', let the moderators know what you find objectionable and why, then move on.

Humor that is clean, clear cut and evident without context that only a specific area might have can be okay, I don't think we can come up with blanket guidelines on what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to simple jokes. What I can say is, if a joke is likely to offend certain groups of people, or is just more than our steely, business like smiles can take, then it probably needs to come out.

In short, don't go to great lengths to edit out harmless fun, unless you feel that it's very likely to put off a professional in your field. And, obviously, don't get into edit wars - let the mods take care of it if you see an argument brewing.

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Thanks for the guidance on editing. I very much didn't want to get into a revision war; hence my coming here. –  doppelgreener Aug 7 '13 at 11:38
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"time to involve a moderator" -- wish I could upvote this twice. I did thousands edits and never have been through rollback war. Whenever I sense a disagreeing edit, I just flag and walk away. "Please take a look at revisions history: it looks like edit war is going on here". Mods decide whose edits are "stronger" (usually mine:) and no matter what, my helpful flags count increases. Did I mention that letting them deal with the conflicts also saves my time for other edits? –  gnat Aug 7 '13 at 16:13
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"Did I mention that letting them deal with the conflicts also saves my time for other edits?" ...and this is how @gnat passed me in the all time editors list on Programmers.‌​.. –  Yannis Aug 7 '13 at 22:53
    
@TimPost - The quip was innocuous. So why should it be removed because somebody thinks it is offensive? If we go down that avenue and I think that something that you wrote is offensive should it be removed as to avoid not offending me? The logical conclusion is that nobody should write anything because somebody somewhere may find it offensive. –  Ed Heal Aug 8 '13 at 23:17
    
I would like to add that offending a particular person is a no go. –  Ed Heal Aug 8 '13 at 23:21
    
I'm accepting this since it's the most popular answer. :) –  doppelgreener Aug 22 '13 at 0:50

One of the great aspects of SO is that you have participants from all over the world, and hence from all time zones. So when your brain is fried after a long day and nothing works for you, someone on SO has just had their morning coffee and is graciously putting their fresh brainpower to work for you if you post your problem in reasonably comprehensible terms - after you make sure it hasn't been asked before, of course.

The flip side is that we need to create some neutral ground for this exchange of knowledge, and humor is one of the first obstacles people encounter when trying to create an international professional environment.

In the no-nonsense Q/A framework that SO is trying to create, humour is not a part of the mission. So given the usefulness of SO and the importance of the mission, use of humour will have to be kept to a very limited level. Along with cultural references, politics and religious views, which are equally if not more toxic to a place like SO.

'Tis a pity, because I like to get a glimpse of other cultures and their humour. But this is the Internet, so if I miss something and think it is important enough, I can just join another site that covers it. Much better than arguing with people from other cultures about their possibly limited world views, an exercise which btw. mostly serves to cement my own.

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Couldn't have said it better myself. –  Robert Harvey Aug 7 '13 at 18:21

Stack Overflow is many different things to many different people. I get the impression that there is a segment of users that want SO to be an interactive reference book (no humor, no opinions).

Others like myself feel that Stack Overflow is an interactive community of users trying to help each other. The quality of help can vary but as long as the intent is to help, it is acceptable. Feel free to point me to an FAQ - I know they exist - I am just saying this is how I feel and I am certain there are others who feel the same way.

I won't attempt to say who is right/wrong rather I think it is important to recognize that not everyone feels the same way as you. Personally, I find that the idea of removing the human element (humor, newbie questions, opinion threads) is offensive on its own accord. The act of removing someone's mild-mannered joke because it doesn't meet your personal vision of what is appropriate bothers me greatly.

It's a community site, there are a variety of people out there with different backgrounds, and they are only trying to help folks. Unless the comment is intended to disparage someone else (i.e. name calling, threatening, etc.) then I say leave it.

Please don't take this as an attack on you as an individual - I just want to be sure that the opposing viewpoint is represented.

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The act of removing someone's mild-mannered joke because it doesn't meet your personal vision of what is appropriate bothers me greatly - exactly. See also: titaniumteddybear.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/… –  Adam Rackis Aug 7 '13 at 18:21
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@AdamRackis: You just created an endless loop. See the second sentence in the third paragraph of this answer. –  Robert Harvey Aug 7 '13 at 18:22
    
@Robert - nice catch :) –  Adam Rackis Aug 7 '13 at 18:23
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@mayo: It has less to do with removing the human element, and more to do with professionalism and the slippery slope effect. It's a common problem in ordinary forums that they eventually devolve into meme one-upsmanship. This isn't just a theory; it happened already here on Meta, and we had to put a stop to it because it was distracting from Meta's mission. –  Robert Harvey Aug 7 '13 at 18:24
    
@Robert: Just seems like you can go too far in either direction (too formal, too informal). Go too formal and you risk losing participation by normalizing content and discouraging out-of-the-box thinking. Case in point - look at the comradery between you and Adam in the comments above - it is not "professional" per-se but you are enjoying yourselves and in doing so feel more inclined to express yourselves. –  Mayo Aug 7 '13 at 18:54
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@Mayo: As long as nobody complains, I don't care. But the instant the banter becomes a distraction, I pull out my BFG-3000. –  Robert Harvey Aug 7 '13 at 18:56
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I'm one of those people who thinks of Stack Exchange sites as interactive reference books, without the human element. Then again, my favorite reference books contain healthy doses of subtle humor. –  Cody Gray Aug 8 '13 at 7:34
    
@AdamRackis - I believe that Jonathan Hobbs wants to be the censor.He wants tol be the judy and Jury over what is posted. I find it sad and I do hope that he cannot get away to censor a mild manner joke. Where will that end? –  Ed Heal Aug 10 '13 at 0:08

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