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I know, can of worms, I'm sorry, but this is bugging me.

As computer scientists I believe we'd all like to think that the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are somewhat backed by some kind of scientific(ish) theory. Therefore I would like to ask what this theory is in regards to this rule. All I know at present, is that on this website it is not permitted.

This concerns me as, in my opinion, the blithe adoption of the no swearing rule is a common bit of "social proof". A decision that is made without any great deal of thought, made purely to bring something into line with "accepted norms". These norms are unmeasurable and in no-way even attempt to justify themselves scientifically.

I would also argue that this policy is in violation with the If it is corporate, change it rule.

So what is the benefit to Stack Overflow from omitting this kind of communication?
Is this benefit measurable?

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For what it's worth, if you want to wade through the can of worms, here it is in all it's meta-flame-war glory:… – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:06
Yes, that thread is more or less why I started this one. It represents a further leap of the policy. Silly question: but may I link to content with swears? – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 18:17
If you mark your link NSFW you can link virtually anywhere (relevant). When discussing the language I usually call it The Language That Must Not Be Named (with a Wikipedia link). No one marks that offensive, even though Wikipedia uses the forbidden word repeatedly. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:19
Is the proposed punishment the same if you don't prefix links with NSFW? – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 18:21
I doubt it. Links are only punished by people who click them. Words are punished by anyone who reads them, which is far easier than clicking. I've seen lots of people get away with using profanity on the site simply because no one who read it whined about it (and even though I have 12K rep and am a "moderator" I disagree with the policy and won't enforce it). – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:30
Wait, wouldn't that mean there are pages that might contain useful information that a corporate firewall would block? Surely we should find those pages and correct them to ensure we don't lose traffic. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 18:32
I wasn't aware there was a "no swearing" rule, but I usually obfuscate my swearing simply to be a little more polite. – Ether Nov 16 '09 at 18:56
Had I the power, I'd vote to CLOSE AS EXACT DUPLICATE. – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 19:56
Exact duplicate of what? I'm asking why, not "can I". – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:03
Why: See Jeff Atwood's comment to this answer:… – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 20:18
Can the teenage minds please get over this already? – Paul Nathan Nov 16 '09 at 22:27
Thanks, that's a most mature observation. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 22:32
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Site Policy:

Jeff Atwood:

If you can't effectively communicate what you need to say without resorting to lowest common denominator cursing, then keep it to yourself.


If you are not comfortable with the [site policy], this may not be the site for you.


To this answer:

The name of the language is not, can not be offensive.

But it will be flagged by a lot of nanny automation, so it should be munged anyway.

- dmckee

Jeff Atwood responded in comment:

this is the correct answer. – Jeff Atwood♦ Sep 30 at 21:46

Added Benefit:

It appears that thousands of people are able to use StackOverflow daily without being banned for language use.

Please describe carefully exactly what would be ADDED to the site if this policy were changed. In other words, how would other users BENEFIT from reading explicit language that they CANNOT obtain with the existing policy.

Until you can describe a CLEAR BENEFIT I doubt the policy is going to change, and it's very unlikely that Jeff or any other official SO representative will continue to personally address this issue.

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How does this answer the question? – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:02
Lots of people have answered it. Over and over again. Read the linked questions. This answer in particular started as a response to your comment to this answer… - Note that even though you have been given many reasons why they MIGHT have this policy, you are still chomping at the bit for a more official rationale. The most official rationale is given explicitly in this answer:… SEE COMMENT – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 20:14
If you truly have read EVERY single question and answer on this topic, then you very well know the 'rationale behind the "no cursing" rule.' So my answer is an answer to your REAL question, *"Why won't StackOverflow change their policy so I can swear in my questions and answers?" To which I answered, "You haven't given a good enough reason to allow that. Give a good enough reason and perhaps the policy will change, but since thousands are using it just fine without complaint, then chances are good the problem is you, and not the site. OP should be tagged as "STATUS DECLINED" – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 20:17
Hey, there is no need to be aggressive. Surely in a Q&A site you shouldn't have to dig into comments to find answers. If a question hasn't been asked yet then it is fair to ask, no? – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:23
I edited my answer to more closely address your OP. – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 20:26
Sorry if my comments seem so aggressive. I'm emphasizing my points since it appears that you have not been able to glean that information from existing questions and answers. – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 20:29

The rationale is as follows: Jeff welbogging says so. Don't jjnguying argue.

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Massively unscientific, but fair point. I'm still trying to work out the "why" though. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 17:41
Haha, DON'T CENSOR ME – jjnguy Nov 16 '09 at 19:20
Jeff's point (and mine as well) is that on these sites, you should censor yourself. – tomjedrz Nov 16 '09 at 19:22
I don't swear on SO, SU, or SF, just meta. – jjnguy Nov 16 '09 at 19:24
@tomjedrz. Again we go back to the original point. Why? Do you have figures to back this up or are you just kow-towing to peer pressure and social proof? This kind of thinking has held our civisilisation back countless times. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 19:25
@Quibblesome: Why??? BECAUSE JEFF SAYS SO. He is the boss, and he makes the rules. I happen to agree with the rules, because discourse is more effective when people are courteous and considerate. Profanity is neither of these. – tomjedrz Nov 16 '09 at 22:24
@tomjedrz. I have three options. a) shut up and do as i'm told. b) whinge. c) Find the real reason why and find a solution that is acceptable to both scenarios. I don't do a), and i'm trying to grow out of b). Hence I ask this question c). – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 22:46
@Quibblesome: Makes sense. It seems better to grow into the ability to do (a). (c) will only work if Jeff is amenable to some sort of compromise, and I have seen nothing to indicate that this is the case. – tomjedrz Nov 16 '09 at 22:57
@tomjedrz. I will never accept a). It is a product of my early experiences in life and in part it defines who I am. I don't accept the answer: "because". There is always a "why". This is part of what makes me curious about technology as well. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 23:04

So what is the benefit to stackoverflow from omitting this kind of communication?

Is this benefit measurable?

In addition to the Jeff/Joel input; it sure is measurable to me... I work for a company that sells products and services to the education market. As part of dogfooding, we (the corporate desktop) use the internet filtering that we sell to kids. And if you use profanity beyond a certain level, then when I moderate from the office I get to see a cartoon hedgehog instead of your words of wisdom.

This isn't a huge barrier - I can just switch network etc while I delete your account tidy up the post, so don't start thinking that swearing "on my watch" is the way to avoid prompt moderation; the reverse - it'll make we more grumpy ;-p

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Cue Quibblesome changing his avatar to a hedgehog in 3...2... – Adam Davis Nov 16 '09 at 21:19
+1 - It's not about more traffic to Stack Overflow at all (as others have implied). It's about individual users not getting blocked from using the site by their own companies' policies. – Bill the Lizard Nov 16 '09 at 22:15
Easy +1. Q wanted an example of how this policy benefits the site, and this is a clear and straightforward real-world example. I still think we live in a silly society that worries about such things, but there you go. – beska Nov 16 '09 at 22:20
@beska - and normally I'd agree - but in the context of school kids, it makes a lot of sense. – Marc Gravell Nov 16 '09 at 22:41

You could just call it fainbruck ..

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I prefer The Language That Must Not Be Named myself. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:04
Personally this is the killer for me. That language is called what it was called. It's not called something else. If swearing is not permitted then other things created by sweary people are not allowed to be mentioned. It starts to wedge into areas of absurdity. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 18:08
@Quibblesome - These arguments have been rehashed over and over in the other thread. I disagree with the final verdict, but I don't work on the SO team, so I can't really challenge Jeff on this. At the end of the day, he can swoop in and lock any posts he wants to, and no one can argue with that. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:12
Well I was just thinking... if we understood the rationale behind the decision perhaps we could find a way to solve that problem without taking this route. A solution that would satisfy all people. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 18:18
Some people won't be satisfied. See Lance Roberts' answer in the other thread. I doubt any solution that allowed it to be uncensored would make him happy. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Nov 16 '09 at 18:20
I vehemently disagree with the rule, but I abide by it. For me, I call the language "brainmunge" now. (I also simply substitute "munge" for whatever swear I feel is appropriate. EG, I have called things batmunge insane. Doesn't take a Nobel Laureate to figure that out.) – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 19:00

SO is like a restaurant. It's open to the public, but privately owned. You can have whatever conversation at the table you'd like, but if you're bothering the other guests the owner may ask you to leave.

Perhaps Jeff feels that the other guests here might be bothered by profanity. Or perhaps he just doesn't want that kind of language associated with his establishment. Whatever the case, it's his choice. If you don't like it you can eat somewhere else.

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If there's one thing you can learn from Jeff's favorite movie, it's that profanity is a refuge of the stupid.

Edit: Personally, I like that StackOverflow requires a certain professionalism, for my own tastes and because I sometimes look at questions at home with my 4 yr old who is just learning to read sitting on my lap.

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So Stephen Fry is stupid? – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 19:40
I would argue that I don't think Jeff himself is purely anti-"swear" words. The more I've thought about this over the time since the brainmunge fiasco, the more I've realized that he frequently cites pop culture which is chock-full-o-cussin'. So why would he initiate such a rule? Pragmatism. He recognizes that corporations filtering out his sites would harm his sites, and thus has decided to negate the issue altogether. While personally would like the freedom to do as I wish, that's what my Twitter stream's for. :) I understand the rationale behind the decision. – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 19:54
People, this is a joke :) ... well mostly. I do think that particular movie demonstrates that particular lesson very well. But mostly I'm poking fun at Jeff. – Joel Coehoorn Nov 16 '09 at 20:04
I hope he also recognises that it is a trade-off. For those it pleases there are others it offends (probably less of us, but hey...). – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:06
@ Joel, sorry I haven't seen the film. The quote "profanity is a refuge of the stupid" was mis-interpreted as a weasely way of insulting me. Sorry for the mis-interpretation. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:07
@Joel - "profanity is a refuge of the stupid" is exactly the sort of things that a %!$* would say. – oxbow_lakes Nov 16 '09 at 20:09
@Quibblesome: it's not a direct quote, just one of several good "takeaways" from that movie, including but not limited to: "don't settle for average" and "when society shelters individuals from consequences, those consequence doesn't disappear but instead eventually impact society as a whole" – Joel Coehoorn Nov 16 '09 at 20:26
Joel: I knew it was a joke. But it still seemed like a good time for me to say my thoughts on Jeff vs. Policy, since many of us here can't necessarily separate the two. :) – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 21:23
Oh, and Stephen Fry's use of profanity doesn't help his case. – Joel Coehoorn Nov 16 '09 at 22:27
Aye, but it shows that smart people also swear. It also shows that someone with a greater command of the English language than you or I accepts they have a purpose. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 23:02

I fail to see the brouhaha over banning the use of profanity.

Our host has made exceptionally clear that he does not want profane language on the sites. We should honor his directive and get on with questions and answers.

Surely our vocabularies are sufficiently developed such that we can convey desired meanings without violating the guidelines of the site.

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For me this significantly changes the way I approach SO. It used to be the case that I just wander in, answer a few questions, mebbe post a few using my language in my free time. Now its a case that I can't do just that anymore. There is now an additional step I must take which if I don't follow will result in a ban. This is no longer fun and changes it to have a work/corporate angle. To me this is a big deal. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 19:32
@Quibblesome: You and me both. It helps to antagonize Jeff at every opportunity. – JSONBog Nov 16 '09 at 20:25
@Quibblesome: So work on your vocabulary so that you can communicate in more than 4 letter words. Is that so hard? Vulgarity demeans us all. – thursdaysgeek Nov 16 '09 at 23:54
Personally, I find your intolerance of the language I choose to express myself in vulgar. As vulgar as the assumption that my verbosity is lacking due to my jubilent nature towards swears. – Quibblesome Nov 17 '09 at 0:33
@thursdaygeek: Profanity demeans no one. Vulgarity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. @Quibblesome: It'd be MUCH easier to take you seriously if all of the "big" words in your profile were spelled correctly. ("Sadastic," "blandifys," etc. Yes, I'm pedantic!) – John Rudy Nov 17 '09 at 14:56

Well, because the American standard of public discourse in business and media is 'no-cursing'. Since SO is business oriented and American, it conforms to standard, accepted practice.

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I don't know what businesses you've worked for, but every single one I've been in (and I don't mean just little shops, either, but several Fortune 500s) were chock-full-o-cussin. Doesn't bother me any. :) – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 22:45
Publicly?? Check out press release language or news articles. Very much non-cussing. – Paul Nathan Nov 16 '09 at 23:15
Ouch. Please, let's not use "press release language" as a model for anything on SO... – Shog9 Nov 16 '09 at 23:32
I find that in England (where I be) in work places swearing is A-OK. Sure, don't go overboard with it, but here and there where appropriate is fine. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 23:57
@Paul: No, not in media. But in the meeting rooms, in the cube farms, in the boardroom, yeah. I keep a running "mood meter" on my whiteboard as a warning to coworkers -- it's not uncommon for it to say fudging plussed. No problems at all. :) (And it keeps people away, which is always good.) – John Rudy Nov 17 '09 at 0:41

The name of the language is not, can not be offensive.

But it will be flagged by a lot of nanny automation, so it should be munged anyway.



Thanks to Adam Davies for finding the post and Jeff's comment.

share|improve this answer
meh, I can only accept this answer in two days.... :( – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 20:25
Why not accept Adam's? His has all the detail and information you need. – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 21:28
It also contains the "we don't serve your type" hyperbole that i'd rather do without. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 21:31
Oy. Really, now, nowhere does it say "we don't serve your type" or anything else. It states the rules, and quotes the site owner, who has said if you can't abide by policy, this might not be the site for you. Citing sources is an encouraged practice. – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 21:43
"If you can't effectively communicate what you need to say without resorting to lowest common denominator cursing, then keep it to yourself.". We don't want your type talking. – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 22:19
-1. If you were going to read something into that which is not there, the correct misinterpretation would be, "we don't want your type of talk." – John Rudy Nov 16 '09 at 22:25
Fair point. I guess one reads what they feel they hear as opposed to what is written. That's what it sounds like to me but i'll take your word for it – Quibblesome Nov 16 '09 at 22:38

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