Recently this Mathematica question was posted, Mathematica can't DSolve two-body pro-ble​m? The reason for the odd split in the word pro-blem is there is a filter preventing its use in titles. For the most part, I can see where this is useful, as almost by definition all questions asked here are about problems. But, this filter prevents a legitimate use of the word that is accepted in the physics and math communities.

Is there a way around this, or is the problem so great that its legitimate use must be suppressed also?

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    There are also several valid uses of "problem" related to algorithms on SO, e.g. the subset-sum problem, or NP-complete problem. I think this filter should either be removed or demoted to a warning.
    – hammar
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:00
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    Now that we have this we probably could just get rid of that restriction. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:01
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    @Arjan, apparently there isn't a filter on meta.
    – rcollyer
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:02
  • A Unicode Ux200B zero width space might help, but that's a workaround obviously, and not a very nice one.
    – Arjan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:06
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    I wish they'd stop coming up with these dubious point-solutions for verbiage problems. There are always unintended consequences, and they can always be worked around.
    – user102937
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:37
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    @kiamlaluno, I feel you kind of missed the point with that edit ;-)
    – Arjan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 22:40
  • @NullUserException, I see you applied a workaround. Just in case you didn't realize it: beware that this breaks searching for the word (at least in the title; not a big issue I guess) and of course: the invisible character will be confusing for others.
    – Arjan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 22:46
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    I know, @NullUserException, just wanted to make sure you know what effect it might have. (And few people, if anyone, will use title:"two-body problem".)
    – Arjan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 23:13
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    A partial solution might be to ask for verification before posting something with "problem" in the title (but most users will probably just click "yes"), or allow users with a certain number of reputation points to use the word "problem". (Not that I advocate either solution; I'd rather just remove the restriction altogether. Inappropriate uses of the word can always be edited out.) Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 21:48
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    The same thing apparently works with "question" and "help". I would like it if the system suggests that I not use those words. But I do NOT like it when I can't use those words when I really mean to do so.
    – Jason S
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 16:52
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    Then let the community edit the title, not a lame bureaucratic system. Doing so reduces the quality of this site the way those damned voice mail systems do ("Press 1 if you want to check your balance. Press 2 if you want to find the date of the last payment. Don't bother pressing 0 because we've fired all the human operators.")
    – Jason S
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 17:00
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    Why not make bypassing/overriding the word filter a reputation privilege? Then if it's a legit use, the community can edit the Titles to correct/allow them? Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 21:28
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    I'm waking this up with a bounty. Can we get some action here? Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 11:28
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    Bountying as I'm having a problem with this. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 2:09

6 Answers 6


As Jeff himself once pointed out, word filters are an extraordinarily bad idea.

This prevents people who have a legitimate reason (as well as the site's most trusted and privileged users) from using the word "problem" in the title, and people who just don't care will simply work around the filter by deliberately misspelling the word or simply inserting a space or punctuation:

and the pièce de résistance:

This is 100% useless and does more harm than good.

Expanded: The title word filter is one of the worst ideas ever implemented on SO

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    Presumably a proBLAM is a problEm which causes an explosion.
    – jscs
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 22:51
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    Oh, ow, apparently plurals are able to squeeze through this too. Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 0:49
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    Googling "The N+1 Problem" brings up stackoverflow.com/questions/97197/… as the first result. Wouldn't be possible under today's wordfilter.
    – user229044
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:34
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    None of your examples make up for good question titles. "Image upload proble in drupal" What image upload problem? "optimal solution to the Knapsack proble?" Define optimal? What problem? What have you tried? Why did it fail? "loops back to the MX pr0blem" No need for pr0blem in that title, it's fine without that word. And the Coup De Grace "Cuda Problam" What problem is he experiencing? Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 12:35
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    @TomWijsman Whether or not they are good titles to begin with is not the issue here. The filter makes them worse titles, that's all I am saying. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 19:37
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    @NullUserExceptionอ_อ: The real question is how much percent are worse titles, if that's just small then the filter is really worth it. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 19:55
  • @meagar - I see that question has since been edited and the title now refers to the "n+1 selects issue" ! Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 12:27
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    @TomWijsman The word "problem" in most of those examples refer to known mathematical problems - the "problem" is part of a proper noun, and should not need to be mangled.
    – Marcin
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 14:04
  • @Marcin: You appear to be addressing different examples. Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 14:05

I believe that the team is simply trying to raise the level of discourse on Stack Overflow, and I fully support this decision and applaud their efforts.

In order to contribute to the general sense of erudition, and following the adoption of Greek letters as insignia here on Meta, I therefore propose a grass-roots campaign to substitute the Greek "πρόβλημα" (transliteration: problema) for any and all occurrences of the English "problem", as well as any manglings thereof ("porblem", "pr0blem", etc.).

A should be formed with two tasks: to educate the user base, via comments and in chat,* about this new practice; to perform the necessary edits; and to recruit other members to the posse...

Three tasks: to educate the user base, via comments and in chat,* about this new practice; to perform the necessary edits; to recruit other members to the posse; and to evaluate the expansion of this policy to the web as a whole...

Four tasks: education of the user base, editing, recruitment, evaluation of expansion to the rest of the web, and proposal to the team of technological means of reinforcement...

The posse's tasks should include education, editing, recruitment, expansion, and proposal of technological aids, amongst any others which may be deemed appropriate, now or in future.

As an intermediate solution, the team should auto-convert all instances of the English "problem", network-wide, whether in titles or otherwise, to the Unicode string "�������", i.e., seven U+FFFD "Replacement character"s.

*As well as off-site means of communication (e.g., Twitter) as appropriate.

  • Or, as I found out just recently, you can use "problems". Works quite well.
    – slhck
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 9:12

I've come up against this same issue, with: How to tractably solve the assignment optimisation task

The "Problem" in this case is the "Assignment Problem", another well known algorithmic problem.


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    "Optimizing the assignment trollface.jpg"? ;) Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 18:18
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    And another one - the Monty Hall Prob lem
    – Eric
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 18:31

May I suggest stackoverflow to tweak the filtering mechanism such that questions containing phrases such as:

  • "a problem" - as in "I am having a problem with this question"
  • "this problem" - as in "Can someone explain how to solve this problem?"
  • "the problem" - as in "Can somebody fix the problem?"

OR beginning with:

  • "Problem" - as in "Problem dealing with this issue"

are filtered (case-insensitive) instead? Going by the number of up-votes on this question, it is quite clear that the word "problem" should not be a problem ;)

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    Not another filter! Just remove it altogether!
    – slhck
    Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 13:08
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    What about the title "Error when trying to foo the bar: "a problem has occured" " or something similar? Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 16:09

I think the devs can turn it off for Mathematica.

It's off for Physics anyways-- half the questions are legitimately titled "problem". The other half usually get renamed. Usually.

Edit: I misread the question, I thought the post was on mathematica.SE (where it should rightly be). In that case, I vote to demote the "problem" filter to a warning.

  • Ah, but the original problem was for a question here on SO. Can they make it tag specific? Also, SO has more intense filters because of the volume of questions.
    – rcollyer
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:45
  • @rcollyer: Oh that question is supposed to be migrated to mathematica.SE anyways, right? (I guess I misread the question--I sort of assumed it was on mathematica.SE) Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:47
  • I'm not sure we want it. It's not a great question, and it is still loosely on-topic here.
    – rcollyer
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:50

As someone said, it's better to educate the user base. How about adding a helpful tooltip which asks : Re-consider if you can state your question without using the word "problem" (and follow up the request with a link as to why the word "problem" might not be such a good idea in a title in some cases)

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