Let's settle this once and for all. When discussing posts or comments (on any Meta site), is it a problem to copy profanities and obscene words from that post or comment if relevant to the discussion?

There are two extremes:

  1. No profanities: they should be removed/censored, to prevent corporate firewalls from filtering Stack Exchange sites based on these profane words.
  2. Profanities are not an issue: it is not a Stack Exchange policy to remove/censor them. Leave them in the posts and respect the author's will and intent.

I would go with number 1 just to be on the safe side, although I personally don't like it.

This question is a direct result of the editing and reverting done on an answer to Why was this edit approved? which, due to that, was locked.

  • 8
    You could compromise and add the sweariness in a 'spoiler' area: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1191/… although personally i think if your Meta question is directly about a piece of naughty language then it kind of makes sense to include it in the question itself, otherwise how will people know what you're referring to? That's like me saying "I am offended when people use the word {CENSORED}"
    – JonW
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:39
  • 9
    Hasn't this been settled once and for all like 10 times already? Don't use those words unless it's necessary, but sometimes it is necessary.
    – mmyers
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:45
  • 1
    @JonW That, and it wouldn't help against the 'corporate firewalls filtering profane sites' issue, as the text is technically still there. You just don't see it. Mar 20, 2013 at 20:45
  • @mmyers If it is, the search on 'profane', 'profanity', 'obscene' on Meta did not turn it up. Then you have a link to it, right? Mar 20, 2013 at 20:46
  • FAQ: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22232/…
    – mmyers
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:48
  • 1
    @mmyers That's clearly not the same. All questions I could find (this one included) are about using profanities in normal conversations. Of course that's not done. I'm asking about discussing them. Also, your link is not a source for "don't use those words unless it's necessary, but sometimes it is necessary" in a meta discussion. Mar 20, 2013 at 20:50
  • @Virtlink can you cheat and add some random tags around some of the letters in the particular word? You know, like adding an <i> around the 'F' in that word? Or is that a bit hacky (and may not actually work anyway).
    – JonW
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:53
  • If you're worried about corporate filters, or the searchability or the word, just add zero-width spaces between the letters. It should be enough to fool searches and filters.
    – Mysticial
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:56
  • 4
    Also don't refer to yourself in the third person: "the original author". It seems disingenuous. Mar 20, 2013 at 20:56
  • It's worth noting that while it may be important for someone to get to a programming question that happens to have some profanity in it somewhere, it's not really a problem for a corporate firewall to filter a meta question about how to handle a case of vulgarity. Just view that meta question when you get home.
    – Servy
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:57
  • 3
    I deleted about half of the comments here because they were not going anywhere useful. IMHO, this is a subtly different (and considerably more specific) scenario than what was addressed in the FAQ that @mmyers links to - if you disagree with my answer, post your own and include your rationale.
    – Shog9
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


Unless you need it, don't use it. If you need it, don't worry about it.

The example that prompted this didn't need it - the vulgarity in question was plainly visible in the edit the OP linked to!

An example of "need" might be discussing a potential profanity filter, or perhaps the vulgar name of a tool or language. Even then, try to keep it professional; vulgarity for vulgarity's sake is what YouTube comments are for.

I've cleaned up the answer you linked to and unlocked it.

  • I agree that it is not needed in this case, but apparently not everyone agrees when it is needed and when not. Your removed it, but your colleague moderator casperOne previously reinstated it. What do you suggest when moderators cannot agree on the need? Don't edit to prevent edit wars, or do edit for other reasons? Mar 20, 2013 at 20:56
  • 3
    @Virtlink What do you suggest when moderators cannot agree on the need? You create a new meta question to discuss exactly that. See this example Mods don't always need to agree, and regular users can disagree with mods. Meta exists to sort out such issues.
    – Servy
    Mar 20, 2013 at 20:58
  • @Servy Maybe you missed it but your comment is under that very post you linked. Indeed, that's my question and I am asking Shog9 for an answer. Mar 20, 2013 at 21:01
  • I didn't remove it, @Virtlink - I just left my opinion in the comments. Since that wasn't respected, I've gone ahead and elaborated on my reasoning here, and reverted back to the original edit (sorry for stomping on your subsequent edit in the process though). If you feel strongly that the quote helps the answer in some way, go ahead and revert - but be prepared to explain why it's necessary.
    – Shog9
    Mar 20, 2013 at 21:04
  • 2
    @Virtlink That was intentional. I was trying to be funny. When mods disagree they do exactly what they're doing right now, they talk about it in a new meta question, publicly, so the rest of the community can contribute as well. The community then comes to a consensus on what they feel should be done, and a mod (or the community itself) ensures that that action is taken.
    – Servy
    Mar 20, 2013 at 21:06
  • 1
    For the general philosophy behind this, see: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/04/in-defense-of-editing
    – Shog9
    Mar 20, 2013 at 21:07
  • @Servy Sorry I didn't get that, but I agree with you. Issues should be discussed and not end up edit/revert on another user's post. That's why I asked this question, to open the discussion and get a relatively clear-cut line of when it profanities are allowed and when not. And what to do when in doubt. Benefits not only mods but also other users that edit posts here. Mar 20, 2013 at 21:10

There is one single Meta post that covers this:

Stack Exchange policy was given by Jeff, one of the founders, here.

The pertinent text that disallows obscenities:

You will censor it, or we will censor you. Your choice.

Another link here.

  • 2
    The new leader of SE, fortunately, seems to have a different policy. Mar 20, 2013 at 22:13
  • 3
    Isn't that about the SE software censoring words (or flagging the post), if you don't censor it? That doesn't apply here. Also, it is the 28th least downvoted Jeff Atwood answer (of all 4409 answers), so it doesn't really seem community accepted IMO. Mar 20, 2013 at 22:13
  • @Virtlink, no, it's not about the SE software. Mar 20, 2013 at 22:14
  • 7
    The most relevant discussion is here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22232/… - and even that's not meta enough to cover the case of vulgar language quoted or cited in meta discussions of vulgar language being used elsewhere on SE. Both of the discussions I linked to in my answer (one of which you linked to above) required that the specific terms in question be identified so that folks could know what they were even discussing - at some point, that becomes unavoidable. But up to that point, it's worth trying to avoid unnecessary vulgarity.
    – Shog9
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:12
  • 1
    @Shog9 instead of confusing meta readers with contradictory stuff spread over multiple discussions, why not just add an authoritative statement on "party line" into profanity tag wiki?
    – gnat
    Mar 21, 2013 at 8:34
  • 3
    Fair enough, @gnat - done.
    – Shog9
    Mar 21, 2013 at 16:19

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