While the SE network is mostly in English, the community is made up of people from all over the world, a majority of whom are not native English speakers.

It is always a struggle to learn a foreign language, and the quality of education and lessons received, if any, can vary wildly between countries, or even within the same country. Not to mention between people because we do not all have the same capability to understand and learn a new language. Some people will be so fluent as to pass as native speakers, while others will struggle and stumble on every word.

There is also the fact that many non-US users will be unaware of the whole controversy on neopronouns, nor will they even know of their existence. Or, maybe, gender-neutral is a concept alien to their native language, and they struggle with it.

I expect many people to stumble when trying to use neopronouns. I expect people to edit posts in good faith to remove neopronouns because they are unaware of what the word is and think it is a typo or a mistake, which will bring a lot of additional work to our moderators.

I would ask that SE keep this in mind when handing out the rules explaining to mods how to deal with violations of the new CoC regarding pronouns usage so as to not penalize users who are not native English speakers.


4 Answers 4


There is an user I often chat with in one of our chat rooms. His mother language does not have gender specific pronouns in the first place. For this reason, he often switches "she" and "he" because the distinction does not even feel natural for him. We mostly talk about fictional, book characters, so calling Gandalf a "she" hasn't really caused much damage yet.

Sometime he notice and fixes it, sometime he doesn't. And to be fair, I don't care enough to correct him every time (*) - I know he isn't doing that on purpose, so I just let it slip and don't overthink about it.

Will other do the same? I don't know.
Will a moderator look at his past actions to understand why he is "misgendering people"? I don't know.
Will the moderator act fast out of fear and suspend that user because the mod thought that not doing so was a violation of the mod agreement? I don't know.

There is only a thing I know. I will use care and kindness to try and avoid others getting hurt by wrong said words. I hope the same care will be given to us when judging our errors.

(*) - obviously, unless there is a reason to do that - for example because we are speaking with someone else that may not be aware of the issue. And even in that case, explanation usually works better than scolding

  • 8
    I suppose someone has to ask Gandalf what their pronouns are? Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 8:53
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    @GregoryCurrie: Are we talking about Gandalf the Gray, or Gandalf the White?
    – Cerbrus
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 8:57
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    @Cerbrus Don't bring race into this! Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 9:02
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    @Cerbrus, or age-ism...
    – user156108
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 10:45
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    I thank you for being a kind and careful moderator, but I'm afraid that not every moderator will be that way. What happens if a that user misgender another user and not a fictional character, and the other user complaints? What happens if the situation repeats due to difference in language? Where is the line drawn between what is considered a mistake and an action done on purpose? The CoC is unclear on that, and we (users and mods) need clear rules and guidelines to know where we're going.
    – Sava
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 18:24
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    I am not a moderator, @Sava. And the problems you are mentioning are close to what I think too. The intent of this change is probably good, I am sure of it. What I am not sure off is that we can "mechanically" apply a standard workflow to any case - I hope mods won't start to act like "robots" out of fear.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 7:37

Just a few things.

Firstly, the major change to the CoC is around pronouns. Neopronouns is a subset of that.

Secondly, I don't think even most native English speakers are aware of a majority of neopronouns.

Thirdly, despite what people would have you believe, pronoun use in non-transient content (aka questions and answers) is somewhat rare.

And lastly, I believe most of the controversy hasn't been around pronouns themselves but around the behaviour of SE company regarding the handling of the introduction of this new CoC and the problems they have introduced.


will bring a lot of additional work to our moderators.

Pronouns are not used very often. Neopronouns are even more rare.

not penalize users that are not native English speakers

This offical FAQ post mentions mistakes will happen and even uses non-english users as an example.

Note: I don't agree with the CoC changes, but I don't think people are going to get penalized for simple mistakes. (Just make sure you don't oppose the CoC if you're a mod ;P)

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    You know it's good policy when people have to hope it's applied sensibly. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 3:25

This call for leniency seems entirely unnecessary and seems to imply that the CoC changes are unusually punitive.

But in reality, the changes to the CoC were minimal and more of a clarification then a change in substance.

Regarding non-native speakers and mistakes, the FAQ is pretty clear about this very issue:

Q3: What should I do if I make a mistake and use the wrong pronouns?

If you make a mistake, apologize and correct your mistake if possible (e.g. by editing your post). We recognize that this may be new to many people, particularly members of our community who do not speak English as a first language, and so mistakes will happen as we all learn together.

The FAQ also lays out that violations which aren't willful, repeated, or abusive will result in a correction or warning at the most:

Q5: How will this be moderated? Will we ban people based on one mistake?

We understand that miscommunication or mistakes may happen, so most situations will just result in a gentle correction or warning. As with any violation of the Code of Conduct, in cases of willful, repeated, or abusive behavior, warnings may escalate to account suspensions and/or expulsion.

So based on this it's pretty clear that this will be handled like any other CoC violation. Mistakes will be corrected, warnings will be given for more severe violations, and suspensions for abusive behavior.

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    I think it's fair to say that some actions of Stack Exchange of late have, in fact, been unusually punitive. So maybe the concern is warranted? Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 11:14
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    The changes are hardly minimal, and the people have to go by what is written, and the moderators (which play a large part in enforcing these rules) by and large disagree that the changes are minimal. Lastly, given the enormous impact these changes have caused, it's a rater large downplay to call these changes merely a clarification: People's lives have been majorly influenced by them. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 4:07

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