George Edison and I got in a discussion about my April 30 Rollback to a "NSFW" version of the famous "RichardIsA...." answer to the old "Source code comments" question.

While I'm in favour of not using expletives in everyday language here on the site, I strongly feel that editing out the "Fuck"s from this answer is wrong because

  • it's a WTF classic, and a piece of art, and needs to be either left the way it is or removed completely. Also, it's a quote from a third person.

  • It's not "NSFW" like an image of a nude person that could get you in trouble at work.

  • It's almost three years old and has been viewed by 433,000 users without an adverse effect on Stack Overflow's culture of communication.

my opinion here is, if you're offended, then don't look at it.

I have reverted it to the "NSFW" version that also contains the OP's very relevant update. I'm not interested in an edit war, and can live with whichever outcome, but a community ruling on this would be good.

  • 15
    Since when is the F-word NSFW? In every job I've had my boss has used it to the extent that it's lost all meaning :-)
    – Andy E
    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:21
  • 3
    @Andy: Then I feel sorry for the verbal abuse you've suffered. Jul 28, 2010 at 8:23
  • 8
    @George - he didn't say his boss was directing it at him!
    – Will Dean
    Jul 28, 2010 at 11:57
  • 8
    For a second, I was really, really confused!
    – Richard
    Nov 15, 2011 at 23:22

6 Answers 6


Profanity is not acceptable in comments, answers or questions. (or tags).

We at no point want to indicate that it is.

StackOverflow is populated by a community of professionals and adults. We are people who have been exposed to swearing. None of us have virgin ears, and it's highly unlikely that any of us have delicate sensibilities ("what's a forechan?"). However, as professionals, we should be able to manage the simple common courtesy of politeness.

It is basic professional reality that certainly when dealing with clients, bosses, even teammates, we are expected to behave in a civil manner. In the real world (when I'm unplugged) I swear quite a bit, even with some of my clients. But I would never include it in an email, and I would never swear at anyone I didn't already know, and quite simply, that is EVERYONE on StackOverflow.

However, I feel that the particular instance that has been linked is acceptable. A few reasons.

  1. It is old. Grandfather clause: things that were here before the rules were hardened can often stay.
  2. It is in a joke-style question."What is the worst comment?" Of course there is going to be swearing, that's what makes it bad!
  3. It is a direct quote. The poster is not using the word to make his point, he was quoting something else, and the swearing was part of the point. None of the obscenity was added.

Those three rules pretty much exclude any new posts from including acceptable obscenity.

  • 1
    My thoughts 150%, but better put.
    – Pekka
    Jul 28, 2010 at 20:56

I support this particular case, but not as a general rule.

  • 3
    Too many exceptions and you know where that goes... Jul 28, 2010 at 8:18
  • 1
    I expected to see a link to this answer somewhere here. I don't really care either way though - where I come from is probably the profanity capital of the world :)
    – Andy E
    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:20
  • 3
    At the least, this is a shining example of why 'list of' questions lead to many future headaches for the few people who spend their time helping to keep the site in order.
    – user50049
    Jul 28, 2010 at 9:07
  • Why not a compromise? Allow people to post what they want. If the post is objectionable move it to a special place that everyone knows contains objectionable material, and note in the thread that so-and-so's answer / comment was moved. Free speech should always be allowed, but I do not believe that means you can force that speech upon me.
    – dbasnett
    Jul 28, 2010 at 14:23
  • @dbasnett. Moving objectionable words to a separate part of the site completely fractures the StackOverflow model. The site is about questions and answers, how would that work with an "adults only" area?
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2010 at 16:45
  • I wasn't talking about moving words, I meant the entire post. It only fractures the model if every thread has posts with objectionable material. Most (almost all) posters don't resort to objectionable words.
    – dbasnett
    Jul 28, 2010 at 19:43
  • @dbasnett No, I agree, but it means that there will be technical content which is hidden to users who unselect "show me the swears".
    – devinb
    Jul 29, 2010 at 11:25

There's a difference between using profanity and quoting somebody else using profanity. In this case, the profanity is essential to the answer, in that the answer cannot be properly understood without the vulgar words in the quote.

Therefore, if any use of such words is justified, this is. I don't get to say what the dividing line should be, but I'm fine with this answer personally.


I don't think I'm an idiot.

But I'm not sure I get a vote.

  • 1
    Ahahahaha! I agree your options are somewhat limited here. Sorry. :)
    – Pekka
    Jul 28, 2010 at 16:55
  • If it makes you feel any better, the code wasn't actually about a "Richard" ;)
    – Tom Ritter
    Jul 29, 2010 at 3:27

To the arguments over what the "OP" wanted (me) - I did in fact accept a SFW version at one point, but it was out of reluctance and the fact that the post was being flagged. This was at the stage of the site where if you got 5 flags, over any time period no matter how many upvotes it was deleted.

It is my desire and intention to have the (f$@&ing) original post, with expletives. =)


I personally think it's offensive and should be removed. Many people use StackOverflow in a corporate environment where this type of thing would set off filters and whatnot.

And besides, just because it's art doesn't make it suddenly acceptable.

Edit:: this answer may shed some light on what the standard has been.
Credit to @Andy E --^

  • 8
    As you know, I disagree (although I can see your point about corporate filters.) Re art: Not necessarily acceptable, no. But you don't alter art to make it acceptable. You either leave it as is, or don't show it at all.
    – Pekka
    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:21
  • @Pekka: Agreed. And in this case I'm voting "not show it at all". Jul 28, 2010 at 8:24
  • 4
    In a way, if you go to read a "What is the best comment in source code you have ever encountered?" question during your work time...
    – Gnoupi
    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:25
  • @Gnoupi: You never know... besides, you might stumble accross it by way of a shortened URL or something. Jul 28, 2010 at 8:27
  • 1
    @George I happen to agree with the standard you link to by the way. But it has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
    – Pekka
    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:34
  • Hopefully my post is a valid compromise.
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2010 at 12:17
  • re edit: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/31168/…
    – waffles
    Jul 28, 2010 at 12:43
  • @George We have a link to a locked answer now though! I edited your stackapps post.
    – jjnguy
    Jul 28, 2010 at 16:59
  • 2
    Today I got carried away reading about origins of a classical digital test image and ended up at www.lenna.org. At work. Could it be a problem? May be, most likely not (I'd like to think that my bosses have indeed something between their ears). Would both links be relevant to a related question at SO and should be kept unredacted? Yes.
    – perbert
    Jul 28, 2010 at 21:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .