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I just noticed that we have no meta question about profanity yet. We have strict rules about attacks or insults on other users here. But what about general use of profanity and insults against other persons that are no users here?

What should our policy be on the use of profanity?

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I propose to generally disallow all profanity on this website. I think we should strive to formulate our questions and answers in a neutral and objective way, profanity is the exact opposite of that. The presence of profanity also might lead some filters to block us at the workplace and schools.

And it is just not necessary to use any profanity in most cases. One exception I would make is if the profanity is somehow necessary for the question itself, although I can't imagine a question where that would be the case right now.

There is a very clear No to profanity from Jeff Atwood on Meta.SO and a related meta topic on Gaming.SE on this topic.

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    unless profanity is in a citation - in which case it should be allowed. – Sklivvz Apr 29 '11 at 19:41
  • @Sklivvz: I think mild profanity is okay in citations - but nothing too offensive – Casebash May 16 '11 at 10:16
  • Re: profanity in citations: We have a precedent of hiding Not-Safe-For-Work content behind links, which might be the best solution here. – Oddthinking May 2 '14 at 14:26
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Whenever adults start asking themselves if swearing should be allowed, I can't help but feel that the level of bureaucratic has reached a point where we have run out of real issues to tackle and are simply governing ourselves to have something to do.

Do anyone really think swearing is an issue on our site? Do anyone really think swearing is an issue at all? I certainly don't. Swearing is a tool in your vocabulary like any other, and it should be used when it when it ads value.

Stephen fry articulated the absurdity of banning swearing much better than I could in a 2 minute interview: Stephen Fry on the Joys of Swearing

Lets not ban swearing, there's no children around and this is an exercise in imposing some kind of weird moral standard that just about nobody really subscribe to.

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    this is an issue of practicality in communication between human beings, not irrelevant perceived "loss of freedom". If we were composing beat poetry, I would agree with you. – Jeff Atwood Apr 30 '11 at 9:33
  • @Jeff Atwood - I'm by no means a libertarian that argues freedom for the sake of it. I just think it's silly to ban something out of a sense of "you are supposed to" unless it's an actual issue. I don't at all see how it's impractical, the Australians seem to be able to talk to each other just fine with occasional curses and I'm pretty sure they are human beings. – Kit Sunde May 1 '11 at 13:34
  • the issue is that it's unnecessary and inhibits and actively works against communication. Beyond that, it can also cause our sites to get banned from work filters. There are months of discussion on this on meta.so, I suggest you familiarize yourself with it rather than retreading the same tired old ground over and over. – Jeff Atwood May 1 '11 at 20:16
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    @Jeff Atwood - You really should use the argument that work filters would block the site, instead of some kind of weird argument about the pragmatism of communication, as the first thing you say. At least the first case is hard to argue against, the latter case seem hugely subjective and I'm pretty sure it's mostly false. – Kit Sunde May 2 '11 at 9:43
  • well I could reply in some profanity laced way that completely overwhelms what I am trying to say to prove a point.. but I don't need to. – Jeff Atwood May 2 '11 at 21:17
  • @KitSunde Sorry for the major grave dig, but I'd like to propose that perhaps it makes sense to differentiate between factual answers and experience-based answers; I'd say that it can be quite appropriate to add a single swearword for emphasis and color while you're voicing your experience and your evaluation of that experience. OTOH I think it's much less likely to be a positive addition in the middle of an objective/fact-based answer. – Willem Sep 12 '17 at 8:57
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The problem

Profane language it's never very good, but the gravity really depends on the context.

A good rule of thumb should be: don't write anything you wouldn't want your mum, Carl Sagan, Phil Plait or your next employer to read.

It may sound like a hyperbole, but I know for certain that some notable skeptics have been browsing the site, so it's actually a real concern.

Examples

  • "WTF? I clicked on the link and a virus warning came out!" this is bad form, but probably passable
  • "I think these books are s**t" this is not OK at all

How to react to bad language

When anybody sees this kind of language:

  • if in a post and one has edit rights, edit and remove;
  • do NOT post "stop being rude" comments;
  • if editing is not an option (comments or not enough rep), flag for moderation attention.
  • How would Carl Sagan read your posts? – Andrew Grimm May 2 '11 at 7:41
  • In a voice distorted by auto-tune, I would imagine, @Andrew. – Oddthinking May 3 '11 at 16:02
  • I note that Phil Plait is known for his "Don't be a Dick" talk (which I tentatively paraphrased on this meta-question), so he might not be the greatest example of a person using only family-friendly language. – Oddthinking May 2 '14 at 14:21

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