Should Wikipedia use profanity?

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Should we use profanity?

Some people might wonder why this needs to be asked at all. After all, what place does profanity have in an encyclopedia? Upon closer examination, however, there are some cases in which an article might require words considered to be impolite, or even taboo. A good example would be an article on profanity itself. Such an article could not use phrases such as "the f word" and still be taken seriously. There are alternatives, such as the tried-and-true "f*ck", could be used in such an such article, but this is not a perfect solution, as it is only useful to people already familiar with the word. A person attempting to find out which words to avoid in a language not his/her own might be confused by such obscured spelling.

Scopes[edit]

There are different scopes which may have different policies regarding profanities:

  • A lemma where a profanity is the subject of the lemma.
  • A lemma where a profanity is not subject of the lemma.
  • Article text where a profanity is the subject of the text.
  • Article text where a profanity is used in the description of something else.
  • Discussion text where a profanity is the subject of the text.
  • Discussion text where a profanity is used in the description of something else.

Pros and Cons[edit]

Let's look at some of the pros and cons of using profanity directly in Wikipedia articles:

Pros[edit]

  1. Provides complete accuracy. If swear words are used in their normal form, it doesn't leave those unfamiliar with the word guessing. As an encyclopedia project, Wikipedia is striving to be highly accurate.
  2. Gives Wikipedians more academic freedom. People are often somewhat nervous about doing articles on certain subjects if reference must be made to offensive words and phrases. If a person knows that she won't have to fight with the community over the professional use of such language, he or she would feel more comfortable about writing an article on the subject.
  3. Provides evidence of objectivity. If profanity is necessary in an article, and it is used in a professional fashion, it is one way to showing that Wikipedia can produce objective articles on controversial subjects.
  4. Allows illustrative descriptions. Profanity may be used to better emphasize a specific point of view, as well as a given description.

Cons[edit]

  1. Wikipedia will be blocked by offensive content filters. In fact, it's happening already. I was at an Internet cafe yesterday and tried to check Recent Changes. One swear word caused the filtering program to flag en.wikipedia.org as a site "not suitable for public viewing". As many schools use such software, this would especially hurt Wikipedia's value as an educational tool.
  2. Certain people may not be permitted to use Wikipedia. This is related to the first con, only this time, the filters are other people. The big example would be parents not letting their children use Wikipedia because of some offensive content.
  3. Offended people will not contribute to Wikipedia. There may be very intelligent, knowledgeable people who would be turned off of Wikipedia simply because they are offended by any use of profanity, no matter what the context.

Personally, I am undecided. On the one hand, I want to provide complete, accurate information, and I don't want to have to shy away from topics that some people might find offensive. On the other hand, I don't want Wikipedia to be banished from schools and public access terminals all over the world. What do you think? -- Stephen Gilbert

Actually, this topic has already been discussed, linked somewhere via Wikipedia policy (which really, really needs to be totally refactored--the whole area).

From the Information Hound:[edit]

To Stephen Gilbert, or any others it may concern:

Please stick to the no-censorship policy. Wikipedia won't be banned from all public access terminals. And besides, Wikipedia's being banned in any given millieu or venue is not something you have any direct control over anyway.
Everything offends somebody. Just remain objective - as being so is the scholarly and encyclopedic thing to do - and don't worry about it.


One thing not addressed so far in Wikipedia -- at least from my limited experience -- is the issue of age/maturity-appropriate content. Censorship aside, six-year-olds need to read significantly different materials, both in terms of content and language, than adults. Providing some sort of mechanism to loosely classify content -- and to make appropriate-level content easier to find -- isn't directly censorship. It may make life easier for potential censors; on the other hand, it may make potential censors less inclined to hassle Wikipedia over sections that are more risque.

This suggestion is right now practically impossible to implement, though in the future it might be possible. It's now impossible because there is no way to persuade everyone to agree to label the articles they work on according to age level, let alone get them to agree on a scheme in the first place. Anyway, Wikipedia is not for children...yet. (Though nearly 100% of the pages here are perfectly safe for children of reasonably open-minded parents; "reasonably open-minded," I say, because some parents might not want their children to see the God entry, since that might raise too many questions in their minds.) --LMS
There is no way this encyclopedia can get around the censorship filters, so I don't think there is any reason to even try. Even if we eliminate profanity, there are articles on anal sex, sexually transmitted disease, and so forth, that are likely to get censored. Even articles that mention breast cancer could get censored simply because they use the word "breast" (it's been known to happen). So instead of trying to cater this encyclopedia to the bizarre whims of censorship software, I think we should instead simply ignore that issue and try to do what we think is the right thing, censors be damned. Oh whoops, I just used the word "damned"! - Egern
Personally, I think that to some degree Wikipedia is already set up this way by it's very nature as an encyclopedia. You mentioned above that children will be viewing material that is significantly different from what adults will be viewing. It would obviously be inappropriate and unencyclopedic to use the word "fuck" in an article about Barney & Friends, or to have an image of a nude woman in an article like US States. My point is that the likelyhood of children stumbling upon obscene material on Wikipedia is pretty slim–much slimmer, I'd imageine, than on Google, for instance–because materials inappropriate for children would almost always be unencyclopedic in articles that children are likely to view, and so would not be permitted by the community. On the other hand, if a child is searching Wikipedia for things like Boobs, or Sex, or Shit, or Fuck, then they know perfectly well what they're doing, and it's between them and their guardians. Kids have been doing the same thing for as long as there've been enyclopedias in class rooms and libraries. Bmearns 13:12, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

Google has a much more difficult time censoring the internet then the job at Wikipedia is. Also there needs to be an area to imput passwords if Wikipedia is serious about keeping profanity. Also being objective is related to responsibility. Do not keep the Encyclopedia UNEDITED. It has information like, "Bikes are leg powered vehicles." Not, "This exact cuss word can be traced back to the greeks. I have a lot more info like this. I can't properly describe a PS3 Console." Wikipedia needs to stop this crazy and ridiculous endeavor into hyper free speech. Why doesn't Kenny Chesney's wiki not say Kenny Chesney 400 times in it? Why is it so difficult to figure out what the right decision is? I wondered if the Matrix sequels were any good. Lots of intelligent arguments from both sides. Oh wait. DUH! It's the Matrix. THOSE MOVIES WERE AWESOME! Seriously what are the arguments for the blatant cussing. How is the use of a word that is labeled BAD (ie. Bad words) somehow being considered good. If someone offered you a bad triangle block of cheese and a good triangle block of cheese, how in the world are you going to be convinced that the bad cheese is good? IT'S ON THE PACKAGE! Good luck with this whole, we're professional businessmen and professional street talkers thing. "It's like being Businessmen who cuss!" If wikipedia had it's way the Lava article would turn into lava andmelteveryonescomputer. Wikipedia is dumb for this. I know that. Let's say they have a point. Maybe we should be able to put in cuss words. What's next? Let's check it out.


(Cuss word) da da da ... the history of... da da da I just proved I cuss and I research stuff... da da da ...and many more words...

da da da it's for the information of society... da da da ... and in closing... it's a word most people can't say and we don't want many people to read it. Good luck with all the information you just learned.


  • am i the only one who wants to fight the guy who mentioned ancient times when discussing cuss words?* It's wack! That's wack. I use to go to middle school. Saying you cuss because of historical things is very hyper-wack.


I have an address. I will fight these morons in the street. Tell them my e-mail address and I'll give them my home address. If they bring cuss words onto my computer again I will punch them in the teeth/face/mouth all of that. I think they are ugly, dumb, and probably smell bad. I will uppercut a Wikipedia fool in there mouth..

WHO WANTS SOME??? I'll knock one of you old volunteer fools down with a dropkick to the jugular.

Here's what I think. That sissy cuss word writing article guy hides behind those words cause someone like me will attack him in his sleep if he try's that dirt eating stuff with me.

Thank you. Sorry if I did not format this properly. Please direct it to its proper location.


Oh expletive. The guy above me thinks he's tough because he's down to attack sissies in their sleep.

Possibilities[edit]

The following content was in "Wikipedia Policy/Foul Language" on the main wikipedia site:

Q. What ought our policy to be on foul language?

A few possibilities to kick off the discussion.

  1. We must absolutely avoid it at all times.
  2. We ought to discourage it in most articles, on the grounds of quality control and encyclopedia style, but in some articles it can be necessary and useful for completeness. Tact is important.
  3. We should allow it when it is warranted. We should not fuss over it.
  4. We shouldn't worry about it at all -- any article can contain foul language.
  5. We should require it in every article.

Number 2, for me please. Mind you, I just used the f*** word in w:punk rock (as a direct, justifiable example, mind) so what do I know? -- Gareth Owen

I'd agree, Gareth. -- Larry Sanger

Same here - WojPob

2/3 Sounds about right to me--I'd go a little further and recommend that (1) If an article needs them, use them; mark the page with RSAC to make censorware work, and add a warning so we can truthfully claim we're doing our part to keep the page away from the kiddies--maybe some checkboxes on the submit form could automate this? (2) In an article for general consumption when it is necessary to refer to such a word (say when using a politician's exact quote), we should render it in such a way that the adults can figure out what's really being said, e.g., "f***" rather than simply "****" or "<expletive>". Accuracy is important. -- Lee Daniel Crocker

While I agree with 2/3, I do not think that quotes should be obscured as "f***". This makes it difficult for non-native speakers and also gives evidence of a dangerous tendency to self-censorship. If there are organizations out there which censor based on usage of specific words, even in quotes, then we shouldn't empower those organizations by adapting our standards to their requirements. --AxelBoldt

Number 2 for me, and while I agree with LDC on many things, I'm not interested in endorsing RSAC in any way. --KQ


Is this the emerging consensus? Profanity should be used only where appropriate, meaning primarily where it is necessary and useful for completeness and accuracy, and we should not fuss over it too much. This is essentially (2) and (3) above. Another way to look at it is that the Wikipedia ought not to swear, but it can quote the swearing of others, when historically or otherwise important.


Folks, we need to remember that some people (especially young ones) are using the Web as filtered by dumb w:censorware, and the inclusion of any "forbidden" words on Wikipedia pages may make it inaccessible to them.

That is a problem of and for "censorware". The solution is certainly not to just abide to whatever some group claims to be censorable. What about increasing awareness on the grave shortcomings of such systems?

We did remember that, thanks, as you would see if you read the above more carefully. There's really no need to shout; it doesn't make your point any more true and certainly won't force anyone to agree with you, though it might incline some fence-sitters to disagree with you. --KQ

Hmm, I wrote that and I don't remember the "shouting" at the time (although I was new[er] to Wikipedia then and may have done it through misuse of the Wikipedia editing conventions). Anyway, edited the "shouting" out. Have a good one.

How can we pretend to be an authorative, objective academic work if we acquiesce to the arbitrary whims of censorware vendors? In an endeavor as large as an encyclopedia, there will always be people who take offense at certain portions. If we start with words like "f*ck" and "sh*t" just so that we can slip past a few censorware filters, what next? Should we take descriptions of various non-standard sexual practices out? Or perhaps take descriptions of sex out altogether? Fundamentalist Christian schools might take offense at the historical (rather than strictly dogmatic) account of the life of Jesus, label it heresy, and block us for that. Ditto for any other fundamentalist group that doesn't appreciate a neutral and objective description of their history. Banning profanity is the beginning of a long and slippery slope. If you wish to say anything useful, you're going to offend someone. Saying "fuck" is absolutely necessary when attempting to express all of human knowledge. This very discussion here is in itself evidence of that.

One must take the middle path here. One should neither gratuitously use "fuck" at every turn simply for the purpose of offending people, nor absolutely avoid using any language whatsoever that might offend someone somewhere when it is indeed appropriate to use such language.

Encyclopedias are supposed to be just that -- encyclopedic, volumes about all human knowledge, not sanitized subsets of human knowledge that probably won't offend people.

No worries; since this essay was written, Wikipedia has followed the policy that you are suggesting now. There have been no efforts to "rate" our pages according to censorware specifications, and articles on w:profanity are written in a professional and uncensored manner. -- Stephen Gilbert 14:00 Nov 28, 2002 (UTC)

There are content rating systems that can be applied per page with meta-tags. These could help the availablility of wikipedia in schools. IMHO, Wikipedia should be as available as possible without compromising freedom. Such a system would allow this.

See http://www.w3.org/PICS/iacwcv2.htm and http://www.w3.org/PICS/.

How can the tags be added by authors? By using tick boxes or radio buttons at the end of the page? Is this too complex?

As noted earlier, though, where do we stop? We have enough edit wars as it is, without trying to reach an agreement about whether that checkbox should be checked or not. It's quite possible that every single article in Wikipedia is offensive to someone. I think it's enough that Wikipedia has a w:Wikipedia:Content disclaimer. -- Wapcaplet 15:52 4 Jul 2003 (UTC)

Encyclopedias are not, in practice, collections of all human knowledge as most such knowledge is irrelevant (e.g. what I had for breakfast). The use of expletives is indicitive of poor vocabulary. It is always possible to convey meaning without it. The only necessary usage is in quotation marks.

Of course, one is more confident of one's own vocabulary when one can correctly spell "indicative." :-) Since we strive to be NPOV, it's not too likely that profanity, as such, will be necessary outside of some form of quotation, but that depends on how far your definition of "profanity" extends. Some (perhaps many) words deemed profane in one context are perfectly good words in another context (bitch, damn, hell, etc.) In the context of discussing canine reproduction, the word "bitch" can certainly be used outside of quotations, but we're not too likely to state "John Doe is a son of a bitch" in an article about John Doe. -- Wapcaplet 15:52 4 Jul 2003 (UTC)

How about a Wikitax tag that flags a word profane. Additionally, articles can also have a flag to block the whole page, which is set by anyone who edits the page. There will also be a corresponding user option to block flagged words (on by default). When a word is blocked, it is replaced by <censored>. If a wikilink goes to a blocked page, it should turn black and if clicked go to a page that says "This page was censored for your protection. If you are over 18, you can turn off this preference in prefs page."

We will have to give guests a (dumbed down) version of the preference page that has the option to unblock the words (creating a cookie), as well as including it on the Special:User Preferences page.

So, how does it sound? Emperorbma 03:06 8 Jul 2003 (UTC)

Why should one be over 18 to read profane words? --192.194.238.242 19:49, 3 June 2007 (UTC)


I just looked in my dictionary that I've had since school, and the word "fuck" is in there as well as a number of other profanities. The dictionary is, in my opinion, a professionally written book.

I think that option 2 or 3 would be the best option.

If the article writer wants to use "f***" they could even link it to an article on the censored word explaining showing it in it's entirety and why it appears with stars. That way people won't get offended in the first instance, and if they want/need more information on the word or don't understand it, they can find out more.

Neolux 16:48 25 Jul 2003 (UTC)


option #2

Should offencive pages goto [[special:offencive/Pagename]]? That page would warn about the content and have a continue & go back link. The continue would go to [http://wiki.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=article&warn=no] and the back would goto [javascript:history.back(1)].

Noldoaran 19:40, 16 Feb 2004 (UTC)


Idea uv zzo38

Here is simple 3 rules:

  1. Do not use profanity unless you need to.
  2. If you do use profanity, do not senser it, rite it exactly.
  3. Do not put pictures of pornography. If you need to, instead put a link to a web site with that picture and indicate that the link is bad.

  1. 4 is fine. What is "profane" is all relative. If Wikipedia agrees to a set of dogmatic laws about profanity, it will eventually becomed biased. I doubt any 'profane' words would be used in technical writing, anyways.

-Anon.

-- 24.207.69.51 21:55, 26 Mar 2004 (UTC)

New discussion[edit]

I guess this conversation is long dead by now, but in case anyone's still reading it...
The fact that the first several votes, and the over all majority of later votes, were for number 2 and/or 3 above, indicates to me that this is just common sense. It certainly seems that way to me; obviously gratuitous-anything is inherently unprofessional and unencyclopedic, whether it's profanity, violence, sex, religion, or slap-stick-comedy. But so is shying away from potentially sensitive material that is otherwise perfectly appropriate for this project. As mentioned at least a few times above, dictionaries and encyclopedias have always contained entries that some people feel are offensive or inappropriate. I might also point out that people who react in such a way are very often the same people who want to restrict the knowledge available to people in other ways–such as banning certain books, or removing sex-education from public schools–which is at absolute odds with the goal of this encycopledia, which is to spread as much useful knowledge as possible.

As far as filters and censorware, my overall gut reaction is to hell with them; but I do understand the concern about having wikipedia available in schools, especially. But let's put out humility aside for a minute, and recognize that Wikipedia is huge, and getting bigger all the time. It's an entirely legitimate body of useful knowledge that any good school administrator should be breaking their backs over to make sure it's available to their students. As it becomes easier and easier for any idiot with a web connection to set up their own website (very mixed feelings on this), it becomes harder and harder to find legitimate and useful information on the web. Wikipedia is a fabulous solution to that problem, and I think it's only a (brief) matter of time before this realization sweeps across the education profession. Of course, there will always be a handful of book burners here and there, probably the same ones who won't let their classes read Catcher in the Rye, but we cannot cater to closed minded extremists attempting to limit knowledge. And for the rest, they'll quickly realize that there are plenty of ways not to block Wikipedia, while still blocking other inappropriate material (e.g., whitelisting wikipedia.org on their filters).

Bmearns 13:50, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

  • i say 4 or would settle for 3, profanity i reckon must be used correctly and not overdone like the word like shouldn't like be used like every like 3 seconds dude like omg! similarly we should say that george bush got off his a** today and made his weekly radio address btw he beat kerry's a** and didnt even cheat this time A! its just silly to overuse anyword its not encyclopedic. and no offense but most filters are made by socially conservative companies and routenely (yeah how do you spell that? wiktionary next stop) filterout the words vagina and gay even at san francisco's city college library... so they just had to take the filters off and put up signs that ask people to please not look at porn for non-research purposes, because it was filtering the advocate and even myspace. oh yeah and who was the dumb fuck that suggested number 5, duuuuumb. unless it was a joke then replace "dumb fuck" and "duuuumb" with "lol" and "sorry, my bad" 71.142.67.103 20:51, 10 June 2006 (UTC)
  • Is it too late to add another opinion? Some articles require profanity, and some quotes are historically important though they contain profanity ("D*mn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead" comes to mind), in addition standards for profanity can be widely varied, for instance "God," were Wikipedia to properly censor 'profanity' we'd have to re-direct all permutations to "G*D" On the other hand excessive use of profanity is unencyclopedic and looks amateurish, personally I think that it's okay within quotes and whatnot, but not in extrapolated summary text. 69.210.56.62 06:34, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
  • I really dont want to be a person who bumps, but wikipedia has articles that might require some profanity. However, most people will eventually use profanity at some point in there life so trying to keep people from using profanity is sort of pointless. A simple mispelling like for instance, fck or fuk, $hit, kunt, or biatch. I curse a lot but do try and control it, and kids who have parents who curse will likely do it themselves. However, although I do curse a lot, I never say or type out the n-word, which is definitely a word that should be kept off of articles unless an article is called n.i.g you know the rest. Censoring profanity is pointless since people will find ways around it by using methods like kunt or kock, $hit, fuk, f*ck, c*nt, sh*t. However, going to a random page and typing every cuss word is really not to smart. Marauder09 00:23, 9 July 2009 (UTC)
  • For the actual content there is only one correct solution: If some sort of profanity is object of an article, a citation etc., the profanity has to be included. That means correctly included, not with "*". The describing text itself of course should never comprise "foul language". Everything else would be simply wrong for an encyclopedia etc. It's different on discussion pages: As long as it does not include offense, there is room. But it should be clear, that this should occur seldom enough and in a slight manner, otherwise it would already be offensive. Tomdo08 04:03, 2 August 2009 (UTC)


_ New Conversation _

A professionally done encyclopedia would not allow the actual cuss word to be used. They would discuss origins of profanity and the negative cultural impact they have or a neutral view on there role in society. I don't think anyone finds the use of the F-word over 50 times in an article very confusing as to whether it is appropriate or not. This is suppose to be a version of a paid for professional encyclopedia only free. This conversation over whether these cuss words belong here is the beginning of the end for this project when a broader and more influential audience get's a hold of this. Also this encyclopedia is used in schools frequently.

1 It's suppose to be a professional Encyclopeda only made by volunteers and free. 2 Its differences were meant to be about it's ability to easily discuss current music, technology, fads, etc. 3 It's advertised as an Encyclopedia for everyone. That means there is to be no cuss words. It will infringe on the law easily.

My two cents[edit]

Profanity has its place at this site in certain circumstances, but it should probably be avoided in most circumstances for the sake of professionalism. Other sites, such as Dictionary.com and Merrium-Webster.com, have definitions of some of the most offensive words out there. Content filters can't filter every site that contains such words without blocking the vast majority of the internet. Wikipedia is blocked in my school district for two reasons: offensive content and abuse (i.e. vandalism) from students at a rival school. I think we're the only school district in the state of Florida currently blocking Wikipedia, but there seems to be an increasing demand for it as more and more people are complaining about indecency. PCHS-NJROTC 16:19, 4 January 2010 (UTC)

By the way, apologies for bad grammar.