Talk:Should Wikipedia use profanity?

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Moved from w:Foul language

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.
NOTE: edited to make the point: once you start, where does it stop?

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

I'd agree, Gareth. -- Larry Sanger

I agree with Larry (#2) --Ed Poor

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 comsumption 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 agre 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

Only an idiot (and young children are not idiots) does not understand that f*** means fuck. So f*** does not improve articles at all. If you can avoid the word, feel free to do so, but if it's f'ing necessary, say the fucking word.

I absolutely aggree. People either know the word "fuck" or they don't. If they know the word, then they know that "f***" means the same thing, so it doesn't matter which is there? If they don't know the word, then what difference does seeing it make? Bmearns 14:10, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

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

I vote for 3, "when it is warranted" is clear enough. Obscuring words like "fuck" is clearly unacceptable and not NPOV, because it assumes that a certain group of people (children) should not read certain words. Any kind of general policy against offensive content should have a very strong majority of support. Endorsing RSAC would also be a violation of NPOV. Any filtering solution we offer must be generic, not specialized. --Eloquence 16:16 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

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 censorware, and the inclusion of any "forbidden" words on Wikipedia pages may make it inaccessible to them.

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. --Koyaanis Qatsi

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, edite

I'm with the emerging 2/3 consensus on this. I too never pander to censorware. If these matters come up when my 12 year old son is on the net, it's an opportunity without panic for a realistic discussion about the things he could encounter, and how he can protect himself. Eclecticology

As has been said many times, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. An implication of this that may not be obvious is that it will be used as a resource by schoolchildren (more so as Wikipedia evolves and improves). Even a small child can be Internet-literate and discover (or learn from parent or teacher) our site.

Even those of us who are not parents know that childhood is a special time, a time in which moral and ethical values are established. We naturally want to shield children from pornography and foul language, among the many other negative and violent aspects of our society.

By applying a bit of self-censorship, as we already do when vandals try to deface our pages, we can help make the Internet a safe, comfortable, and useful experience for grade-school kids. David 08:41 Sep 4, 2002 (PDT)

I'm not a parent and never will be, but what's relevant is that I remember what it was like to be a child. The very idea of "shielding" me from foul language! LOL -- I was personally responsible for most of the foul language that I heard. — Toby 01:43 Nov 17, 2002 (UTC)

I, too, remember being a child. Unlike you, however, I was brought up in an environment that had no unnecessary foul language or other stuff that was not life-supporting. (Note well that I am NOT implying that I am 'better' than you!) Foul language was accepted, but only if it expressed a genuine emotion; for example, saying the S word when you touch a hot stove. And you surely know that there are religiously-oriented families who are easily offended and protective of their children. If you have no respect and/or empathy for people of different beliefs and backgrounds from yourself, I question whether you can truly see (although not necessarily accept) all sides of an argument (NPOV). I am sorry if I seem to be negative, but I freely admit that I feel upset and violated when I hear obscenities (either language or all the evil stuff, like war, reported in the news). David 15:36 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

David, you are free to create your own narrow view of reality, but Wikipedia should not take a stance in such issues. Taking no stance does not mean that it should not support you by supplying you with tools to filter Wikipedia to your liking, but if it does that, these tools should be general, and allow all kinds of filtering (that is, I might want Wikipedia to show only articles with sexual content, for example, to use it as a sexual encyclopedia). What is and isn't "child-safe" is far from universally acknowledged -- there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that "foul" language or confrontation with sexual matters harms children in any way. There is, however, plenty of evidence suggesting the exact opposite (sex offenders coming predominantly from highly conservative, pornography- and nudity-restrictive families, for example). --Eloquence 16:05 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

This might not be the place to discuss it, but there is considerable evidence for the monkey see, monkey do school of thought. Children imitiate what they see or hear/read about. So do adolescents. TV advertising would cease instantly if advertisers found out that showing ads didn't affect people's decision-making processes.

Telling a child that:

  • there are no absolute values
  • you are free to choose your own values
  • some people conduct erotic activities with others of the same sex tantamount to saying that "homosexuality is good" and that "traditional Christian morality is bad", which was a major aim of the so-called "values clarification" curriculum that led to the current moral relativism in US education.

If you want to advocate for relativism, do it in your own space. The Wikipedia neither endorses nor opposes relativism. --Ed Poor

Ed, I was responding to David, who was making specific assertions. Interestingly, you didn't feel the need to point out to him that Wikipedia neither endorses nor opposes absolutism. As for your claims, you are contradicting yourself: First you say that it's important what the adults do, then you say it's important what the adults say. Behavioral science has revealed that you cannot, in fact, teach morality, but that you can only live it. Teaching a child that violence is bad will have little effect if the child is regularly spanked or beaten. See this site and this one for the actual causes of moral and immoral behavior. Morality develops in the limbic system, not in the cortex. --Eloquence 16:41 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

I am concerned that Wikipedia, in its laudable policy of embracing all generally-held views, seems to be adopting (perhaps by default) an irresponsibility toward children, their parents, and society. There is a reason why so much fuss is made these days about protection and rating mechanisms for TV, movies, etc. There is a widespread and perhaps justified belief that information and entertainment that contains violence and pornography contributes to many different kinds of crime. So far as the rebuttal of Eloquence is concerned, he/she indicates no studies showing child harm as resulting from exposure to foul language and pornography, but I am not so sure that is the case (a quick Web search revealed none, but that is not conclusive). He/she continues, pointing out that sex offenders frequently come from sexually-inhibited families. This last statement I agree with. However, can we please separate the issues of sexual expression, violence, and foul language? IMHO, they are not the same. I only want to focus on foul language here, since that is the topic of this Talk page. My main point is not that foul language is bad, but that many parents do not want their children exposed to it. Adding an effective optional filter to Wikipedia would completely satisfy me. In the absence of such a mechanism, I urge that foul language be modified, just as is done on radio and commercial TV. I am absolutely opposed to censorship of opinion. But censorship of foul language is not censorship of opinion; the semantics of any foul word can be replaced by an equivalent semantics, with only the violent intent removed. As Wikipedia becomes better known it will naturally become a resource for schoolchildren to use as an adjunct to their studies. Therefore, as time goes on it will only become more important to have an effective foul language policy here. David 18:57 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

David -- your argument is simply illogical. Just as there are parents that do not want their children to be confronted with what is referred to here as "foul" language, there are also parents that explicitly do not want their children to be shielded from reality. Parents who have no problem to explain to their children the meaning and origin of the word "fuck" (from Latin "fac", "do!"), and why it's stupid to use the name of a good thing (sex) to describe bad things. Parents who believe that by censoring "bad words", they are merely mystified, and wrong associations are built in the child's brain (such as that everything that is in some way associated with sex or body functions is "dirty"). Such parents would be deeply offended by a filtered Wikipedia. The correct solution for us is to offer a mechanism whereby different groups of people can filter according to different criteria. I have proposed such a mechanism here. --Eloquence 20:14 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

-- His argument is not invalid, you've simply misinterpreted it. He is saying that certain information does not add to the quality of a childs life but it can defintely deminish it. He never said that children should never learn about sex but rather under the context that the parent wants to teach it and not some aspiring wikipedia author.

Maybe it would be wiser to have a seperate "wikipedia dictionary of offensive and profane words" and/or a "wikipedia of sex" rather than meshing everything together into one pot. This way there would be no need to use profanity in many articles but rather to use an alternative word or a reference to see "Wikipedia of Profane Words" or "Wikipedia of Sex". Some wikipedians would rather expose every child to this raw material instead of living with this minor inconvenience. I find it very shocking. 03:15, 7 November 2005 (UTC)

I'm a 2/3 guy, but frankly I don't see that there's any problem here. There is no pornography in the Wikipedia. There are a few articles that discuss taboo words. I have contributed to several of them and I just went back to look at them. Here are my comments:

  • nigger -- a judicious discussion of perhaps the most offensive word in the language. I include it here to frame the idea that there is a justification for discussing taboo words.
  • fuck -- A judicious discussion of the most offensive sexual word in the language. It's hard to see how you could have such an article without using the word.
  • cunt -- redirects to the decorous vagina, but does not appear in the article. There is a reference to vulgar terms, but none are given. Perhaps they should be.
  • pussy - the closest thing to an edge case, mostly judicious but there is a slight "naughty" tone to some of it that might be taken as offensive.
  • Four-letter words -- common ones listed, but nothing else.
  • Terms of disparagement nothing amiss here, includes long discussion of Supreme Court's fighting words doctrine.

I expect that there are cases of quoted lyrics that may be naughtier or nastier than anything here, in which case rule 2/3 will be fine. I haven't read them, but I am betting that the huge number of articles on sadism and masochism and all that are both free of bad words and much more offensive to some than any article that uses bad words.

The fact is, this whole discussion is centered on "protecting" children 11 and 12 years old. Children 10 years old aren't interested; children 13 years old have heard it all. I haven't tried it, but I am sure there are many porn sites on the Web that are accessible through filtering programs. Why shouldn't there be a place where these words are discussed in calm and reasonable terms?

So, how much distortion of encyclopedic purpose is justified? Very little. Pussy should be toned down maybe, but there is no pornography in the Wikipedia and very little bad language. Would an "effective foul language policy" prohibit such articles? Please note, my granddaughters are 12, 9, and 5 and I feel very protective toward them, but the idea of running a smut-checker over wikipedia bothers me too. Ortolan88 20:32 Nov 18, 2002 (UTC)

The word pussy appears in 16 articles.

  1. "Wars Of Armageddon" -- lyrics to a Funkadelic song. The main purpose of the page seems to be to quote the vulgar lyrics. There are two lines of exegesis to a page of lyrics. And a link to an outside lyrics page. Seems fairly gratuitous.
  2. Pussy -- discussed above. Contains lyrics to another Funkadelic song, rest of article appropriate.
  3. Chocha -- Spanish slang. There are many other words, panocha, chocho, conejo, so I don't know that this one adds much.
  4. Schoolly D, incoherent article includes album title. An artist deserves his discography, I'd think.
  5. Barrison Sisters, harmless (stupid) Victorian vulgar japery
  6. "Atmosphere"-- yet another Funkadelic song, lots of lyrics, little exposition, link to external lyrics page, gratuitous.
  7. Vagina -- appropriate
  8. Vulva -- appropriate
  9. Kathy Acker -- Pussycat Fever, novel title
  10. America Eats Its Young -- same song as in #2.
  11. Drag queen -- empty link to the elegant freedom fighter, Pussy Tourette
  12. Valerie Solanas -- stuck in the middle of a diatribe labelled "obscenity-laden"
  13. James Bond -- well? Two cases: One is a movie title and the other is a very famous character.
  14. Famous gay lesbian and bisexual people -- Ms. Tourette again.
  15. American and British English Differences -- useful, might prevent transatlatic faux pas.
  16. Academy Award for Animated Short Film -- It's Tom and Jerry in "Touche, Pussy Cat".

There was a 17th case, but I took it out of "Du Hast", a pointless, unlinked article, because it was evidently gratuitously included as a translation of the German word for vagina.

So, this is no crisis. It is three Funkadelic songs and the otherwise unmentioned Ms. Tourette, plus a number of innocuous or appropriate entries. Ortolan88

It is way more fucking important to consider the usefulness of wikipedia to terrorists than any of the silly issues considered above. Accordingly there's no more to say.

The Wikipedia foundation has already taken its stance.[edit]

The Wikipedia foundation has already taken its stance. Under the Wikipedia:Schools' FAQ page, wikipedia has already stated that it is not censored for children and that teachers (parents included) should monitor their children while they use the service. I do not think that the organization intends on censoring this site as long as they believe the information, that some (like me) deem inappropiate for children, is indeed factual and written in an encyclopedia style and grammar. This means that no matter how horribly one is offended by the content in an article or deems it inappropiate for children, it is most likely considered lawful by the foundation.

The solution to the problem is to give parents and schools some tools that can allow them to filter certain content without restricting everyone else. For anyone that feels more should be done should very respectfully make a request to the board and propose a solution to the problem. Any solution that you propose should not restrict the use of wikipedia to adults or require censoring articles since I'm sure this would result in your idea getting rejected.

I'm working on a proposal myself that I believe will help make this site a win win situation for everyone. I love wikipedia but the way that everything is right now is not making the jobs of parents any easier. It is unrealistic to expect parents and teachers to sit and monitor their children at all times while they use this site and others for research. Parents need to know that they can send their kids to a source they can atleast trust is safe to some level.

Simply put, wikipedia at this time is not child or parent friendly.

You can contact me at if you would like to brainstorm and get something that the foundation will view as acceptable. The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) 02:28, 7 November 2005 (UTC)

warning about profane pages[edit]

i think that wikipedia should redirect anyone trying to access a "profane" page to a warning page, maybe that it is unsuitable for young users, and then there is a link at the bottom of the warning page that allows the person to continue if he/she wishes to see that page and accepts the warning that it may be extremely offensive/profane -- 10:04, 5 November 2006 (UTC)

I think you should use it[edit]

It would emphazise more the articles, and besides, it would make wikipedia EVEN more important, have you ever looked at flame sites like ED (hate it, but Im using it as a example) they are so popular because of that, they get lots of daily visit just because they use foul languague, however, dont get me wrong, I dont try to say that you should use flaming where innaproppiate, like putting, MATH ARE SO boring, I mean putting words like f*ck and a**hole the pages shit or pedophilia 00:05, 24 August 2007 (UTC)


In some cases, using "f*** words" would be normal. Others, no. Mnidaydwisww 14:12, 3 May 2011 (UTC)