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I can't find a FAQ or anything that spells out a policy on the use of four letter words. Is profanity in direct quotes from source material permitted? from 6 years ago seems to imply direct quotes are permitted.

Is it acceptable to use an NSFW word in a question?


As an example, I asked a story identification question about a werewolf/human romance gone bad. (Wow that sounds bad, but it's really a touching and poignant story where the werewolf was the one you were rooting for.)

I flagged the post in the subject line as NSFW because one of the really crystal clear details I remembered about the story was the frequent use of a newly coined term to describe recreational sex. In my original words:

During her human days, well, the term "sportfucking" stuck in my brain.

(And I wasn't the only one who thought the term notable -- there are three online reviews of the novella and one mentions the term. Aside from the use of that invented word to highlight the intensity of their passion there is nothing descriptive or NSFW about the story.)

Someone came through and edited the post to remove the word "sportf*cking" as unsuitable for a 13+ site.

But instead of adding a comment or otherwise making it obvious that an unsuitable term had been removed, they simply toned it down in place, leaving the ID request saying

During her human days, well, the term "sports sex" stuck in my brain.

Which is not at all the kind of vivid term that would stick in people's brains and help identify the story, and more importantly not a term used in the story at all.

I got upset and reverted the edit, which was probably not the right thing to do.

If the original word from the story is unsuitable there are lots of things that could replace it, for example

The author coined a vivid term for their sexual passion which was one of the more memorable details of the story, as highlighted in (this review) but which cannot be repeated on a family friendly site.

Do I need to edit the question to remove the word, or put that section behind a spoiler tag?

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    So, it's not a 13+ site, it's an everyone site, but you can only have an account if 13+ because of COPPA. Regardless, I don't think the concern has ever really been regarding forcing certain morals on our audience, but rather about concerns of traffic being blocked or filtered. I should think that's really only a concern for the big tech stacks that are making the SE $$$. SFF.se is already generally not "workplace appropriate". I'm not condoning rampant swearing, but if you're bringing up a specific in-universe term that's directly relevant to an on-topic question, censoring seems overboard. – user31178 May 19 '18 at 5:45
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    That said, your NSFW meta tag in the title bothers me. That generally indicates workplace inappropriate imagery, and to me you're setting up the wrong kind of expectations. I'd remove that, personally. And if you really want a compromise, you can put your keyword in a spoiler tag with a disclaimer above it. – user31178 May 19 '18 at 5:48
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    Well a lot of people would prefer not to click on a link with four letter words at work. I've used other sites where anything with such words was expected to have a NSFW flag. (I'm still learning the SE etiquette and there aren't a whole lot of resources for that.) – arp May 19 '18 at 5:53
  • The person who edited my post, with thousands of reputation on the site, said "I was considering our 13+ audience" so I assumed that reflected some sort of hard to find official policy. – arp May 19 '18 at 9:39
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    The legal gubbins at the botton of the page says "13+"; You must be at least 13 years old to access or use the Network or Services, including without limitation to complete a Stack Overflow account registration. By accessing or using the Services or the Network in any manner, you represent and warrant that you are at least 13 years of age. If you are under 13 years old, you may not, under any circumstances or for any reason, access or use the Services or Network in any manner, and may not provide any personal information to or on the Services or Network. – Valorum May 19 '18 at 9:45
  • I've changed the title tag to say "mildly NFSW language" which should be enough to warn off people who need to avoid 4 letter words. – arp May 19 '18 at 9:47
  • In none of the three answers (at this time) or any of the comments has anyone suggested the usual substitution of punctuation characters for spelling out the entire word while leaving it obvious, e.g. f**k or f***. Is that just a non-starter? – davidbak May 19 '18 at 16:56
  • @davidbak seems not. Edit reason: "It's still clear that a word is obscene, even when some of its letters are masked with asterisks. Better to delete the word entirely, as long as it's not part of a direct quote from a published work." Sorry for the self-linking, but at least I knew there was a relevant example here :) – Jenayah May 19 '18 at 22:16
  • @Jenayah So it's fine as long as it's a direct quote. – Z. Cochrane May 20 '18 at 13:32
  • @zabeus yes, but that was established already (kind of). The example was for "personal" additions ;) – Jenayah May 20 '18 at 14:57
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    “a werewolf/human romance gone bad... Wow that sounds bad” — it doesn’t, we’ve all seen Buffy. – Paul D. Waite May 21 '18 at 6:58
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    Are expletives (cursing, swear words or vulgar language) allowed on SE sites? - Well... now it says "No." ... It used to say some other [things] though, too. It also used to have a link to a profile that has the funniest thing I've ever read about lasers. (NSFW :) – Mazura May 25 '18 at 19:45
  • @Mazura Your recollection is correct. The answer that still exists has explicitly said "No" from it's first revision in 2009. It's changed only to permit "there are a very small handful of exceptions (such as if you were talking about the word itself on a language site)" and to change it to Stack Exchange instead of Stack Overflow, once other sites existed.(continued...) – Makyen Jun 2 '18 at 0:26
  • However, there was an answer that said "Yes", but that answer was deleted between late 2015 and early 2016. Someone able to see deleted posts on MSE would be able to tell us more information. – Makyen Jun 2 '18 at 0:27
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I already saw this question and its edit history due to a flag last night, so I've had some time to think about it. Here's my proposal for some general guidelines to cover situations like this.


  1. It's OK to use NSFW language if that's an important part of the question.

    E.g. for story-ID questions like this, if the story used a word which is obscene but also distinctive, then that could be a very important detail. If it's a word coined especially for that story, then just Googling the word might be an efficient way to find the story. We definitely shouldn't be making it harder for people to answer questions just for the sake of not including some naughty words.

  2. It's also OK to edit out gratuitous use of NSFW language.

    If someone is using unnecessarily obscene language which isn't necessary for the question, then of course it's fine to edit it out or tone it down. We are a 13+ site according to the terms of service, and we're supposed to maintain some standards of decency and professionalism (whatever "professionalism" might mean on a sci-fi and fantasy site).

In short: unnecessary obscenities can be removed, but necessary ones shouldn't be.

Content warnings, e.g. putting "NSFW" in the title or hiding rude words behind spoilertags, can be used at your discretion. Whether or not a particular word is bad enough to merit any such measures is something to be decided on a case-by-case basis.


Coming back to your specific question: you were definitely right to mention the word "sportfucking" (or is it "sportsfucking"? you haven't been consistent), which is a distinctive part of the story that might help people identify it. So you were also right to revert JohnP's edit. However, mentioning the word twice in your question wasn't necessary; once is enough.
In short, I think the current version of the post is an excellent compromise.

  • The story consistently uses "sportfucking" or other forms or the word. – arp May 19 '18 at 14:01
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    @arp - That doesn't mean that you need to keep using it :-) – Valorum May 19 '18 at 14:06
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    +1. However, as someone who've been edited 2-3 times to remove "rude words", but is also from a foreign origin, I think it would be nice to have a "guide" of sorts in order to know which formulations are OK, and which ones are a no-no. For instance, I remember writing sth along the lines of "pretty filthy rich" and no one said anything, but "it pisses me off" got removed. Sometimes it's hard to see the subtile differences when you're a non-native speaker. I am aware that wordreference can tell you if the word is slang or such, but I'd rather have something sort of "approved by community". :) – Jenayah May 19 '18 at 21:13
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    @Jenayah: There is no consensus. The relative offensiveness of different words in English varies substantially by culture (e.g. a certain word which Americans and Brits think of as "the worst non-slur curse word in the language" is used pretty freely in Australia). As a rule of thumb, check a dictionary for usage notes such as "usually vulgar/obscene" or similar. – Kevin May 19 '18 at 22:51
  • @Kevin okay, thanks for that. We're back to wordreference then! Yeah, guess it's hard to unite everyone around a consensus, but hey, had to try ¯_(ツ)_/¯ – Jenayah May 19 '18 at 23:11
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    Also, please keep salty language out of question titles/URLs when possible. – MissMonicaE May 21 '18 at 15:47
  • While we're on the topic of what's offensive, it really bothers me when people give their emotes noses. It's so creepy. – DCOPTimDowd May 22 '18 at 16:01
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    @DCOP Why? :-o I've always done them with noses. Noseless ones just look too short to me (and less accurately represent the shape of a face). – Rand al'Thor May 22 '18 at 21:31
  • @Randal'Thor The noses make them look too long to me. I think they're more natural without them. :) – DCOPTimDowd May 23 '18 at 16:06
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    The correct emote is emoji 😀 – user31178 May 28 '18 at 3:18
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    @DCOPTimDowd :⟽o That's surprising but I'm sure we can find an acceptable compromise ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°) – user568458 May 28 '18 at 22:34
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    @DCOPTimDowd - are you Voldemort? – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 29 '18 at 13:42
  • (at)DVK-on-Ahch-To I do spend a lot of time leaving comments on @Bellatrix's posts – DCOPTimDowd May 29 '18 at 16:26
  • @user568458 Please stahp – DCOPTimDowd May 29 '18 at 16:26
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    @Wildcard: I believe Shakespeare used the euphemism "country matters." – Kevin May 30 '18 at 6:40
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I edited the post to fix misremembered details, cite the answer (as I did in my other successfully answered question) and change the iffy bit to

While the author coined the memorable term

sportfuck

which the narrator uses at least 8 times in describing that aspect of their relationship, and there are a few f-words here and there, it's not a racy or descriptively sexual story.

and it got reverted as a whole, so now I have no idea how to proceed.

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    Citing the answer is unnecessary in a question, since the answer is right there in the answer. Fixing misremembered details is also not a great idea for ID questions: it confuses the timeline of the answer and can make the question look poorly-researched or even bad-faith to those who don't check the revision history, because "if you knew all those details, how could you not have known the answer?" (I explained this in a comment on the question.) – Rand al'Thor May 19 '18 at 14:25
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    In particular, saying the word is used "at least 8 times" seems like a very odd detail for someone to remember if they don't remember the author and title of the book. Makes it look as though you already knew the answer when you asked the question. – Rand al'Thor May 19 '18 at 14:26
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    Your edit got reverted because you didn't just fix what was wrong, you added in a bunch of extra details that weren't there before. That's a no-no – Valorum May 19 '18 at 16:58
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Per site policy, network wide, offensive language should be kept out of question titles. Whether it is allowed in question bodies is a separate issue, on which each community can decide for itself. The policy of SF&F, based on other answers here, seems to be that it is permitted, so long as it is not gratuitous.

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    Did you read the comments on that site you linked to? english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2357/… You didn't link to "site policy", but a meta question for a different stack, which appears to making up that claim. – user31178 May 22 '18 at 20:21
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    You say "site policy, network wide", but link to a meta post on a (different) specific site. Is there an actual network-wide policy on Meta Stack Exchange that you meant to cite? – Rand al'Thor May 22 '18 at 21:32
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    This is a question about the use of the English language and should take its cues from ELU. +1. Allow them or not.... but they cannot appear in a title (due to consideration of the HNQ list). Every other answer at Can we swear at SO? (the link in my answer of the following Q) has been deleted; now all it says is that you can't. But, sportfuck that nonsense... "You may use them to talk about them. They are permissible when they are the context."Can I use the F-word in a formal context? – Mazura May 25 '18 at 19:15
  • @CreationEdge - They only claim I'm not sure I could find is about keeping them out of titles. Not that I'd bother: at ELU it doesn't even need to be in a meta; your title will be edited by someone and no one with an ounce of sanity will start an edit war over removing presumably offensive content from a title. – Mazura May 25 '18 at 19:22

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