I've just seen the question “Exorcist” possession: when and why? which contains a direct quote from the source material that contains profanity. This question was later edited "before it got flagged as offensive".

Should profanity which is present in the original source material be edited out / masked when quoting, or should it be left in so the quote is complete?

Vaguely related:

  • 2
    Why not use the spoiler format and say "warning: profanity ahead"? Nov 5, 2012 at 7:26
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    @Wikis - perhaps that's an option, but that's an answer to a slightly different question as it presupposes that the answer to my question is "Yes"... Which is probably why you've added a comment rather than an answer, I guess! =)
    – Rob
    Nov 5, 2012 at 8:10
  • You're right, Rob. I thought this answer might satisfy everyone - those that want to read it can, those who would prefer not to do not have to (though I guess most people's curiosity would get the better of them...). Nov 5, 2012 at 11:25
  • Lmao. I had no idea my edit would be more offensive than the pre edit syntax. Group hug... Jul 21, 2014 at 8:29
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Is it acceptable to use an NSFW word in a question?
    – Möoz
    May 21, 2018 at 0:07

3 Answers 3


First, there is a cross-network rule about profanity. Unfortunately, this rule is not written down anywhere: it's a case of Jeff knows it when he sees it. Furthermore, it's applied differently on different sites. For example, on Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Overflow, it is forbidden to spell the name of the programming language Brainfuck¹. There is a practical argument for avoiding certain words, because “nanny filters” that detect those words might cause the site to be blocked in some places. However, this argument is not taken seriously, since Stack Exchange does not itself take any steps to pass those filters. Furthermore, on some sites such as English Language & Usage, “profane” words are allowed and must be spelled out when they are being discussed. It seems to me (but I have never seen any official word on the subject) that outside SO, it's up to each site's community to decide its censorship rules if any.

In a related previous discussion, it was suggested that “potentially even the English [swearwords] would be acceptable here when used in a technical answer regarding the fictional-language ones”. On English Language & Usage, discussions of words must spell words in full; by a similar token, I think quotes should be exact quotes. It's important to know whether the work contained “fuck” or “Belgium” or “—” or “smeg”.

My personal opinion on the matter is that there should not be any filtering on words. It's what you say, not how you say it. Saying that “you're an idiot” is not so bad that it needs to be removed, while “this is bullshit” needs to be expunged post-haste, is bullshit. If I saw an offensive flag whose sole motivation was a choice of word (as opposed to the idea expressed by the words), I'd just decline it and move on.

¹ I'm convinced that the first syllable is what people find offensive.


I agree with the other answers, but feel that there can be some clarification, and reasonable limits.

To address the original question, YES, profanity in direct quotes from source material is permitted.

Since the profanity is from the source material, it is not reasonable to say "I want to talk about this work, but I find some of the content of the work offensive, so let's arbitrarily decide which parts are not okay to talk about".

To expand on the topic in the question, any profanity outside of direct quotations can be edited out, unless it directly relates to the topic of the question.

This is in keeping with the intent of this answer, which mentions this (in the context of using fictionalized profanity as a substitute for real profanity):

IMO if you have a point to make, then there are sufficient words in English to make it without having to resort to profanity, whether in English or not.

However, much like EL&U's policy, we should allow profanity outside of quotations if it is directly relevant.

For example, when discussing the origins and meaning of the term "frack" in Battlestar Galactica, it would be perfectly valid to say "frack can be used as a direct replacement for the English word 'fuck'". However, stating that George Lucas "is a f-cking idiot" is not acceptable, as it does not add any real value to the material.

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    "stating that George Lucas "is a f-cking idiot" is not acceptable"??? You just took all the fun out of existance!!! :( Nov 6, 2012 at 16:29
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    @DVK Believe me... it pained me greatly to say that (and it took a lot of effort to refrain from adding "no matter how true" after it!).
    – Beofett
    Nov 6, 2012 at 16:53

I am personally not at all offended by profanity. Well, okay, if someone let loose with a string of particularly gratuitous and hardcore expletives, I would probably be put off (the keyword here being "gratuitous"). See George Carlin's The Seven Words You Can't Say on TV. If it's not completely obvious, the link contains profanity.

If an expletive is part of a quote a poster has deemed necessary for explaining their question, that is probably not going to offend me.

However, if others are or might be offended, I personally don't mind making the extra effort to make others' experience at the site more comfortable by masking the profanity in a canon quote. Yes, I could expect people to just deal with profanity as it comes up, but I don't feel like my need to quote "f**k" is greater than someone else's need to not feel uncomfortable. Some people really really dislike profanity and if I have the choice of not upsetting others, I'm going to err on that side.

What I don't like is the idea of someone pre-emptively editing a post and changing its content "before it gets flagged as offensive". I don't agree with this practice and I don't want to see it become the norm. If it were my post this happened to, I would likely roll it back if it had indeed not yet been flagged.

Pre-emptively editing a post that has not been flagged strikes me as kind of a roundabout way of someone expressing their own disapproval of profanity while claiming the changes are under the guise of the community's greater good. Extending the benefit of the doubt that the editor was genuinely trying to be helpful -- I can appreciate the sentiment, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I don't support censoring profanity, because one person's "d##n" is another person's "m#####f#####". I think it would be fruitless and needlessly exhausting for the community to try and decide upon and compile a list of words that are and aren't allowable. The debate would never end. Some words that are considered quite offensive in one country are fine or have a totally innocuous meaning in another.

Here's five options that any user could utilize:

  • Include profanity in canon quotes without any censoring.

  • Don't include profanity-laced canon quotes.

  • Don't include profanity from a canon quote unless it is specifically related to the question being posed.

  • Utilize asterisks: d##n, s##t, f##k, etc. And, yes. I realize those are pound/number signs. Asterisks actually were a nightmare, because they just wanted to italicize and bold each other like whoa. So, a symbol of your choice, I'll say.

    Utilize the spoilers tag to mask profanity.

These are merely a few suggestions -- I'm sure there are infinitely more ways to work with profanity, that more creative minds than mine will come up with. ETA: I very much agree with Gilles's answer. Very much agree with it. I wanted to clarify that when I spoke about taking steps to avoiding upsetting other community users, I was speaking only for myself. I don't mind doing a few things here and there. I wasn't suggesting we try and make some kind of community policy on policing profanity.

We'll need a "Clutching Pearls" badge now.

Bloody Hell! Ron Weasley - Harry Potter

And before you downvote me for the Bloody Hell picture, please know that it was originally an animated .gif. At least I had the courtesy to change it to a .jpg. :D

  • -1 for not posting original animated gif Nov 3, 2012 at 15:52
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    @DVK -- Like Lucy does to Charlie Brown, why must you always pull the football away?! ;) Nov 3, 2012 at 15:55

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