I added an answer to the discussion of Lou Reed's lyrics and I realized later that it should have been a question in its own right. I’m reluctant to delete that answer because of the comments and votes on it, but I will if it’s confusing the issue. I’m asking whether the EL&U community feels that citations of potentially offensive or unwelcoming content should be treated differently and not whether a particular instance is offensive. I realize some folks are tired of talking about the discussion I referenced here, but this isn’t a duplicate.

I think it would be worth getting community feedback on the idea in this comment:

"offensive or unwelcoming", that's POB. Does it violate the be nice policy? Can anything "quoted" ever violate it? If an answer doesn't align with your views, it is at your discretion to DV it. But if at anytime I'm disallowed to cite what someone else once said, that's censorship. – Mazura

Should citing what someone else has said be held to a different standard than original text from the author of a post when it comes to violating the Code of Conduct?

Let’s assume the citation is relevant to the answer and the author feels that particular citation is critical to their answer but a significant number of people find it unwelcoming.

Are there any mitigating qualities, like the length of the citation, historical significance, etc. that would cause us to keep a citation that we would normally remove if it had been original text? What factors would cause us to keep a question about source material that is deeply offensive to some portion of the community?

Also consider from one of the comments on the answer:

Just some more food for thought. What if you quote something that is acceptable now, but not in 10 years time? Or for that matter, something that was acceptable a few years back but no longer now? Especially when talking about etymology it may well be that (almost) everything on a subject is no longer acceptable, but that shouldn't mean it's automatically out of scope. That's like not teach history because it may be construed as offensive. – JJJ

I would like to separate (if we can) the actual incident here with a more general discussion of what kinds of factors should be taken into account when citing potentially offensive material, keeping in mind that the goal is to make EL&U as welcoming and inclusive as possible without undermining its primary purpose as a knowledge sharing site.

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    This is what I meant by slippery slope, start deleting posts or quotations that do not set out to be offensive, content that is supported and cited in good faith then you're allowing yourself to be in the position where users could misuse flags because they have a political agenda. If you delete a Lou Reed's quote from a post that was utterly and completely non-racist, then where do you draw the line?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 8:08
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    @Mari-LouA what do you propose? You’re saying on one hand that something was “rightfully deleted” and on the other that someone else misused a flag because you didn’t deem something unwelcoming. What criteria do you use to determine what merits action? Are we expected to be mind readers and nothing could be legitimately offensive to someone that was written with good intent? Who gets to judge whether someone’s feelings are valid?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 11:24
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    Precisely, there can be no fixed rules. Judge each case on its merits and use common sense.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 11:30
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    Oh, wait a minute. I didn't say anyone had misused a flag. I said it could be misused in the future. Everyone has a right to flag material they find offensive but it doesn't automatically mean that material must be deleted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 11:35
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    @Mari-LouA so we agree with each other. I think every case is a judgement call based on the context and the people involved. I think that moderators should balance the interests of both the flagger and the author and not see the only possible solutions as deletion or leaving something untouched.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 13:45
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    Someone lost their job because they said (no photos) they wore "black face" in Halloween as a child. They got sacked. Another lost her TV series because.... (had to check) Roseanne. Now, what she Tweeted I thought was hugely disrespectful. There's a difference between being racist and using a quote that was never meant to be the main focus.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 14:46
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    And I think you have seen my comments explaining the difference between 'colored person' and 'person of color' which are very different. The latter is the current polite form to refer to people who are not 'white' (whatever that means).
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 14:50
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    @Mitch No, I didn't actually read those comments. I will do now. But if I say I am grey haired, or that my hair is of a grey colo(u)r, what is the difference in meaning? I am a transgender (offensive) a transgender person (respectful). It's so hard to keep pace with you Yankees.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 14:54
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    @Mari-LouA Language isn't logical, or rather it is mostly until those times when it isn't. In this instance, 'colored' and 'of color' wasn't produced by a syntactical transformation (like your gray example) but by 'A person of color' was (it sounds to me) like a recent invention as a set phrase, that had the unfortunate (not total) coincidence of similarity to the older way of saying 'black'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 15:11
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    @Mitch It's the people who speak the language that are not logical.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 15:14
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    @Mari-LouA That first link you gave is objectionable because it's gibberish, not because it's objectionable per se. Really, even as filth, it does not work.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 20:44
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    Possible duplicate of Is using "colored girls" as an incidental example offensive or unwelcoming?
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 17:36
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    @Fattie I would consider the difference between example and material discussion to be a possible mitigating factor. I’d be interested to understand better how others view the distinction.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 15:32
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    @Araucaria I found it very interesting. I asked this question as a community member, not as a sister-site moderator. Mostly I think this is an important question for the community to reach some sort of consensus on. And then I’m going to claim fair use and steal a lot of it for ELL and see what they think ;)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 23:32

5 Answers 5


This is not a duplicate of the 'colored girls' question because it is asking a general question (ie are quotes or cited material) that is only one aspect of the other question (ie is 'colored girls' in a quotation offensive).

Quoting or citing is not the same as using or calling or referring but it is not entirely invisible.

(Quoting and citation are not identical but are similar enough for this issue)

This is the old use-mention difference. Calling someone a taboo word to their face is confrontational, but telling someone else that you said that is not confrontational to the listener.

I think that is what most people here stop at.

The further nuance that I think people are missing is that a mention only weakens the taboo nature, not eradicates. For example:

When I opened the door, I saw the $$$ $$$$ $$$ chainsaw start $$$$$ing into the $$$$$; the b$$$$$$$ of $$$$$, the gurgled screaming, the maniacal $$$$$. Then silence, And then $$ $$$$$ $$$ $$$ dental $$$$$ $$$ $$$$$$.

That was all intentionally bowdlerized, but give you some mental conceptions of something awful. It is (probably) acceptable here but even without any identifiable taboo it is obviously a taboo subject.

(note that there is no black and white; tabooness is a continuum).

This is all in the context of disinterested (as much as that is possible because it is never totally possible) discussion/research of words, where we sometimes need to discuss these taboo words. In public discourse about politics or race relations... ugh it's so complicated.

This is not about political censorship at all (or at least I don't see that). It's about common courtesy, realizing that others may be hurt by incidental, unnecessary things that the speaker doesn't realize.

TL;DR A quote/citation of a taboo term is not bad in the same way as a direct use is, but the taboo is only weakened, not eradicated entirely. You can still see the word (a quotation is not a black box, you are intended to understand the contents, but just not directed at you). Context must be explained to make the use of the taboo terms acceptable.

There are related contexts with different levels of shock involved. The strength of taboo blasphemy, slurs, bodily functions (sex, excrement, illness/incapacity) can be reduced but not removed.

  • strong/weak - there is a continuum of strength of tabooness for words for the same concept: 'shit' is much more taboo than 'feces', but the latter is still not the best dinnertime conversation.
  • used vs reported/mentioned/discussed - a slur yelled at someones face is much stronger than reporting that someone else yelled the slur, but
  • necessary/incidental - if you are specifically discussing the taboo nature of a term, that is exactly when you have to have the term 'mentioned'.
  • contemporary/historical - the strength of a term may be different than what it used to be (and is not necessarily linear).
  • the speaker - using an epithet about oneself (or group) is much weaker than using it about others (though still troublesome).
  • artistic/non-artistic - an artistic composition has a certain social cachet that protects it somewhat from every-day taboos. For example, nudes in art are tolerated more than nude walking down the street.
  • sarcastic/sincere - a sarcastic use is less direct than a sincere one. But sarcasm is easy to miss.
  • language itself/implication - In 'shit' vs 'feces', the strength of taboo is inherently part of the word 'shit'; in 'feces' it is only implication. There is nothing taboo about the terms 'God', 'is', and 'dead', but their implication in a sentence could start wars, depending on whose god you are impugning. Note though that changing or removing an implication can be thought censorship (which has strong implication), but for language taboos, that is limited to politeness censorship.
  • literal/metaphorical - Dog breeders often use the term 'bitch' simply for 'female dog'; people who are not dog breeders rarely.
  • written/spoken - speaking a taboo term is much stronger than just reading about it. But then again, writing is much less temporary and can be repeated several times to many people, and the spoken version is only heard by those at the time.

These dichotomies can be used to help evaluate the strength of a taboo, but if you start with some taboo, there will always be some hint of taboo left.

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    You already have my upvote. I'd like to add that it's also the case that the emotional distress or harm done by a slur does not automatically diminish because of its mention as opposed to use, research relating to which is discussed by th authors cited in my post. Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 23:02
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    @Araucaria Thanks. The question here is actually not about slurs in particular but it surely is a very good use case (that I had a hard time separating) for the OP which is really about the use-mention distinction. My list of dichotomies is really about distance of reference (which should imply that the further distance translates to much weaker whatever)
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 23:13

The question that inspired this one has resulted in an "enough with the politics" remark. I understand, it's human nature to want to analyze situations from every possible angle. At the same time, I'm surprised this stack hasn't addressed this very issue once and for all.

As someone who has visited for the last 8 years, I've always felt that quoted references should be considered safe. They are part of a learning process. The same words appearing in another stack might quickly be edited out or an answer fully deleted, but here, one would expect that examples of language usage is very much on topic.

As you phrased the question, "Does cited material merit special consideration when the content is potentially offensive or unwelcoming?" I'd suggest that, in the same manner the supreme court once stated "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it," I don't doubt that there are times a quotes can actually be offensive and worth deleting, but, to that point, that's what DVs are for, and flags, and Mod's judgement. While my approach would be that from the question that spawned all the recent discussion, most quotes would be acceptable. The truly offensive ones, the inevitable exception.

What's especially difficult is the moving target that's English. We agree, N-word is bad. Can I ask the question along the lines of "In Twain's day, was the N-word as verboten as it is today, and he still put it in his writing, or was it just another word that had no negative/insulting connotation?" That would be the kind of contextual question that might reference a quote, or a book of a different era and trying to understand the nature of the language.

In other cases, context for the word itself is everything. The member that objected to 'colored' also objected to 'girls'. To my mother in law, 'the girls' will always be her daughters, now in their 60s. To my wife, 'the girls' are her female friends, the same age range. I cite the member's objection to this word as an example of how even the word 'girl' can be something to be offended by. And to that, I'd say that this whole discussion points to a very slippery slope.

The general rule should be the same as on other stacks, "Be nice", and the system that's in place should continue to be used to handle the tiny fraction that crosses a line. The simple response to the Lou Reed quote? (If one feels compelled to remark at all) "Yes, I know that song. 46 years ago, it was a classic, just be aware, that word in that context is offensive today".

It's difficult to talk about an issue while standing so far away that we can't repeat the words that offended a member. I'd suggest that citations hold a certain level of immunity. A student walks in and says "Max just called Ms P a dumb b**** and got sent to the principal." I don't reprimand the student for bad language. That said, if a member is noted to purposely find otherwise offensive citations where they are starting to appear gratuitous, I'd call that out.

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    The difficulty is in distinguishing between 'this post is offensive' (in which case the mods, and high-rep users, should look at it to determine whether something needs to be done) and 'I am offended by this post' (which probably applies to every post on SE, if not the whole internet, for some value of "I"). Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 14:10
  • Of course. (I can edit if I wasn't clear). Someone will always be offended. Always. The combined crowd-sourced moderation along with Mods will provide the balance needed. Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 14:15
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    Fattie brought up the distinction of offensive language material to the discussion (Twain's use of the N-word) and an example that’s relevant and not patently offensive, but nonetheless very unwelcoming (Lou Reed's lyric). It seems like you don’t feel like examples that can be easily replaced (like choosing Reed's later usage of “the girls go”) should be treated differently from material citations? I realize that the “girls” part was sensitive as well, but out of context of the rest of the song, I think it’s OK. You can’t take one word out of context and leave the other in context IMO.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:27
  • It's easy to go down a rabbit hole on this issue. Say my position were that citations shouldn't risk offending anyone. That rises to a level of self-censorship that can potentially make any answer tough to create. And raises the question, "where do we draw that line?". I'd err on the side that says this is an English stack, and the rule remains, "be nice". I am all for treating people kindly, but I'll ask - Where does this all end? Do members want an FAQ with words we can't use, nor cite from recent books/songs? Maybe my age is an issue, too. The Reed song was released when I was a teen (cont) Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:39
  • and I loved the song. I wasn't 'woke' enough to consider it offensive. Now, in 2018, I know why certain words are not used now, but he historical context shouldn't be censored. And I get that as a reference, there were other choices, a kid's song for one. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:40
  • Also, on ELL we tend to avoid adding a “fig leaf” or using euphemisms like “N-word” for material discussions of offensive language because of the language barrier. (We still sanitize the titles of course). I noted your reluctance to use the actual word in giving your example, which is what caused me to ask about examples.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:41
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    Well I think that there is a certain amount of trust that’s needed in a well-functioning community. We should care how people respond to what we write, and we should feel free to, after we have listened carefully to the objections, push back. If we are constantly having an open conversation, it’s harder to spiral toward an extreme.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:45
  • Yes, I'd prefer to avoid spelling out words when appropriate. Although on twitter, I'll often say "karma is a bitch". It seems, as with my home, Money.SE, that Meta discussions don't draw as big a crowd as I'd expect. 3 days, and only one more answer just appeared. To the second comment, yes, I'd care about objections, but back to the crowd-sourced issue. It's too easy for one, say, very religious person, to insist that an office of 20 suddenly watch their every "Oh my God", let along their JFC... Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:49
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    @JoeTaxpayer The answer to that one person is the same as the answer to the folks that feel strongly that no speech should be censored: find a place where the community norms better match your sensibilities. The goal is not to shelter every individual from ideas that don’t align with their world view. The CoC says “likely” to offend and there is a huge amount of gray area there. Some folks are very uncomfortable with that much uncertainty but I see it as the only way to make sure the site welcomes both people objecting to some types of language and those pushing back. It is a healthy tension.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 17:28
  • Just FYI it was a coin flip whether I accepted Mitch's answer or yours. I felt his discussion of mitigating the strength of a taboo was interesting and that you more directly addressed the code of conduct issues. So your consolation prize for losing the coin flip is this comment (since I've already upvoted) :)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 16:20
  • Ever see the study showing that the bronze medal winner is happier than silver? Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 22:17

This is part of a piece by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready 2017 in which they address the handling of linguistic material involving the n-word, as an inroad into a general discussion of how to handle the treatment of slurs in general and the putative distinction between use and mention. It may throw some light on this question:

"[...] Slurs are generally words which have a history of being used to inflict serious emotional distress. Setting aside how it is that they come to do that in first place (which surely must have something to do with both their literal meaning and with their issuers’ hateful intent), they come to have a perverse second effect, as we understand it: they viscerally remind their victims of the hurt they have experienced due to prior use of the word, as summed up by the Langston Hughes quotation excerpted by Geoffrey Nunberg’s post, or by Ice Cube in his recent discussion with Bill Maher: “When I hear a white person say it, it feel like that knife stabbing you, even if they don’t mean to.” And importantly, what we have read and heard from people who have been victimized by these words suggests that any depiction can be such a reminder, whether it is use, mention, quotation, or even just phonetic overlap, as in the very obvious case of an idiom containing a slur, or less obvious cases like similar-sounding but historically unrelated words.

As an analogy, consider someone who has been the victim of repeated axe-violence — someone who has been attacked with axes over and over again over the course of their life, and has been threatened with such attacks even more often. If such a person were to come into contact with even just a depiction of an axe or axe-violence, it would be responsible to assume that the person may well become upset, and maybe even re-traumatized. And importantly, this is independent of anyone’s intent — it wouldn’t matter if I showed such a depiction to such a person with the virtuous intent of wanting to rob these depictions of their power to hurt the victim, for example — it would still very likely cause pain. There would be no reason to expect that that pain would be in any way a function of the depicter’s intent.

Likewise, any depiction of a slur creates the risk of causing hurt to those people who have been historically victimized by the slur, regardless of speaker intent. In this way, the slurring effect of a slur is more like Grice’s (1957) natural meaning than his non-natural (communicative) meaning; it is something the hearer derives from the utterance independent of grammatical convention or of their recognition of the speaker’s intent. See also this discussion of research on the physiological effects “mere words” can have.


If you take the standard linguistic analysis of slurs, though, the word’s power does not come from mere taboo (i.e., a social prohibition on using or mentioning the word as we see with expletives like "shit"). The word literally has as part of its semantic content an expression of racial hate, and its history has made that content unavoidably salient. It is that content, and that history, that gives this word (and other slurs) its power over and above other taboo expressions. It is for this reason that the word is literally unutterable for many people, and why we (who are white, not a part of the group that is victimized by the word in question) avoid it here.

[...] There seems to be an unfortunate attitude — even among those whose views on slurs are otherwise similar to our own — that we as linguists are somehow exceptions to the facts surrounding slurs discussed in this post. In Geoffrey Nunberg’s otherwise commendable post on July 13, for example, he continues to mention the slur (quite abundantly), despite acknowledging the hurt it can cause. We think this is a mistake. We are not special; our community includes members of oppressed groups (though not nearly enough of them), and the rest of us ought to respect and show courtesy to them.

The sad fact is that linguistics as an academic field has severe diversity issues. These problems are not helped by the strategy above which, while in the abstract might have its merits, in practice is only hurtful, and only serves as a barrier to those who might find its use painful or insensitive. Certainly, the taboo-ignoring strategy [...] is not going to be helpful in solving the problems our field has with lack of diversity. These problems are further evidenced by the fact, mentioned above, that we, the authors, are white, so we cannot directly understand what it feels like to be affected by the slur under discussion. Writing this [... piece] discomforts us in light of this fact, but we feel that we have a responsibility to try to further this discussion, and acknowledge that our understanding of the actual harm that comes from the n-word is indirect. For all of us who are not targeted by particular slurs, understanding can only really come from listening to those who have been harmed by them. We strongly encourage everyone to do so.


[O]ne of the main points of this note is that speaker intention is not always relevant to these matters."

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    And I'd respectfully suggests this all has me asking the question, "Where do we draw the line?" The member who objected, did so thus - "Americans do NOT use "colored" in the twenty-first century, and we don't refer to grown women as "girls". " While I might be persuaded to agree that 'colored' may very well be offensive (outside of the context of a quote), the member quickly injected "girls" and that was a red flag for me. Commented Mar 9, 2019 at 1:28
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    @JoeTaxpayer Well, just make a grown up sensitive attempt to draw a line in the first place. I'd respectfully suggest that in your post you threw the baby out with the bathwater. Not all quotations should be considerd safe, as discussd in the piece quoted above. This is especially the case if the material chosen to be quoted is only an incidental example of something else. Also, even when the quoted material is actuall the actual subject of the post, there are often good reasons to avoid an unadulterated direct quote. Of course, none of this prevents us from drawing lines in sensible places. Commented Mar 9, 2019 at 12:41
  • So to continue their analogy, should Home Depot remove all pictures of axes from their website in case they should offend victims of ax violence?
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 15:23
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    @Robusto I don’t think that’s a useful extension of the analogy. You need pictures of axes to sell axes, you don’t need them to sell ceiling fans. If a portion of the population had been systematically culled by axe-wielding mobs in the past, maybe Home Depot would be more careful about axe imagery. This is not a discussion site like Twitter et.al. This is a knowledge sharing site that depends more on building a diverse, engaged community than on unrestricted speech. It shouldn’t be surprising which side of the line they prefer to err on.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:17
  • @ColleenV: It's hyperbolic, but there's a reason for that. Hyperbole can be useful. And I like that you used the word err there. That wasn't hyperbole.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:24

I think the law of diminishing returns applies here. The more we go down this rathole, the less light we are going to see.

Some in the community, aided by The Powers That Be, have chosen to delete a highly upvoted answer to a question that had nothing to do with race, simply because the user who wrote the post responded to a comment of mine by quoting the first use he could think of which used "go" as a synonym of "said" (and refused to change it).

The user stated his reasons for refusing to change his answer to accommodate Tim Post's threat to remove his post:

I do not intend to go into lengthy debate over this. You may lie to yourself that this is not censorship, but it is. I did not address anyone, so if anyone is offended, it is purely for political reasons. I did not choose to make this a political issue, but if it must be, then it's an issue of free speech vs. censorship. Choose your side.

That is a clear statement. Tim Post made his position similarly clear:

Yeah, see, I don't see decency as being a political issue. The words you wrote are hurting people. Hard stop. I think it's best that we just remove your answer.

I rather admire michael.hor257k's fearless stand in this, but my approbation is immaterial. This game room we call English Language & Usage is owned and operated by people who have the final say in these matters. That they can be wrong is also immaterial. The person who holds a gun may be wrong, but can still shoot you. Tim Post called this an issue of "decency" and called up his grave responsibilities, as representing his company, to his communities and shareholders. And he used that to remove the post in question.

So TPTB have outed themselves as being willing to champion the offended for even the slightest infraction. I can't think of many slighter infractions than the Lou Reed lyric, but I'm sure they exist and if someone attempts to use them in an answer for whatever reason you have seen a demonstration of what will happen.

The Japanese have a saying: 出る釘は打たれる (the nail that sticks out gets hammered in). You have been warned.

TL;DR: All this discussion is beside the point, because it isn't going to change a goddamn thing.

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    This really should have been posted under the other discussion which was about the particular answer you’re asking about. This discussion is supposed to be about something different.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:31
  • You might be interested in this answer to a discussion about whether ELL is becoming too PC though "Nobody gets more offended than those who take offence at others taking offence." The point being that certain language should be avoided simply because it triggers this sort of debate.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:37
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    @ColleenV: So you say, but since this is the Meta site I figure posts about posts are fair game here.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:42
  • Why wouldn’t you post this under the discussion with more relevant context? You say nothing here about whether a citation should be treated differently than original text.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:44
  • Because I felt like posting it here. I think it applies, even if you and I differ on that. I don't even know which other discussion you're talking about. There seem to be several.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:47
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    The one that actually links to the question you’re talking about with the actual post by Tim Post. It’s linked in the question I posted which you didn’t bother to read.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:52
  • Again, you and I will have to agree to differ on this. I've said all I have to say on the matter. If the answer really offends you, you can try to get it deleted.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:53

I love it when shit like this happens after many criticised an answer containing the line “the colored girls go doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo” and a Stack Exchange director deleted the entire post.

Today a new contributor (just a coincidence or a provocation? Who knows.) posted a question about punctuation, on the usage of ellipsis at the start of a quotation.

"...The witness for the state, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption---the evil assumption---that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption that one associates with minds of their calibre.”

Is it okay if I used ellipsis like this? (@OP)

This one is an interesting example, because the speaker in the quotation is not defending those racist views, they actually define them as being "evil"; however, the first lines that jumped out to me, a casual visitor/reader, were the lines that contained "negroes". And those were the lines that made the greatest impact on me because they are totally disgusting, although someone else might not find them so volatile or insulting. In eight hours there have been no comments criticising the content of the quotation.

  1. Is the term negro less offensive and insulting than colored? Or are they equally offensive?
  2. The quote contains racist material but the speaker denounces those views. Should the quotation be allowed to stay?
  3. Does the example actually relate to the OP's question about punctuation (ellipsis) in a meaningful way? Does it contain an example of its usage?
  4. If any of the answers to the above is "no" then should users intervene (edit) and change the quote, or should the entire post be summarily deleted?

There is another option aka passing the hot potato

  1. Flag the post.


OMG I've just realised my "answer" is also problematic. Do I use asterisks in place of the offensive terms? But wouldn't that risk making it sound even more offensive if I did?

For example,

...that all ******* lie,

Or leave the first letter alone and then use asterisks

…that all N****** are basically immoral beings

You know what? It looks much, much more offensive and unwelcoming now.


  • Does the community leave it alone?
  • Does it edit or replace the quotation?
  • Do we downvote it and if we have the necessary rep, vote to delete the post?
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    Isn't this a question, not an answer? Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 9:13
  • @Araucaria maybe? Maybe not. There are already a number of questions about sensitive issues and editing. Do we need another one?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 9:17
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    I think your moral outrage here is a bit silly. In the other post the OP had ample opportunity to choose a less problematic example, and the example was trivial in relation to the post. There was no reason to choose an example that might be jarring or painful for the reader. Here the example is a specific piece of writing in which the said elipsis is being used. It does not in any way (intended or otherwise) indicte that the said language is acceptable in a modern context - far from it. I don't think people feel that such vocabulary should be eradicated from films such ... Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 11:35
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    ... as Twelve Years a Slave, for example. You talk about taking things on a case by case basis, but then don't seem to be able to do so. The question here is whether the language may cause undue distress to a reader. Do you think the post you discuss would be the same if it said And all the negroes go "Do, Do Do"? Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 11:39
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    The easiest way to tell if something potentially violates the CoC is whether someone felt it was unwelcoming enough to flag it. In this context it seems that no-one felt this citation was a problem. I bet if the quote had been started at "that all Negroes lie..." so that it was out of context, there would have been complaints. The CoC is not about whether or not particular words are offensive. You could have a post made of entirely inoffensive words that is unwelcoming because of how they're strung together or an example of offensive words that are material to the question that are fine.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:18
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    Before we can say if something is offensive to a minority group we have to wait until someone flags it!? This is bonkers. The sample could be easily replaced with another, couldn't it? Are the term(s) offensive or not?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:36
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    @aracauria I'm actually pointing out there can be no clear-cut case and that that post is a pertinent example.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:38
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    @Mari-LouA Our goal is not to classify what is offensive. Our goal is to remove language that drives people away from the site and makes them feel that their perspective is not welcome. If you see something you think will make someone feel unwelcome, flag it. Classifying language as "offensive" is a fools errand, because pretty much anything can be made offensive in the right context. The goal is not to make rules, but to (as much as possible) make sure that people don't feel reluctant to participate because the community seems to tolerate disparaging particular groups of people.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 14:09
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    Also, I think that preemptively suggesting in comments to an author that they better watch out because someone else might flag something as offensive even though you yourself don't see any issue with the material is problematic. In that situation, it's very likely your comments that made someone feel unwelcome. Either the author feels unwelcome because you're comparing their question to one that was deleted by a mod, or the person that did genuinely take offensive feels like they can't object to it without drama. It could be interpreted as intimidation.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 14:28
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    @Colleen If, as it seems, you already know what is the best approach to take, then may I suggest that you post the definite guideline so there can be no possible misunderstandings in the future.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 15:43
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    @Mari-LouA I think her point is that there's no clear cut answer to this.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 15:55
  • I edited the OP to eliminate the irrelevant problematic part. But I left it in yours because it is totally relevant to the issue here. Your quote is not problematic because we totally understand the context of how you are quoting a quote and are discussing the issue, where it is necessary to know what is being discussed.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 15:57
  • A primary question though, suitable for the main site, is whether the word 'Negro' is offensive (or how offensive in relation to 'colored'). It is definitely pretty offensive to use it in the sentence "All X are Y", but added indirection in the phrase "that all X are Y" and a couple of levels of indirection on top of that. It's a classic quote of American literature; if your eye just glances at a few keywords it looks bad, then you read it with thought and you realize that it is not awful. But the discussion of what the implications of that passage are is one for literature.SE not ELU.SE.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 16:09
  • @Mitch thank you for everything but I deliberately chose not to include the link in this post. So, anyway, thanks for the comments.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 19:11
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    Guidelines: Code of Conduct "We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people" and from the help center "If you see behavior that is rude, offensive, unproductive, or otherwise inappropriate for the site, let us know. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, speak up." Meta is the place to speak up, not in comments under the question, especially if you aren't going to link the question where you left that part of the discussion.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 19:53

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