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The question "What’s a single word that means Contagious Happiness" was recently put on hold. But before it was put on hold, I commented on how I personally found it mildly offensive, and how I felt certain other people might find it even more so. Why?

I am searching for a single word that means contagious happiness or infectious happiness  . . ."

That part of the question is just fine. But then it continues:

 . . . this is as I am wanting it for a name of a Dane crew consisting of Down syndrome kids 😁


The context behind this is unclear. It's conceivable that the question really was asking for something related to a very specific group of people. (Although I find it unlikely.)

However, in my mind, and especially because of the smiley face at the end, I immediately found it to be at least be potentially offensive. (Taking it at face value, I was offended.)

In case my comments disappear, this is what I had said:

To me, with the smiley face at the end of the sentence, Down children are being made the object of ridicule. It's taking a medical condition and saying it's an example of contagious happiness or infectious happiness. I find it disrespectful and minimizing. I'm not saying it's intentionally offensive, but it bothers me and it might bother those people who have actual experience with Down syndrome even more. But that's also why I asked for clarification. The smiley face makes it sound like a joke at the group's expense.

I've known people with Down syndrome, and their families and caregivers. As with any other group of people, they don't like being lumped together and characterized in a particular and stereotypical way—it depersonalizes them. It's fine to say that a person is one way or another, but it's not fine to say that "all of them" are that way.


Now, I don't have Down syndrome myself. Nor does anyone in my family or any of my friends. (But, as I said, I have spent time with people who've had Down syndrome.) So, maybe that doesn't give me the right to object on their behalf. I'm not sure.

I do know that when that when a recent answer that referenced coloured girls was posted (it can only be seen by those who have 10K reputation), that answer was deleted because it offended somebody—even though that wasn't its intent.

The example used in this question (at least without good clarification as to context) offends me. Perhaps not as much as the other answer offended the other person, but I still do find it offensive to some degree, I suspect some others might find it more so, and I'm wondering why it should not be treated in the same way as that answer (which was was deleted when its poster refused to rephrase it.)


I am arguing to have that particular portion of the question deleted, replaced, or clarified by the original poster. Alternatively, I feel that the question itself should deleted.

I don't feel that this is essentially any different than the answer about coloured girls. It's not even an objective song lyric, but a potential joke told at somebody else's expense.


Update: I wanted to give this question, and its answers, some time to settle before adding anything else. I have a few comments to add at this point:

  • This really has nothing to do with what anybody's personal opinion is about the phrasing used in the question. It's somewhat irrelevant if you think it's offensive. The real question (or how I'd intended it to be take) was what are the criteria for dealing with a question that somebody finds is offensive—even if that's subjective. As such, it doesn't matter why I object to the phrasing in this question (so, there is no point in debating or defending that point), it simply matters that I do.

  • I'm perfectly happy knowing that a majority of people don't find the question, as it's phrased, offensive. That's a good thing.

  • I'm still curious why modifying the question to remove a specific reference that doesn't seem to be relevant to the question is a bad thing.

  • It would be very helpful if the person who actually posed the question would weigh-in. As it stands, it's pure speculation as to what their intent was. Even as I've said in my comments, I can see certain contexts where everything asked is relevant. It just seems that, barring actual clarification, it's dubious. And people making assumptions about the intent or target of the question (myself included!) are doing just that—making assumptions.

  • I'm still unclear as to the difference between the disposition of this question and the disposition of the answer I referenced. That answer got deleted on the basis of a single person complaining. Granted, it had a better community reception for its deletion. If that's the guiding principle, I'm fine with that. I'd just like it to be spelled out so that there's some objective criteria that's made known.

  • Finally, I'm not advocating to have this question reopened—or even deleted. I'd simply like it edited to remove the piece I (still) find to be questionable. Barring input from the person who posed the question, it doesn't seem as if it would harm it to have the reference to Down syndrome children (specifically) removed. I understand that it's closed, and it may mostly be a moot point, but I'm debating the principle more than anything else.

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    Innocent until proven guilty? – Cerberus Mar 28 at 20:46
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    slippy slippery slope... when you start deleting content because it is perceived offensive. – Mari-Lou A Mar 28 at 20:47
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    It sounds like they’re looking for a name for a team (dance crew?) of kids, and that “spreading happiness to others” is the theme they want. Seems like we could just remove the Down Syndrome bit and say “crew of kids”... – ColleenV Mar 28 at 21:10
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    @ColleenV is the term "Down syndrome" offensive? Although good guess about the typo Dance I thought it was a Danish shipping crew – Mari-Lou A Mar 28 at 21:19
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    @Mari-LouA I don’t find it offensive, but I do see Jason’s point about the stereotype that all Downs kids have a certain personality and I don’t think removing that bit hurts the context much. What if I said I’m looking for a word that means “fat and vulgar” for an all American competitive eating team? Don’t really need the American bit in there if someone finds it off-putting. We aren’t in the business of naming things here, so I think changing the particulars helps us focus on the word request. – ColleenV Mar 28 at 21:23
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    @ColleenV One day someone is going to ask for a term for the 41% Americans who still approve/support Donald Trump.... What you're gonna do, delete the name "Donald Trump"? (My last comment, I am tired of this discussion) – Mari-Lou A Mar 28 at 21:35
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    @Mari-LouA The question isn't asking to describe Down's Syndrome kids - it's asking for a word meaning "contagious happiness". – ColleenV Mar 28 at 21:39
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    Feels like you're looking for things to be offended by. If so, you've come to the right place. Off with their heads! – Robusto Mar 28 at 22:20
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    @Mari-LouA A 'slippery slope' argument, the one you're invoking, is usually considered a fallacy. – Mitch Mar 29 at 1:05
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    @JJJ: Take it up with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, if you please. – Robusto Mar 29 at 1:15
  • That said, is the term "Down's Syndrome" directed disaparagingly at the group it applies to? Then a mod should step in (contact the author, eventually delete if not fixed). If not, directed, but still offensive then is it necessary for the question (asking how taboo it is) then it should totally stay. If it someone is bothered by it, but the term is not necessary for the question, big deal, just cut out the term or replace it with one that is not offensive. But deletion is not the answer. – Mitch Mar 29 at 1:18
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    @JJJ: Decapitation doesn't have to be life-threatening. So lighten up already! – Robusto Mar 29 at 1:52
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    @JJJ: OK, now I'm puzzled. I thought you were riffing with me. Are you actually serious? – Robusto Mar 29 at 2:14
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    I find your question offensive for automatically assuming that "down syndrome" is offensive. – Othya Apr 2 at 17:33
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Here's my (admittedly hot) take:

We don't need to know that the children in this dance crew all have Down's Syndrome to answer the request for a "word that means contagious happiness or infectious happiness". That the word is going to be used for the name of a dance crew of children is important context though.

If we wanted to keep the question, we should just remove the reference to Down's Syndrome. Any dance crew of all kids can be in the business of spreading happiness and removing the stereotype doesn't (in my opinion) significantly damage the context.

I don't think this stereotype is so harmful that we need to edit it out without engaging the author. I do believe though that if someone is distracted by something that isn't crucial to your answer or question, that it just makes sense to try to remove that distraction.

However, naming things is explicitly off-topic, even if you disguise it as a single word request, so I don't think this question as it stands should be reopened.

  • I certainly don't want it to be reopened either. I agree that it should be closed. But I'm curious if it should still be edited despite the fact that it's closed. The content is still there and visible to anyone. – Jason Bassford Mar 29 at 3:26
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    @JJJ Most stereotypes can be shown to be "true" with statistics - they don't spring up out of thin air. That doesn't necessarily mean that we should perpetuate them. Including the stereotype doesn't actually add any information and it bothers some people, so it would be best to remove it. – ColleenV Mar 29 at 12:56
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    @JJJ It's enough that someone felt strongly enough about it to mention it, and that the thing that bothers them isn't necessary for the question. We aren't setting precedents here to ban all instances of "Down's Syndrome kids" from the site. We're talking about one post where it bothers someone for a rational reason in this context and it's not necessary. – ColleenV Mar 29 at 13:07
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    @JJJ "I am searching for a single word that means contagious happiness or infectious happiness this is as I am wanting it for a name of a Dane crew consisting of kids." doesn't have less context than the original, unless you believe that a stereotype about Down children is important information. – ColleenV Mar 29 at 13:13
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    This whole thread bothers me. Is our standard going to be to censor everything that might possibly offend one person, even a person who is primed to be offended? – ab2 Mar 29 at 20:35
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    @ab2 It’s probably going to be to treat each case independently and in context. It bothers me that folks insist on extrapolating a very limited on-demand action to censoring everything that could possibly be perceived as offensive by anyone in the entire world. This is about caring how other people in the community you are a part of react to what you’re writing, not purging everything offensive from the Internet. If your only problem with removing an unnecessary stereotype in one specific instance is how it may lead hypothetically to rampant censorship, you need a better argument. – ColleenV Mar 29 at 20:49
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    Reductio ad absurdum is an effective argument. And this whole thread is absurd. I am out of here. – ab2 Mar 29 at 20:52
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    @ab2 Obviously not, or the folks that think the site is going to be swamped with people claiming innocuous language is offensive and the mod team is just going to go along with it would have won this argument long ago. Context matters in language, which is why there is no blacklist of words compiled here. Communities need to accommodate individual differences as much as possible, which is why when someone says there’s a problem we should start from the position that they’re sincere. It shouldn’t be a big deal to accommodate a fellow ELU member by changing something incidental. – ColleenV Mar 29 at 21:09
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    We are already on that slope. I think the question was a deliberate provocation but nevertheless the OP on Workplace was edited and the pronouns "he" and "him" were replaced by the gender neutral "coworker(s)". If before the edit it could have been interpreted as being gender biased, now the OP appears to have the problem with any coworker. Different situation, different problem. – Mari-Lou A Mar 31 at 13:36
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I disagree that the information about Down's Syndrome is irrelevant to the question. It should be kept, because it would better inform the answer.

I am no expert on Down's Syndrome children (DS children), but one of my closest friends has a DS child, whom I have known since she was about 10. She is now 26 or 27. I have known several other DS children and their mothers, although not as well. Thus, I know more than zero, but I am certainly not an expert.

The OP's question clearly telegraphs her love for the DS children in the dance troupe, with which she seems to be somehow involved, even if only as a spectator.

The DS children that I have known and/or observed are uncommonly happy and cheerful. (I am sure there are times when, like all children, they are angry, stubborn, and thorough PIAs.) And their joy is contagious, particularly when they have mastered a skill they found difficult. I saw a DS girl incandescent when she landed her first jump on ice skates. Her joy was contagious and humbling.

The OP asked a question about a particular kind of joy transmitted by children who one might think have little to be joyful about. This is why the datum that they are DS children is relevant to the question.

The other answers, and the comments, say nothing about the experiences of the writers with these children. The whole thread seems to be an abstract discussion about whether ELU should keep anything that might be offensive to someone, written by people who have no understanding of this particular issue.

(I am astonished that I am writing this answer, because I actually don't much like the young of Homo sap. Any other species, yes, adorable.)

I'm not saying that the question is a good question, but it could be made into a good question, particularly with the DS information included.

  • For added support, you might be interested in this workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6080/…. Who is sexist there? Who is jumping to conclusions? – Mari-Lou A Mar 31 at 13:39
  • @Mary Lou Thanks. The OP of the question has a problem of some kind, but to call her question "blatantly sexist" is incorrect. – ab2 Mar 31 at 13:57
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The question is off topic (e.g. lacks a sample sentence), but it's not offensive. It's asking for a word that can be used as a name for a group of people that makes other people happy with their happiness. This was almost certainly intended as a compliment (otherwise it would make for a terrible name).

It's not talking about anyone besides a single group (who the author likely knows personally), so it's not stereotyping. The emoji was there probably because the author is happy. It can be removed, along with any mention about kids or Down Syndrome from the question, since none of that is necessary.

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For the objection itself, I think the OP wanted to highlight a specific quality of the group. One might argue with more justification that it's the reference to nationality that's unnecessary.

Whether Stack Exchange posts should be edited for political correctness - that merits more consideration. When the yardstick is personal offense, moderation becomes intractable - not least because there is enough diversity in the community that just about anything can offend at least one person.

The problem is precisely that SE moderators are there to be 'human exception handlers'. Their job is to make value judgements about site content. It is difficult enough for an individual moderator to maintain consistency of judgement over their tenure. Having a moderation team is healthy as it provides for moderation to be done within a context of accountability. This has worked so far partly because our moderators do, on the whole, have pretty good judgement regarding content, and partly because we have a fairly stable stable of moderators.

But to require moderators to wield their power at the behest of individual members of the community who feel offended isn't wise because it ignores and short-circuits the moderators' own system of values. Their value judgements form the entire basis of their 'exception handling' policy. If their value judgements don't matter simply because one person asserts offense, we might as well give golden hammers to everyone for everything.

Now, there are things about which the community might hold different views from the moderator panel. Given the tiny number of moderators compared to the number of people making up the community, that's probably to be expected. The community-moderation powers (granted incrementally by rep) are the appropriate mechanism to express that disagreement. The community can place posts on hold, vote them up or down, and even delete posts. Community members can disagree with each other, some moving one way, some the opposite, and even try to persuade others via meta posts. Done with decorum, the system works.

But what about the lone offended person? Shouldn't their feelings count? Yes. And they can express their feelings by appropriately modifying (not defacing) the question or the answer. But others have feelings, too, and they might feel strongly enough to reverse the revisions, under the watchful eyes of the moderators.

Naturally, no one wants to be on the 'losing' side, and I think the moderators try to balance the preferences of the one with the preferences of the many. It helps that this site (English Language & Usage) isn't primarily a platform for polemic. It's narrowly focused on particular topics, so we can return to a basic test of, "Does it ask a question properly about one of those topics?" and "Does it properly answer a site-relevant question?"

The bottom line is this: Stack Exchange is a community, and the way it responds to complaints needs to be done 'in community' in such a way that preserves a spirit of community.

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    I don't think there was any reference to nationality - I think it was a typo or auto-correction of "dance". – ColleenV Mar 30 at 3:03
  • @ColleenV You might be right, but it would make for odd capitalisation. It’s a minor point in my answer, though. – Lawrence Mar 30 at 9:12
  • Sure, but it would be Danish crew if it were intended that way wouldn’t it? Given my personal struggles with my mobile’s autocorrect the arbitrary capitalization is just part of the suck that is typing on a mobile. – ColleenV Mar 30 at 10:38
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I'm still curious why modifying the question to remove a specific reference that doesn't seem to be relevant to the question is a bad thing.

Whether something is relevant or not is also subjective. Maybe in this case it isn't, but at least in the general case it's not a good idea to start removing stuff if only one person finds it to be offensive and thinks it's not relevant.

Indeed, had the question (in a general case) been on-topic and not closed than the author may well have rolled it back and be right to do so. Subsequent edits removing and putting it back in are referred to as an edit war and might require a mod to lock the question (either with or without the text, depending on their judgement and perhaps community input via meta).

  • One person complaining about something doesn’t mean only one person has a problem with it. We should care when someone is bothered enough by something to complain because one person’s feedback usually reflects the feelings of a lot more people who didn’t bother to tell you. These sorts of things should be handled on a case-by-case basis and we should resist the urge to see them as precedent for future hypothetical situations. Every instance should be considered independently, not forced to be consistent with a prior decision based on a different context just for the sake of consistency. – ColleenV Apr 3 at 14:59
  • I don’t think setting up rules and precedents would result in the right outcome for these situations, unless the “rule” is for everyone to act in good faith according to the Code of Conduct and do what they feel is the best course of action for the site in any given situation. That might be leaving a comment, or editing, or flagging, or bringing it up in chat or meta, or just leaving it alone. That’s the only way a collaboratively moderated site can work - by trusting members to use their privileges well. The site is designed to allow mistakes to be corrected. – ColleenV Apr 3 at 15:33
  • Also, only a tiny portion of the community visits meta, so while getting a feel for the consensus of the active members here is important, it should never be the only factor taken into consideration. A downvote on this question could easily mean “I’m sick of talking about this”, not “I read this question, carefully considered your position, and I disagree that positive stereotypes are a problem”. – ColleenV Apr 3 at 15:38

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