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The question When did Western newspapers stop using the term “Japs” in their publications? was asked yesterday and has really been riding the closure-rollercoaster:

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Expanded details:

  1. The first time, it was closed as general reference. Irrespective of the fact that the CV-guidelines were recently changed, how is this easily researchable? I googled the title and looked at Wiktionary; none of them had any useful information.

It was subsequently reopened outside of review.

  1. The second time, it was closed as a duplicate of Was the word that is now considered a slur against Japanese people ever considered simply a standard, neutral demonym?, which is a very different question. According to the Help Center, duplicate closures should be similar enough that they could be "answered identically."

It was subsequently reopened by a tag-badge-holder and another user. In review, it also received two 'leave closed's

  1. The third time, two of the CVs (I think) were for general reference, and the other voter said that it was a duplicate of the one mentioned earlier.

See Laurel's comment for the specific breakdown.


I see that the question has been somewhat polarizing (right now, it's at +4/-3), confusing (a reviewer who initially selected "Looks OK" ended up voting to close the question as general reference and also later voted to reopen), and found to be objectionable (one comment says "Personally, if I were Japanese, I'd find this question insulting and/or annoying/distressing"). I also see that some of the CVers have left explanatory comments.

What I don't see or understand is the actual reason. How exactly is that question off-topic? Do we think it's salvageable? I'd be particularly interested to hear from the voters themselves, but broader input is also welcomed. Even though this has since been reopened, I'm still interested in knowing the CVers' opinions.

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  • By the way, the exact close vote history is 1) Opinion-based x1, Research x2; 2) Duplicate x3; 3) Duplicate x1, Research x2. It's very unusual to see so many closures on a single question, especially since none have involved a mod.
    – Laurel Mod
    Dec 17, 2023 at 12:58
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    In commenting on another page, Zan700 observed 'I sense that though a question or an answer is clearly about English Language Usage, its proximity to fraught areas (a contemporary extension of not discussing politics or religion in general company) provokes the fear of passion and rancor and thus should be cut off at its knees before it does its damage. The most convenient instrument for this surgery is closure . . . .' This is probably the answer to your question what the 'actual reason' for this closure was.
    – jsw29
    Dec 23, 2023 at 17:21
  • For me, discussing slurs for no special reason keeps it alive. I may not downvote, but won't participate either. It's like explaining to 5-yr-olds explicitly why their adult language is vulgar - you just say it's for adults, without a Kama Sutra explication. Dec 25, 2023 at 15:24

1 Answer 1

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The question itself was (somehow) reopened by a third set of regular users, hopefully setting the matter, but here are my thoughts as to why it should be kept open.

First, I think you're spot-on that the question can't easily be researched. Even under the old policy, I don't think it should have been closed as such. Under the new policy, definitely not. As for it being a duplicate, some of the answers to Was the word that is now considered a slur against Japanese people ever considered simply a standard, neutral demonym? do address this question. However, because it would be possible to answer "When did they stop?" without answering "Was it ever considered simply a standard, neutral demonym?" (and vice versa) that's a good reason for it not to be closed as a duplicate. (It looks like what happened is that newspapers circa WWII knew it was derogatory and decided to use it anyway.)

Next, about this comment from FumbleFingers:

Are you seriously expecting that all Anglophone sources suddenly decided at some point in time (all for the same reason) that "Jap" was insulting? Obviously it came to have very negative associations as we learned more about Japanese treatment of pows during and following WW2, but gradually, we have to put the past behind us. And in the days before Google and Facebook, there was nothing remotely like a "global voice" advising us to change our vocabulary. Personally, if I were Japanese, I'd find this question insulting and/or annoying / distressing.

To address the first point here, we see well-received questions all the time about the birth of words and how they came to be popular, and this is exactly the same but in the opposite direction, the death of a word and how it fell into disuse. Anyone who's seen enough of these questions will know that the answer to "When did they stop?" can't possibly be a single date but rather a timeframe. The fact that it wasn't some sort of instantaneous unanimous decision is what makes it an interesting and complex question, exactly the sort we want here. I assume that WhiskerBiscuit (OP) knows all this too, but if they don't, it would surely be something made immediately obvious by an answer.

As for the next point, that's a lot of "obvious" assertions but no proof to back them up. While there was neither a Google nor a Facebook in the timeframe that OP is asking about, there were style guides dictating usage for formal publications. For example, the APA is 100 years old. It certainly does have "guidelines for talking about racial and ethnic identity" now, but did it have those back in the days when "Jap" was in use? I don't know, but if I did that could be the start of an answer to the question.

Now the suggestion that the question itself could be offensive is serious (though close voting is not a good solution to that). While we do accept questions about any English word, no matter how offensive, we must be sensitive in how we phrase them. With that in mind, I did comb through the question but it seems to handle the issue respectfully. The only two minor issues I can see is that it doesn't use and has "Japs" in the title, which is possibly in violation of our rules for titles. (Unfortunately, trying to address the latter would greatly reduce the readability of the title, since I've never seen the word censored as e.g. "J***s". I also still feel like "the word that is now considered a slur against Japanese people" is too much obfuscation.) If there's anything I missed here (that can't be fixed simply by editing), feel free to point it out.

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    Why does the term need to be mentioned in full in the title at all, when it cam be introduced in the text of the body instead for those who want to go there? Dec 21, 2023 at 0:27
  • Close-voting is a very, very good temporsry solution whilst the site waits for a mod to address a serious and urgent issue! Dec 21, 2023 at 0:59
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    On the homepage, only the title is shown, so if that doesn't explain what it's about you're mildly inconvenienced by needing to actually click on the question. Usually I only censor the words offensive enough to have a recognizable asterisk form, but if that's not enough, we'll figure something out.
    – Laurel Mod
    Dec 21, 2023 at 3:34
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    @Araucaria-Him If there was a flag on the question other than "contested closed as duplicate (auto)" from a literal robot, I'd be inclined to agree that it was OK to also close the question. Without any other flags, I have to assume that nobody thought the situation was serious or urgent or required any moderator attention.
    – Laurel Mod
    Dec 21, 2023 at 3:40

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