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I find a certain phrase in a particular question very offensive. However, I can't flag it as "offensive" like I can a comment. Is this by design? What should I flag it as instead?

  • What you're referring to is an off-topic polemic badly disguised as a question. That's a problem. But the mere statement that God does not exist is not, in itself, offensive. If you are offended by it, you're not sufficiently dispassionate to edit. Step back and leave it to others. That means that your analysis of what was wrong with this question is completely incorrect: the problem isn't that it's offensive (it isn't); the problem is that it's off topic. – TRiG Mar 15 '13 at 11:37
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If a particular phrase in a question offends you, you can edit it out from the question as long as you don't change the original meaning of the question itself. For example, in this question, you might change the phrase

It's not merely supernatural which has a connotation of being non-existent, like God.

to

It's not merely supernatural which has a connotation of being non-existent, like ghosts.

or even

It's not merely supernatural which has a connotation of being non-existent.

This way, the original poster's intention of finding a word that didn't work is preserved but the phrase that could offend more religious users is stricken out.

If, instead, the entire question offends you, there is a flag as offensive option on any question or answer. To do so, click flag, then select it is not welcome in our community. This reason denotes that a question is "offensive, rude or hate speech".

If it is possible, however, to salvage the question I would recommend making the edit. That way, the useful part of a question stays on the site.

One key distinction to note is that there is, as Mitch pointed out, a difference between talking about something and using it. For example, questions on profanity or other offensive terms are often on topic, but using them in another context (say, swearing at someone) is not necessary to the question. The former should stay, the latter probably not. Talking about God when it's part of the question, then, is valid material.

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    No, I disagree. If I ever make a statement about the non-existence of a deity, and someone edits that out, I am simply going to roll it back, however many times I have to. My right to express myself as I see fit trumps someone else's interpretation of what I believe as being offensive. For example, I would never edit out someone's example if it were to be unflattering to atheism. We're all entitled to our opinions. – Robusto Aug 4 '12 at 21:48
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    The remark was quite unnecessary to the question and added nothing whatsoever to it. – American Luke Aug 4 '12 at 21:51
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    @Rob But SE isn't a soapbox: questions should not be used to really just make an opinion known, or make a point. If any line is in a post which isn't integral to the question, it could be considered noise. – simchona Aug 4 '12 at 21:51
  • No, I disagree entirely. Since this is an open community, I think your example is the worst that one could bring. In my opinion, your example is highly offensive against my human sensibility. -1 – user19148 Aug 4 '12 at 23:56
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    @Carlo_R. What do you disagree with about my example? It was, at it happens, the very post that the OP was offended by. – simchona Aug 4 '12 at 23:58
  • My answer to your comment involves a discourse on religion that is not absolutely the case to make here. It would be miseducated towards the community. Best regards. – user19148 Aug 5 '12 at 0:11
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    @Carlo_R. The example was the one the OP wanted to edit. And he did. He found the rampant atheism offensive, and decided to take it out. I suggest you read the original post to which I linked. – simchona Aug 5 '12 at 0:13
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    There's a difference between asking a grammatical question about God (eg "The Hebrew word for God, Elohim is plural, and the Christian God is a Trinity, so why doesn't God take a plural verb?") even though that presupposes that God exists and can be asked about, and a philosophical statement about the existence or non-existence of God which is not actually relevant to the question at hand. This site is not about philosophical statements; it's about grammar and usage. – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '12 at 8:01
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    Coincidentally, that same author has other 'religiously' colored text, and a controversial part was edited out (something oblique about what language God speaks). The use-mention distinction (like for profanity: you can talk about profanity but using it is not so welcome) might help here. – Mitch Aug 5 '12 at 16:56
  • @mitch I added another paragraph--I'm trying to capture your meaning, but please help me edit it into shape of it isn't quite right. – simchona Aug 5 '12 at 17:06
  • @Simchona: yes, that extra paragraph captured what I was trying to say. I don't think it is ironclad at all though: some quotes will be unreasonable, actually again an EC quote involving self promotion was editable in my opinion; and on the other side Robusto's Voltairean perspective of tolerance of speech should be considered. Then again, this isn't about democracy, it's about good answers. Then again, if someone changes an 'a' to a 'the' in an answer of mine, I get a bit miffed. – Mitch Aug 5 '12 at 18:22
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    This answer is wrong: The OP is asking why he cannot flag a post as offensive, as it is done with comments. The answer is that you can flag a post as offensive; you just need to apply the right flag reason. Also, if a post contains offensive words, editing it is not correct. We don't remove spam links from spam posts: We flag it as spam. – kiamlaluno Aug 6 '12 at 10:39
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    @kiam I do say you can flag. See the middle. – simchona Aug 6 '12 at 12:20
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    The answer says, "If, instead, the entire question offends you, there is a flag as offensive." A post is still offensive when it contains a single offensive phrase. A post is spam even when it just contains a single spam link. – kiamlaluno Aug 6 '12 at 12:33
  • The key point here is addressed by Mitch, about a user harping on a particular theme, whether religious or otherwise. If someone has a genuine EL&U related inquiry, it will usually be phrased with the intent of getting an answer, rather than prompting a discussion. There are "first times" of course. I suspect that moderators are aware of this, and take it into account before acting to alter (or not alter) flagged content. – Ellie Kesselman Aug 8 '12 at 20:17
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The flag you are looking for is "it is not welcome in our community", which has the following description:

This question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.

screenshot

Click on the "flag" link, and you will see the dialog box the previous screenshot shows.
I took the screenshot from this site, but the main site shows the exact same flagging reasons.

Notice that the flagging reason doesn't allow you to specify which words/phrases are considered offensive, but as the flag description says, "this question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive"; the offensive part would be easily caught by who reviews the flag.

If the post offends you directly, for example because it contains an indirect reference to you, such as in "who said [phrase you said in an answer of yours] would not agree with my answer, but he is an idiot," then you might want to flag the post using a custom reason. However, in general I would suggest using one of the pre-defined flag reasons, as those are visible to 10K users, who can flag the post as offensive too. Flags with a custom reason are visible only to moderators, which means only moderators can resolve them.

I would not suggest editing the offensive part from the post; this could cause editing wars. It is better to get users to agree about the post being offensive; at that point, moderators can take the necessary actions, if the post was not flagged as offensive from 6 users.

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To answer your specific question: you can flag a question as offensive:

  1. click flag
  2. check it is not welcome in our community
  3. click Flag Question

You identified the last phrase in this sentence¹ as very offensive and struck it out²:

It's not merely supernatural which has a connotation of being non-existent, like God.

I consider the original sentence unwelcome on English.SE, and consider your edit equally unwelcome. I do not mean to be rude or unfriendly: just direct.

The owners of StackExchange intend SE sites to be “libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community’s area of expertise.”³ As the owners they have every right to choose what (and what not) to publish. English.SE “is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts”. So Q&A on English.SE is limited to topics relevant to that expertise. And the FAQ clarifies what that means: word choice and usage, grammar, etymology, etc. Anything outside that realm is off topic and unwelcome.

Questions are welcomed even when they are offensive (to some). The owners of SE have repeatedly made clear that any text is welcome at English.SE regardless of its nature, as long as its presence there legitimately serves the community. (With the exception that titles of questions need to be rated G to prevent the site being flagged by third party content filters.)

Evan Carroll was wrong to post the original sentence not because it’s offensive but because it’s off topic: it is a rant disguised as part of his question. Evan’s defense of the sentence just underscores his intention to engage in polemics, not make a linguistic argument. The sentence is linguistically indefensible: it is factually untrue that supernatural has a connotation of “being non-existent”, any more than my grandchildren does: they are nonexistent, but that just so happens. It is not in any way connoted by the term.

You were wrong to edit the question the way you did. You explained your edit as “removed offensive phrase”, and your sole justification turned out to be that it was you who found “a certain phrase … offensive”. Where you went wrong was in using your personal level of offense as a touchstone for whether content is welcome in our community. The standards are community standards, not yours. Ironically, your edit contributed nothing to the quality of the question: you removed “God” but not the polemic. And, if allowed to stand, your edit might encourage more people to substitute their own personal standards for those of the community.

  • Would a better edit be "I'm not looking for the word 'supernatural'"? If so what should I write for the edit summary? – American Luke Aug 7 '12 at 1:15
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    You admit to a strong personal bias: why not sit on your hands. – MetaEd Aug 7 '12 at 1:55
  • EC admits to a strong bias. Why not eliminate the bias and cut the sentence down to the useful portion? – American Luke Aug 7 '12 at 20:44
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    Ultimately, use your best judgment. Do what you feel is meritorious. And this includes bearing in mind that your admitted bias is likely to create suspicion and cause controversy, no matter how good your intentions are now. It may be that the best thing you can do is let someone else deal with it. Or maybe you can create an edit which is above reproach. Good luck. – MetaEd Aug 7 '12 at 22:09

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