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tl;dr: Mean people suck, and we should not help them.


EDIT: I don’t actually believe anything mechanical can be done here, and I certainly don’t expect a “closed due to meanness” reason. That’s just plain silliness. But questions asking about insults or slurs are questions that deserve to be labelled pejorative. It bothered me how many of these there were, and how they tend to draw bikeshedding list responses with no right answer. It doesn’t look good.


Why are we helping people hurt each other?

For nearly as long as the tag has existed, it has been a source of several distinct types of controversy. On occasion, these have been raised here on our meta. For example:

One particularly nasty form of these questions are those that are really just asking for our help in coming up with a new way to put others down. I made a new tag just for such requests, and went back and tagged some of the questions that I felt met the following criteria as talen from its tag wiki:

Pejorative language is any language that portrays someone or something in a negative light, no matter whether it is intended to be disparaging and derogatory, contemptuous or disapproving, belittling or offensive, or even abusive. It’s anything that makes someone or something look bad.

After tagging the first 201 questions I could find, I quit in disgust — but there are others still. Plus these are some of our most frequent duplicates, too, which just adds insult to insult.

As I have elsewhere observed, all these questions had their genesis in bile. Each was looking for some especially nasty new word to use against somebody whose behavior or characteristics they strongly disapproved of.

I don’t think it is a healthy thing for the questioner, nor good for our site or the larger social context, for us to be forever providing people with rude words to use to commit verbal violence upon one another, even if it is only in their own head.

But is there really anything to be done about it?

There are many reasons why these requests are problematic, but simple eliminating the tag will do nothing to address the underlying issues, because people will just end up using a different tag to ask the same thing. This seems entrenched in human nature, and inherent social issue.

In days of old, the worst of these would on occasion be closed as “Not Constructive”, but that is no longer a close reason available to us here. Some of them were so nasty that they were quickly deleted from our site, but many remain.

I would like to see constructive discussion about anything we might possibly do to discourage these sorts of mean-spirited questions. I think it makes us look bad, and I know it is going to be used in an unkind manner.

I don’t really fancy updating our off-topic criteria to include “borne out of nastiness”; that just sounds silly, not to mention subjective. And yet at the same time we (claim that we) expect people to be respectful towards one another here, and having all these questions seeking help in disrespecting others seems at some level to run counter to that principle.

How can that paradox be reconciled?

If there were a line to be drawn, I don’t know where or how one would draw it. All I know is that after reading quite literally hundreds of these nasty questions and thousands of answers to them, I find myself dispirited to the point of sickness by mankind’s continued inhumanity to his fellow man.

Community Disarmament?

So I have made a personal decision never again to supply verbal arms to these questioners, arms that I know can have no other purpose than to put others down. I figure that there are already plenty of words and expressions that assholes use to call each other assholes. I see no reason to help them, and every reason not to.

But that is merely a personal vow, not a site-wide policy.

Is there anything we as a community can do with regard to these mean-spirited questions and so stop assisting them in making this world an ever-uglier place to live in?


PS: As a side-note, I see that the quality of our questions continues to drop in all regards, because people don’t do any research of their own. Jeff’s right about that, and it’s only getting worse. The current matter I raise is just one aspect of this.

  • 1
    It's hard, because there can be a reasonable discussion about the nuances of any word (under which conditions does it apply), but also they really are asking how to insult someone. "Look, the engineering of this rifle is fascinating, you can put a slug through a deer's eye from a mile away. What, you really are going to put a slug through a deer's eye a mile away." – Mitch Jun 13 '14 at 18:21
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    Donno, but in the past I had downvoted a bunch of them, only to come back and see that the community had upvoted those threads. shrugs – F.E. Jun 13 '14 at 18:50
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    Actually, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a new site--"Single-word requests"--and let them have this default address (currently EL&U's), and then move EL&U to a new address. (I'm suggesting that EL&U move so that an OP would have to do some work to find us.) Single-word requests seem to make up around half of EL&U's traffic at the moment, and most of those requests don't fit the profile of the type of questions that EL&U is supposed to be getting--because if the OPs were competent in English to begin with, then they wouldn't be making those kinds of requests. – F.E. Jun 13 '14 at 18:59
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    You've cast a rather wide net with your tagging. I can understand not wanting to help someone learn the latest racial epithets du jour, but a word for someone who doesn't like Twitter? Really? (You may call that pejorative, but it's a label I'll wear with pride.) – phenry Jun 13 '14 at 19:06
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    Who knows, perhaps they're just writing a book and need some dialog. – Jim Jun 14 '14 at 3:18
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    -1 Don't answer the question if you don't want to. – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 6:53
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    What is your pejorative-language tag for? Is it for a question that explicitly asks for a pejorative term, or one that might be answered with a pejorative term? I see you've tagged this question english.stackexchange.com/questions/150683 which doesn't appear to ask for a pejorative term. – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 13:01
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    @phenry I disagree; or rather, if I misread the intent, so have all answerers. Notice the answers: social media (networking) phobic, social media (networking) addicted, technophobe, Luddite. Tell me which of those does not portray the person referred to in a negative light. Of course the answer is none of them, because they are all pejorative. – tchrist Jun 14 '14 at 18:47
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    I appreciate the amount of work tchrist has put into tagging questions in a manner he feels is appropriate. In the history of EL&U, I know of only two other users who have that kind of diligence. If anyone feels that their question has been tagged inappropriately, they are certainly welcome to remove the tag. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 14 '14 at 22:25
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    What @phenry said. One question that quite tickled me as a noob on ELU was What do you call the eating of frogs? Hurry, I need to mock a French friend. Where I'm sure the OP would have been more than happy to have received pejorative suggestions. I don't think there's really a general problem here - on those occasions where the question seems "mean-spirited", just downvote or ignore it. There's no need to get worked up about the situation. – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '14 at 22:26
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    @KitFox Thanks for your clarification. Regarding use of the pejorative-language tag, if a question is tagged as such does that mean that an answer with a neutral or favourable word should not be supplied or if there is one should it be down voted? Are tagged questions only to be answered with pejorative terms? – Frank Jun 15 '14 at 6:28
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    @Frank Most users ignore tags anyway. Consider how many askers tag single-word-requests as "grammer" or "blank" or "dating-advice", which are utterly useless in that context; and even if they use the SWR tag, think about how many answerers provide re-phrasing suggestions or idioms or whatever they feel like. In short, you should continue to respond to tags as you usually would, and if you feel a question is improperly tagged, then re-tag it. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 15 '14 at 14:54
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    @KitFox I'll only know if it's improperly tagged if I understand what the tag is for. At the moment it appears to be being used as a meta-tag; describing the answers, not the questions. I'd appreciate it if you would simply explain what the pejorative-language tag is for. I can ask a proper question if you'd prefer rather than knock about in comments. – Frank Jun 16 '14 at 7:23
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    @Frank I think asking a Meta question about this tag is warranted if you have questions. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 16 '14 at 11:06
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    Somehow this entire controversy floated right over my head without my noticing it; and for the past year I've blithely assumed that the Pejorative Language tag was supposed to be attached to legitimate EL&U questions about (for example) how a word came to have negative connotations—as in the excellent question from last December, Why is myrmidon pejorative? But in taking the tag at face value—as a neutral characterization of a valid EL&U topic—have I been undermining its purpose as a shaming device? – Sven Yargs Jul 29 '15 at 7:23

10 Answers 10

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While I understand people may feel icky or annoyed that our language has mean things in it, I don't feel that it is our job to tell people where the line between "not that mean" and "too mean" is. We can offer our opinion while answering, certainly, but I don't see a convincing argument that it is any of our business to start making rules based on grey moral lines.

Thus, I argue against any rule that suggests we should take any particular action or inaction due simply to the problem of unenforceability. Namely, what sort of action would be appropriate? Close "Off-topic: Too Mean"? Just forever ignore someone who asks about something that is Too Mean? Comment on the post saying, "Tsk, tsk. That's too dirty!" I predict that any such behavior will sow more discontent among new users and users who happen to disagree on the obviously subjective nature involved.

Thus, if any particular user doesn't feel like wading through the muck, they are more than welcome to abstain. But I see no reason for one group of morals to be enforced across the entire site.

After tagging the first 201 questions I could find, I quit in disgust — but there are others still. Plus these are some of our most frequent duplicates, too, which just adds insult to insult.

If you hate doing something, don't do it. That seems appropriate. If you want help from others in tagging the questions so you can ignore that particular tag, that also seems appropriate.

As I have elsewhere observed, all these questions had their genesis in bile. Each was looking for some especially nasty new word to use against somebody whose behavior or characteristics they strongly disapproved of.

I don’t think it is a healthy thing for the questioner, nor good for our site or the larger social context, for us to be forever providing people with rude words to use to commit verbal violence upon one another, even if it is only in their own head.

I don't think it is your responsibility to govern the appropriate usage of the English language -- nor do I think it is appropriate to try manipulating people because of your personal moral system. ELU is not a moral authority, and it shouldn't be.

There are many reasons why these requests are problematic, but simple eliminating the tag will do nothing to address the underlying issues, because people will just end up using a different tag to ask the same thing. This seems entrenched in human nature, and inherent social issue.

Unless the problems relate to the answerability of the questions, it is really none of your business. It is your responsibility to avoid things you don't like. It isn't your responsibility to banish all things you don't like -- regardless of how valid and accurate your reasons are for disliking them.

I don’t really fancy updating our off-topic criteria to include “borne out of nastiness”; that just sounds silly, not to mention subjective. And yet at the same time we (claim that we) expect people to be respectful towards one another here, and having all these questions seeking help in disrespecting others seems at some level to run counter to that principle.

How can that paradox be reconciled?

Our expectations of people extends to the behavior of the users towards each other. I see no paradox in holding these two statements: (a) Do good to each other; (b) answer questions about English. We no obligation to try and hide the dirty parts of our language behind a bushel.

All I know is that after reading quite literally hundreds of these nasty questions and thousands of answers to them, I find myself dispirited to the point of sickness by mankind’s continued inhumanity to his fellow man.

Unfortunately, you are powerless to change human nature. I see no reason for you in particular to engage these questions if they disgust you. Aside from accidentally reading about humanities venomous side, these questions don't actively harm you.

If the sheer number of such questions would cause you to leave ELU and stop contributing altogether, I would be more willing to entertain ideas on how to keep things relatively sane on the front page and in titles. Nothing I have written above is intended to make you feel like yuck -- and one thing we do want to monitor is how "family friendly" we keep ELU as a whole.

There is certainly value in treating harsh words with respect simply because they can cause immense harm. But, in my opinion, part of that respect does involve acknowledging they exist and informing people that they should be used with care.

So I have made a personal decision never again to supply verbal arms to these questioners, arms that I know can have no other purpose than to put others down. I figure that there are already plenty of words and expressions that assholes use to call each other assholes. I see no reason to help them, and every reason not to.

Good for you. I think this is the right decision for you and many others. I do not think it is an appropriate decision for the site to make as a whole.

Is there anything we as a community can do with regard to these mean-spirited questions and so stop assisting them in making this world an ever-uglier place to live in?

I think we should make sure the front page and question titles are at least palatable for those passing thorough. And I think that we should make it trivially easy for users such as yourself to safely ignore these types of questions.

But in the end, these matters are a part of our language and we have no right to tell all of the internet where the line between "too mean" and "not that mean" exists.

And, to be clear, I agree with you in the sense that people shouldn't be using these words flippantly and they shouldn't be actively seeking words in order to merely use them against people they know. I don't disagree with your morals. I simply don't think it is appropriate for you and I to impose those morals on others.

My two cents.


(Finally, thank you for raising the issue. I think it is a very important issue and if it causes you grief it should be discussed freely.)

  • You're right, we're not here to regulate the morality of language or the Internet. But we do have standards here on ELU (expectations of behavior, what is allowable in titles, in posts, etc.), one of the reasons for the "penalty box". Recently a "hot network question" about sister-rape prompted a user on another site to tell an outside mod it was a trigger for her (she can't close the box.) Who's rights should we protect - whose do we want to protect - in that situation? You state "If the sheer number of such questions would cause you to leave ELU and stop contributing altogether... – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 3:19
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    +1 The Tour page says Ask questions, get answers, no distractions it doesn't say Ask questions, maybe get answers if your question is morally acceptable to some users of the site – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 7:01
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    The argument that because people have the right to free speech in general, they have the right to publish their speech on every particular platform they feel like, regardless of whether it is designed by or for them, is quite muddle-headed. On the contrary, people have the right to get together with like-minded people and provide platforms on which they can interact with each other and help each other out without people walking past and damaging the platform, or evacuating their bowels there. There is nothing wrong with taking action to preserver the quality of the platform... – Araucaria Jun 14 '14 at 8:27
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    ...There is the issue, however, of how this can practicably be done without overstepping the mark, or being judgmental or moralistic. On the other hand the idea that because the not-clear cases are difficult to handle, nothing should be done about those that are clearly likely to cause harm seems irresponsible and counterproductive (Medica's 'rape' example being a case in mind). – Araucaria Jun 14 '14 at 8:30
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    @medica: The point being that there is a significant difference between keeping the front page palatable and trying to remove things from the site entirely. We should do what we can to give people a way to ignore these kinds of questions. Your fixation on "high rep users" is incorrect; I was talking to tchrist because they started the conversation. I would extend the same courtesy to all users if it was truly necessary. (Cont.) – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 14:30
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    @medica: Your example of sister-rape is kind of a different animal and it should be treated as such. Insults and mean spirited questions are not in the same realm as rape, murder, abuse, etc. If tchrist was asking whether we should keep rape questions off the front page my answer would have been very different. – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 14:31
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    @Frank - The help Center also clearly states Be nice. Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together... and bring your sense of humor. I'm not suggesting we become closed-minded; I am suggesting we follow our own guidelines. – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 18:50
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    @medica I agree, follow the guidelines, never respond to a question in a rude manner. If you feel that from a short typed question (with absolutely no background) you can come to a valid conclusion that the user is mean then don't provide an answer. It's that simple. There's no need to berate the OP or demand to know what they intend using the answer for, just don't answer if you don't feel comfortable. There's no compunction to answer questions if you don't like the subject matter. That all sounds a bit preachy which is exactly what I'm against here. The point is it's always your choice. – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 19:11
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    I have nowhere suggested that we "berate the OP or demand to know what they intend using the answer for". That's a ludicrous statement, and a straw man to boot. I am suggesting we follow our own guidelines for behavior set in place long before you (or I) arrived here. You have an opportunity to help shape this community with meta participation and your vote, as I do. But you don't get to determine it alone, according to your standards. Nor do I. The preachiness you hear is that in your own voice in your own straw man example. – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 19:36
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    @medica The preachiness I hear is from tchrist. I don't just hear it, I see it in his random application of his new tag. Adding that tag to a question where the OP hasn't clearly stated that they want a pejorative term is berating them. The point I'm making is that anyone that doesn't 'like' a question doesn't have to answer it. You need to read it, to decide whether to answer or not, unless there's some kind of premoderation check that's always going to happen. You have the power to vote to close, I have the power to flag to mods. What more do we need? – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 19:45
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    The guidelines were written to apply to treating users but not to what questions are on- or off-topic. – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 20:03
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    @medica: The day we start editing this site to remove "triggers" for people's insecurities is the day I delete my account. And I'm not kidding. So . . . now you know how to get rid of me. – Robusto Jun 14 '14 at 20:49
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    @Robusto - If you think a change of a title containing "sister rape" to something less offensive is evil, I can't sympathize. I'd rather sympathize with the user who objected to it, as did the SE employee who changed the title only. Threatening to leave over one incident strikes me as a bit over-reactive. Re-read my comment. I am not advocating an Animal-Farm-like takeover. I am supporting OPs showing more work to decrease "ELU as dictionary/thesaurus/platform for self-expression"; I am also advocating we keep truly offensive words out of titles (not my policy; site-wide, I believe.) – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 21:07
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    @Robusto: Chances are low that any such policy would be instated due to everyone bickering about where to draw the line. Which is another reason I am not in favor of pursuing that course of action. We have enough debate on closing questions related to being on topic. I don't see how closing question due to meanness would be less controversial. – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 23:25
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    @MrHen: I'm not too worried, actually. I suppose every couple of years a fresh flock of newbies has to fly in and try to reform the site. Look at what happened with simchona—oh, but I don't think you were here for that. But my feeling stands, and suggestions that we bend over backward to avoid "triggers" and peanut allergies and whatnot is—well, let's just call it one of my triggers. – Robusto Jun 14 '14 at 23:40
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You seem awfully certain that people are asking for these words because they want to use them to hurt others. There are many different reasons why someone might want to learn a particular pejorative word, some negative and some quite positive. You yourself used a lot of negative words when writing this question—disgust, bile, nasty, violence, etc.—and nobody would accuse you of trying to be hurtful with them. For all we know, the questioner asking about the word for bigotry against a particular people or group might be preparing to deliver a passionate denunciation of all kinds of prejudice. I don't think we know what's in a person's heart, and I don't think it's up to us to ask.

If we wish to increase the level of happiness in the world, I'd rather we did it by closing fewer legitimate questions, and being less rude about the ones we do close, than by telling people they can only ask about happy things.

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    I know there are many questions I'd prefer to see closed which you wouldn't, for a variety of reasons. But one has to draw the line somewhere, surely? Speaking hypothetically (if you were a mod) how would you deal with a question along the lines of "I know I can't use the n-word, but is there a more acceptable term I can use to insult black people?" And would it make any difference if the insult was to be directed at fat people? If so, why? – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '14 at 21:18
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    @FumbleFingers - that question, if asked, would obviously be a problem. And a person who does us the courtesy of making it clear that he's looking for a way to insult people makes it easy for us to tell him to go jump. But I don't actually see that happening in the questions under discussion here. Mostly what I see is people asking what you call someone who's easily overwhelmed or whether there's a word for anti-Chinese racism, and I think it's terrible to assume the worst about them. – phenry Jun 14 '14 at 21:48
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    I agree tchrist overstates the case for there being a problem. And my example there was a bit to easy to dismiss (I should have framed it so the querent, being a budding writer, intended a non-endorsed fictional character to use the target word). In which case I personally would probably just indicate my aversion by silently downvoting the question and not getting further involved. But I think it would still be a "problem", for which ideally mods would have a standard response thrashed out in advance. Or maybe not, since it ain't happened yet. – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '14 at 22:06
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    I realise that I have answered a some of those questions. Have I done something 'evil'? Have I negatively contributed to development of this site? I am new to this site but it never crossed my mind that those questions were asked with the intention of being used against others. I've come across aggressive or rude expressions in Notes rather than in Questions and Answers. As a language site I think that we have to be able to deal with any term or expression in a respectful way. I think that offensive and inappropriate use of the language can be easily detected by users and quickly dealt with. – user66974 Jun 15 '14 at 9:26
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We allow questions about profanity, which are hurtful to some.

I feel like an argument against hurtful terms or pejoratives would work for profanity, too.

So I propose that there's nothing mechanical to do in general against these kinds of requests, but to allow disinterested engagement with the intellectual problem posed by them (epithets, profanity) and aggressively edit/close questions about them that are intended to be used hurtfully.

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    What does one do when edits are rolled back repeatedly, unleashing a fountain of hurtful and really disgusting comments aimed at belittling the editor? It makes one hesitant to engage in these puerile posts, yet some of our members seem to revel in them. – anongoodnurse Jun 13 '14 at 22:26
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    @medica: Report it to the mods and walk away. If you ever find yourself "re-editing" a post then you really should get the mods involved and then disengage yourself. – MrHen Jun 13 '14 at 23:30
  • @MrHen - I am not speaking of re-editing. I am speaking of one edit unleashing a torrent of abuse. It was flagged. More than one user attempted to edit, as I had done, and a rollback war ensued. What we needed was an on-site moderator. It was not resolved for several days, thought the flags were "offensive" flags. This is not enough of a rarity here. – anongoodnurse Jun 13 '14 at 23:34
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    @medica: It wasn't resolved for several days because people kept trying to be right and edit it. Only mods or admins can come through and clean up messes like that. Regular users should walk away. – MrHen Jun 13 '14 at 23:41
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    I don't think you know about this case. My edit was at 4:48; second user's edit was at 5:08. By 12:48, the question was closed. The comments weren't cleaned up for days. Your assumption is incorrect, unless you are in the confidence of the mods. I don't understand your speaking with any authority on this particular case. – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 6:42
  • @medica: It's certainly possible we are thinking of separate issues. :) – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 14:25
  • @MrHen: I'm quite surprised to find myself siding with you, Mitch, and phenry on this issue, rather than tchrist. But I do rather think the "walk away" advice is more relevant to helping people avoid becoming distressed by altercations. Obviously there's always a risk the mods might unilaterally suspend all parties to an unseemly spat (for bringing the site into disrepute), but within reason I don't see people should feel they're obliged to remain silent in the face of what they see as provocation. – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '14 at 22:16
  • @FumbleFingers: Correct; they are not obliged. It is just advice. – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 23:20
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    @FumbleFingers: I think tchrist has a good point, it is very annoying to see these kinds of questions, and we should do something about it. My answer is to suggest that we edit or comment those that are redeemable and to vote to close those that are not. I don't know how to stop the original question though. – Mitch Jun 15 '14 at 0:12
  • @ Mitch: Oh. Well I certainly think the issue's worth raising, but I see tchrist's position as "We need strategies & rules to deal with the situation". But I mainly read your answer as "No need to do anything other than follow normal procedures" (that's the basis on which I upvoted it, anyway! ;) – FumbleFingers Jun 15 '14 at 2:18
  • @FumbleFingers Then you misunderstand me. I actually think there is nothing that can be done. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 3:43
  • @tchrist: oic. In that case I apologise for not having read your text more thoroughly. I'm duly respectful and supportive of the fact that you've devoted considerable effort over considerable time to tidying up tags and other "housekeeping" tasks. I've no real opinion on the merits of the pejorative-language tag, except I don't see it will solve the "problem" under discussion. So far as I'm concerned, in general 90% of everything is crap; if only 80% of ELU is crap, we're ahead of the game. (Plus I think 25% of it is only relative crap, that would be okay on ELL! :) – FumbleFingers Jun 15 '14 at 12:21
7

I believe @tchrist has a valid point. As a community, we espouse respect and courtesy in all members. These requests have the effect of a drive by maiming. Not only are they ugly and unkind (and unlikely to be posed by people interested in becoming productive members of the site), but they attract unwanted attention and entice others to repeat the behavior in a one-upsmanship manner. It decreases the credibility that we are here to discuss language and promotes the idea that we are a platform for self-expression, a dictionary or a thesaurus for those uninterested in doing their own research.

I should not be accused of being inhospitable or a rabid closer. I do my best to make people feel welcome here. But this is beyond hospitality. I would like to see more requests closed on the basis of people not showing their research. I've not been here long enough to observe cyclical patterns, but in the time I've participated, I believe the quality of the questions has decreased. Honestly, it raises concerns about the purpose and the future of this site.

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    I think we decrease would the credibility that we are here to discuss language if we try to ignore entire sections of the language because we think those sections are too mean. I do think that thesaurus questions looking for overly specific insults is off-topic since there is no broadly usable application for such terms. Close them if they are actually off-topic -- whether they are "too mean" is irrelevant. – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 20:08
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    @MrHen No one is saying we shouldn't discuss swear words (I voted to leave "the appropriateness of the word f*******" open) or "mean" words. You yourself are validating tchrist's views in saying, "I do think that thesaurus questions looking for overly specific insults is off-topic since there is no broadly usable application for such terms." Perfect. That was my solution as well. *Require people to show their work. That alone will decrease the number of laziness-based requests, and bring back a higher standard to the site. (NB I did not say morality.) – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '14 at 20:23
  • Right. There are a handful of related topics that branch from tchrist's post. I agree that off-topic things should be closed. I disagree that "too mean" is a topic that should be deemed inherently off-topic. (And I'm not trying to specifically agree or disagree with anyone; I'm just stating my position on the subject(s)). – MrHen Jun 14 '14 at 23:28
7

Personal opinion here, but I think tagging 233 posts (latest count) Pejorative language is self-defeating your noble argument that we dissuade users from seeking expressions which are used to attack, demean, and disrespect one another.

I don’t think it is a healthy thing for the questioner, nor good for our site or the larger social context, for us to be forever providing people with rude words to use to commit verbal violence upon one another, even if it is only in their own head.

Frankly, I'm getting a little weary of seeing twenty, thirty similar posts all lumped together on the active page. If anything, this unrelentless mission to tag every request for an insult as "pejorative" is giving a false impression of the site to new users. Think about it, by evidencing man's low morals, you are giving it more prominence, and perhaps, encouraging new users to believe that these type of requests are the most popular on the site.

Yesterday I tried to counteract this misleading impression by creating a new tag nonsubjective whose definition is: Undistorted by emotion or personal bias, having neither positive nor negative connotations. I only tagged twenty three questions, but there are many requests for neutral terms, for words that describe a phenomenon dispassionately without overtly negative or positive connotations. Let's try to keep things in perspective, by all means tag new SWR as pejorative when and where they occur but why actively dredge up the past, if you yourself are disgusted?

After tagging the first 201 questions I could find, I quit in disgust

Actually come to think of it, you are making it easier for visitors to find insulting terms, whereas before many derogatory questions were simply tagged single-word-requests, now users will have immediate access to a rich source of negative terms in one easy place.

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    Actually, if they can find all the derogatory terms in one place, won't that be a resource for them which might prevent all the duplicates? Also, the active page will turn over quickly enough that the effect should be temporary, I should think. – anongoodnurse Jun 15 '14 at 9:20
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    @medica Two tags which grouped derogatory terms together were offensive-language and derogatory, many (not all) posts already had one or the other tag. I'm happy with the tag and the function, I like tags, I use them myself to find duplicates and answers. I just think it's hypocritical to moan about the number of requests asking for derogatory terms and then continue to dig deep in the archives looking for these requests, if you believe that people suck and should not be helped. – Mari-Lou A Jun 15 '14 at 12:01
  • Yes, and I have tagged some with your new tag. Thanks for that. As for unsightliness, whenever a mass retagging occurs, it floats a whole lot of questions up to the top of the front page. This is just the way the system (currently) works. One can avoid seeing them by choosing the Questions tab and selecting the “newest” sort. I sometimes do this when a moderator has come through and retagged fifty questions; it lets you see what’s actually new. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 13:46
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    Rather than just retagging them and popping them to the top, I’ve created tag synonyms for derogatory and insults. You can vote on them and then a moderator can merge them. When that happens, they won’t automatically pop up on the main page. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 13:56
  • As for your count, please realize that 44 of those are closed. There are also 15 more in two tags that I would see merged into this one. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 14:58
  • I don't see how a nonsubjective tag could be interpreted as anything other than a meta-tag. – Marthaª Jun 16 '14 at 16:51
  • @Marthaª yes, it's a tag. Did I say otherwise? It reflects another aspect of SWR, one which attempts to give a more balanced perspective. If the purpose for creating the "perjorative-language" tag was: asking for our help in coming up with a new way to put others down. The 'nonsubjective' tag will help users to come up with terms that are neutral. – Mari-Lou A Jun 16 '14 at 17:50
  • @Mari-LouA: I said "meta-tag", not "tag". Meta-tags are considered a Bad Thing in stackexchange. – Marthaª Jun 16 '14 at 20:59
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    @Marthaª my bad, I thought meta-tag was just another name for tag, meta being equivalent to... meta, who knew? So according to the link posted in 2010, "If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag" in conclusion there must be an awful lot of meta-tags on ELU. If the poster specifically asks for a neutral term, how is tagging that request as 'nonsubjective', useless? Anyway, AFAIC this matter is closed. If you feel that the tag needs to be deleted, then go right ahead, I won't oppose. – Mari-Lou A Jun 16 '14 at 21:16
6

I recently had a question tagged as . The question asks what skull means when used as an insult -- but it was based on a misreading of skulk, which was used in the cited text to mean one who hides. From the wiki description and my own understanding of the tag's name I believe this an apt tag.

But because this post says that the tag was made for mean-spirited requests and because the cited statistic of there being 201 similar questions (the tally as of my writing this is 233), of which it is said that "all [emphasis added] these questions had their genesis in bile," I wonder if my intentions in writing it have been mistaken for more sinister ones.

More than wielding it myself I was interested in knowing what the character meant by it. In the three months that have passed I have not found occasion to use it myself. (Although now that I'm reminded of it, I'm tempted to start applying skulk to Riki in DotA, sneaky little hero that he is!) :)

And more than in insults, my history suggests an interest in neutral terms:

  1. My second question on ELU, Word for "Intellectual Prankster"

    Ethically neutral: No connotations of underhandedness, as in crafty

  2. Word for "Source of Unpleasant Disclosure" (more about generality than neutrality)

  3. My most recent question, Term for Only "Unbelieved Warner"

    I would like for this term to make no judgments on such characters, their messages, or deliveries.

I am at a loss for what to do. On the one hand, I feel this tag fits my question to a tee. On the other, I would like to exercise KitFox' recommendation of removing the tag because I feel by association it is saying that I mean to be offensive, that I'm asking ELU to provide me "with rude words to use to commit verbal violence." (Permit me a third hand, and I would delete the question entirely; it was not my finest hour, research-wise...)

Is the tag meant to carry this sort of stigma?

I have seen questions that very directly said they had someone they wanted to use their answer on, and I don't like those much either. I don't feel comfortable providing that kind of insight into a relationship I vaguely know only one side of. And so I think the advice of not answering is sound, not only ethically but also practically.

Given MrHen's suggestion of titles that make the subject matter easy to guess, I would even advocate a firmer stance of: If the subject matter sounds like something that would rile me, it's probably in my best interest to not even add to its view count. Ideally, when more people follow this principle, there would be more incentive to post content that appeals to the intellect than morbid curiosity: They would get the most views/votes/activity/etc. But this eventuality depends on an ideal, so it's hard to practice, odd to promulgate (especially to non-community members), and thus somewhat unrealistic.

But in general I think more, warmer responses to all-around good questions is a good thing to aim for.

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    There are a whole heap of people who have now had their questions tagged as yours has been and have been labelled mean and just asking for our help in coming up with a new way to put others down. If you are in doubt if the tag applies read the section re-tagging at english.stackexchange.com/help/tagging. If you feel the tag is adding valuable information to the question then keep it, otherwise edit it out. – Frank Jun 15 '14 at 9:43
  • The skull question was asking about the meaning of a word used as an insult. If insults aren’t pejorative, what are they? Yes, I realize the question was based on a misreading, and that the answers explained that. But aren't we supposed to tag questions according to the question? I certainly wasn’t intending the tag as any comment on you as a person, or on you as a poster, or on your other postings. I don’t see the tag as having any stigma that the offensive-language, derogatory, insults (etc.) tags don’t already have. I do see a difference between offensive and derogatory. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 13:49
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    The stigma I see is not from the tag, but from the strongly-worded quotes I cite from this question on meta by the tag's maker about its origin and purpose. If there is no stigma to pejorative-language unusual to these other tags, can we change one of the tags to this question asking when nimrod became an insult to pejorative-language? The Q's maxed out on tags right now but if p-l fits better than any of the others, I think it would help show that, while some p-l retags mark mean Qs, others mark academic. – user39720 Jun 15 '14 at 15:42
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    I agree that with this motivation behind the tag, questions get tainted by that intention, even if they actually have pejorative language as their subject. That is a pity. Basically, based on the OP's "meaning" of the tag, this question is about a Jew asking us for help to insult Jews. I do not want to imply that this was the intention, but it certainly is a result. I found the implication offensive. – oerkelens Jun 17 '14 at 13:51
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From your quote:

"Pejorative language is any language that portrays someone or something in a negative light, no matter whether it is intended to be disparaging and derogatory, contemptuous or disapproving, belittling or offensive, or even abusive. It’s anything that makes someone or something look bad."

Unless I miss my guess and "assholes" has a positive - or at the very least, a neutral connotation - your statement:

So I have made a personal decision never again to supply verbal arms to these questioners, arms that I know can have no other purpose than to put others down. I figure that there are already plenty of words and expressions that assholes use to call each other assholes. I see no reason to help them, and every reason not to.

seems a little hypocritical in that you've stooped to using pejorative language in order to decry the very pejorative language you're railing against!

Is there anything we as a community can do with regard to these mean-spirited questions and so stop assisting them in making this world an ever-uglier place to live in?

Well, one can't expect to foist one's moral leanings on others, so it seems to me that all one can do is to lead by example and hope the sheep will follow.

6

I’m coming at this as someone whose question was just tagged pejorative language (I’ve already got a good answer, so I don’t really care). I can understand why someone could see my question as looking for an insulting term, but I was looking for a term to refer to a class of people which at some point or other includes nearly everyone who posts on forums, and probably includes everyone in the world who engages in normal conversation. Talking witout any expertise is a practice that’s looked down on, but I was specifically looking for the least insulting term possible that still gets the meaning across, preferably with some humor. Basically, the intent of the question was to find a way to convey this (slightly) negative description in the least mean-spirited way possible. And I got a wonderful answer, and learned a new word at the same time.

If people took the tag seriously, then perhaps the most useful answers would never have been posted, because they are not particularly pejorative. The question might have prompted a lot of pejorative responses, but that was not the intention. Tagging a question based on the answerer’s interpretation rather than the questioner’s intent seems a unproductive practice.

And this is far and away the most times I’ve ever used the word pejorative in any piece of writing.

4

I don't know what you're goal is here. You tagged Word meant to describe a crime where women beat men with your pejorative language tag. Why would you feel such questions are mean-spirited?

There are a lot of bad things that happen in the world, and our language has words to describe people and their behaviors. If I were to ask 'what do you someone who....?" that doesn't imply anything beyond my own obsession with choosing the right word to describe a person or situation. If my own question were to be tagged, I'd be inclined to ask another - "what do you call someone who wishes to censor the parts of our language that aren't quite so beautiful?"

If your tl;dr is true, your premise seems very 1984ish to me. What is your goal of not discussing these words? If I observe someone behaving badly and ask for the right word for the act, does that make me mean, just for asking? I'm not one to gossip, but I believe that a marriage contract allows a couple to privately share their thoughts (with each other), and when I'd like to tell my wife about someone who was less than kind, the right words might be useful.

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    Completely agree. I think there is a disturbing censorious spirit at work here, which wants to forbid even the asking about words which don't meet the standards of the Niceness Council. Asking about words <> me using them to hurt someone. I might be writing. I might be reading. There's a whole universe of reasons why I might be asking about such words. – FeliniusRex Jun 24 '14 at 13:54
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I rise in defence of mean people.

The reason I believe vocabulary questions are skewed to confrontational words is because when we are dealing with a disagreement the last thing we want to seem is stupid. Thus, people are strongly motivated to learn such words as opposed to others.

This can easily make it seem like most users are mean people. I suspect they just don't want to be intimidated when arguing with someone with a broad vocabulary.

Rather than discourage this I'd prefer to deal politely with such questions and lead by example. On the whole I don't think this is bad for the site.

And, if you ever do feel like being mean to me, I would actually appreciate it if the names you called me made sense.

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