There have been questions in relation to language used, and offenses given in word choice- but what about outright profanity? Though (I think) most here are adults, that's not necessarily a given, and I've always viewed profanity for it's sake to be the recourse of a limited vocabulary rather than some sort of profound emphasis. But that's just me.

What's the consensus on such?

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5 Answers 5


After discussion, the mods believe we should stick to the standard SE "no expletives" policy to promote a friendlier and more civil site.

As on English.SE, exceptions can be made for actual technical terms. If, as seems oddly likely, there is "An Apocalypse World move called Fuckbunny" then that can be used in the technical sense in a question. Or a direct quote from a sourcebook or the like. I wouldn't mind, and it wouldn't be a bad thing, if the poster "bleeped out" the offensive part of such quotes, as that doesn't harm understanding in the least (F**kbunny? I have no idea what they mean, I only see a similar name without asterisks, whatever shall I do?) and could avoid offending other community members, but we won't enforce that.

Beyond that, there is no legitimate need to use expletives as either intensifiers or as lazy-language on this site. This is a site that caters to a hobby that includes young children (see ). Site members should also remember that there are site participants from all backgrounds, states, countries, religions, etc. here and that the golden site rule of "don't be a jerk" means that your word choice is an important part of upholding a civil site.

I won't go into "but what words exactly," it should be obvious which words are considered offensive - the FCC-banned, anything pointlessly referring to a sexual part of the male or female anatomy, slurs, etc. If someone flags it, and it's something that a reasonable person would not want their kid to be saying, would not say to their boss or teacher, etc. then it should go.

Please adhere to this policy, for as stated in the help center we will issue warnings or suspensions to those who are determined to violate it. Of course, the same goes for people being jerks in other ways. Be polite and civilized on this site. Our cardinal rule is "Be Nice," and it's certainly possible to not be nice and still not be using profanity. However, using profanity is generally a signifier you are probably being Not Nice. (Using it against someone who's not present isn't any more civil than using it on another site member.)


The policy as stated is pretty clear. But.

Generally the policy is not enforced. Enforcing it capriciously is not appropriate and having a blanket "no swearing" policy is wrongheaded at best.

However, there is a much bigger issue here. Editing posts for language without bothering to edit the rest of the post. I don't care if we're going to edit posts for language, but if that's all we're doing than we're bumping posts that don't need to be bumped for no reason. If someone wants to edit for language, they need to take a look at the whole post and make sure they aren't missing any grammar or misspellings.

I will reject any suggested edit that corrects only language as too minor. I will argue against anyone with edit privileges editing an old post solely for language.

One more note. We are not bound by SE's general policy, and we should not be here if we don't want to be. Just because something shows up in the help center doesn't make it law for this site, yeah we can't edit it, and the help center should be our default policy position, but we make the rules here. If we'd prefer a more lenient stance on profanity, all we have to do is not enforce it.

To me, editing it out during the normal course of site process is sufficient, we shouldn't be trawling for profanity to edit out and bumping posts for no other reason. That seems like a rational policy to me.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant: meta.stackexchange.com/q/110682/248443 \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the "we are not bound by SE's general policy" point is the strongest part of this answer. Each SE site is meant to operate relatively independently of the rest of them, and develop their own unique cultures. If we don't want to allow swearing, then fine, but we shouldn't disallow it just because that's the default SE policy and we don't want to make a decision on it. It's entirely possible to use some words in a respectful manner, and without being offensive. Offensive profanity is really the problem, IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – Travis
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Travis exactly. Using English.SE as an example, they have a great series of questions about swear words. They recently had a meta post indicating that they shouldn't use them. The response was incredulous, because treating a subject academically without mentioning the word is stupid. I'm not exactly advocating for us to pepper our posts with profanities here, but I am saying a blanket no swearing rule isn't necessarily the best thing here. And I'll certainly argue that mass edits to simply remove profanity is wrong. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 17:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ IMO, profanity in general can be part of the problem, especially in relation to work filters and minors on the site. I also really don't see the point in it, but even without that regard, there really doesn't seem to be a community consensus to make a change from the standard policy behind. Which is the reason for the phrasing of the question- what is the community consensus, and how do we come to such. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Give me some time to research this and I should be able to provide more insight but I think that this actually falls under the "Be Nice" section of the actual network wide Code of Conduct that every user has to comply with. So, while I do agree that retroactively search for all profanities "just to edit them out" could be something a community should be able to avoid - for example because it is to much work (and none will blame them for that) this does not mean that a site culture may tolerate profanities, since the higher level network policy (afaik) does not tolerate them. \$\endgroup\$
    – SPArcheon
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 15:13

I admit, I'm a long time lurker and a relatively new joiner. That said, I think pragmatism is an operative word. Unfortunately, this also introduces individual judgment, cultural variance, and a number of vagaries influenced by demographics.

While I'd like to avoid a deep dive into all that is profanity, I would like to point out that there is nuance here that is being glossed over and danced around.

What are we talking about?

  • Blasphemy (against one or many)
  • Cursing or Hexing
  • Bodily Functions or Byproducts
  • Sexual Metaphors
  • Racial-Cultural Slurs

I venture that all rules (guidelines) should be both meaningful and actionable. As such, the WHY is important. It is not enough to simply posit the notion that profanity is not "a good idea" without suggesting that perhaps community members that use profanity are not doing their absolute best to uplift the community to its potential and thus are not able to get the most from the community as a result.

I believe the test should be:

Does [word] advance my communication (read: promote dialog) between me and the largest possible audience?

I acknowledge that there are terms of art and colloquial terms within my community that may not be acceptable to a larger audience. I agree that, in order to be the most effective communicator and to achieve the best results, I must tailor my language to the needs of my audience.

It's that simple. It's not rocket surgery.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Very nicely put. Also very subjective, but it's about as simple as it can get in that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very nice. This captures the difference between casual use of curse words for mere emphasis, and the need to clearly cite the often-relevant section of Apocalypse World that has an expletive in its title. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 20, 2014 at 18:28

The SE behaviour model is pretty clear, I think:

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. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor.

Please note that expletives are not allowed. If you use expletives on this site, you may be issued a warning or a suspension.

Following that link reveals that there's some debate amongst users, but the site's actual policy seems clear--don't.

You may have noticed when you signed up for your SE account that the age floor for SE is officially thirteen years old, and I try to keep that in mind when making choices about content both in questions and answers and on the chat (I've actually run into a handful of SE citizens under the age of 15, so they do exist).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I'd not seen that part on profanity. So... in line with that, should we edit those out when we see them? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mxy's been trawling through the archive and replacing every instance of "$#!t" with "stuff." So, yes. We should edit swears out wherever we see them. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 - that is the SE-wide policy and yes, it should be edited out. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 22:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of this paragraph is aimed at preventing users from insulting each other, which is fine. Only the final line might or might not also imply you should tone-down your language in general (which is a pretty silly thing IMAO). \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is how do define expletives... What words, in what context, count? I could use damn as a verb of a god marking someone for a punitive afterlife or as a expletive. I could use nob as another word for a dial on an instrument panel, or as an insult. Where are we drawing the lines? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 16:12
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @TheAmusedMuse There's over 2000 words on this page working to talk about why it's crucial to have general policies rather than specific ones, and to explain the importance of context and the primacy of effective on-topic communication. If your word isn't a swear in context, it's not a swear. If your word is used as a swear but is directly supporting your ability to communicate about the subject at hand, it'll probably get a pass. If it's unnecessary and doesn't actually help answer the question then it probably won't pass muster. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 20:50

The rules

From "Behavior":

Please note that expletives are not allowed. If you use expletives on this site, you may be issued a warning or a suspension.

So, that's basically that.

The rules are actually pretty arbitrary

Trawling through the archives on this issue gets a bit annoying. The discussion has come up on various SE sites in addition to Meta (mostly when it was SO Meta). As far as I can tell, Jeff Atwood's original arguments for a blanket ban revolved around stuff like automated corporate blacklists.

On Meta, the highest-scoring answer is "Keep profanity to a minimum," followed by "Don't," followed by "It depends." Clearly the community is generally in favor of not putting cusses everywhere, but not everyone's all that excited about keeping a hard line.

Personally, I think that little line in the blurb serves as a useful deterrent from just swearing casually. And... that's about it. I find most of the actual arguments presented to be pretty silly:

  • Where is this draconian nanny software? Is it real or hypothetical? What kind of sophisticated software is it using to decide that "Brainf---" must always be censored in text but it's okay to put its full name in a URL, or that it's okay to ask questions about "dirty" words on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange?

  • If swears are a big deal, where's the filter on the post button? It'd be pretty easy to have a quick popup that says "Hey, this looks like cusses, did you really mean to post that?" without inhibiting the operation of the site.

  • "What about minors?" Forget the realities of language use and exposure: if we literally edit out everything, we're restricting "bad language" much more stringently than the "PG-13" or "TV-14" guidelines do.

    The MPAA/FCC regulate swears. That's true. We're clearly not applying their standards, though. That's fine, because their standards are pretty stupid. Right now the policy seems to be "I know it when I see it." Which is fine and all, if it's just going to be based on someone's gut-feeling about where the line is ("sh--" is banned, but "d---" and "wh---" are fine; and another one of Carlin's "seven dirty words" appears on the site like 50 times), then do we really intend to enforce the "AND WE WILL BAN YOU FOR SWEARS MAYBE" part of the code of conduct?

  • "Professionalism" is a bugbear on SE, but note what the Behavior page actually says: "Be honest" and "Be nice." "Professionalism" also isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. In the context of the answer that prompted this, I consider a bit of frank language to be entirely sensible when discussing a charged, emotionally complicated situation affecting a group of friends playing a hobby game involving fictional rape. Keeping the whole response detachedly clinical would, in fact, have made it a worse answer, because it's not an answer about detachedly clinical things.

  • "Cussing is offensive!" Let's be very clear: some people don't like swears, even the ones that see widespread use every day. Some people dislike them enough to say "I'm offended by this." But some people get upset when you end a sentence with a preposition. Some people get ticked off when the answers to questions keep assuming you're playing D&D just because (in this case, "some people" is me! all the time!). Some people find the fleshy skull-robots in the site banner kinda gross, I'm sure. Should the site bow to those people or not? There's no One True Answer, and you can't always please everyone. This is a choice you make.

    Some details from the comments:

    • Profanity/vulgarity is not obscenity. This is a distinction that actually matters sometimes.

    • Many common vulgar words are not attacks. Analogies to bigot-words and bigoted ideas are entirely unwarranted. Group attacks should be always unwelcome, no matter what their form. If you're concerned about inclusion, forget about typing cusses into the search box and be more assertive in removing microaggressions.

  • "It's lazy!" is empty moralizing. It's just a way to take an argument about propriety and wrap it up in the "Protestant work ethic" in order to make it easier to swallow to American audiences. I'm pretty sure the hobby-themed SEs are practically sustained by laziness, anyway, if you count all the people posting from work.

Which isn't to say that the rules themselves are bad, necessarily. The justifications presented, however, are all over the place, and most of them are pretty poor. Which makes it hard to tease out how to effectively apply the rules in order to improve the community rather than arbitrarily applying them because that's what it says on that one page there — which, no offense, is what we seem to be doing right now.

You can me point to site policy (or you can just go and change it without appealing to site policy, and even if I didn't know the site policy I probably wouldn't bother to change it back) and I'll accept the change, but I really don't think the question that prompted this is an example where site policy is actually doing anything substantive to improve its content. It's just minutiae, like cleaning up some typos.

Let's apply the rules anyway — constructively!

Stack Exchange gives users plenty of tools to improve each others' content. So, improve away! Just pay attention to what you're doing so you don't hurt anything while you're trying to help. Specifically...

When editing an post because of cusses:

  • Improving word choice is great. If you think you can improve word choice as part of other edits, do it! There's very little downside.

  • If you're editing direct quotes, make sure you add the appropriate markings so it's clear the text has been edited. This is just how you comply with basic rules of citation and attribution. E.g. The rules on page 45 say "Your [stuff] breaks whenever you roll a 1." to show that "stuff" was your own substitution.

  • Bowdlerizing stuff with underscores and @$@# or whatever actively hurts readability. If you're having to do this, your edit is hurting the content more than it's helping. Step back and find another way! Short of a direct naming issue like "Brainf---," there's absolutely no reason to ever clutter up an answer with ugly censor-marks.

When writing a post:

  • I dunno, try not to cuss?

  • Don't cuss at other people. Or attack them without cussing at them. Because that's verbal abuse, either way. Not cool, ever, at all.

When reading posts:

  • Edit things that stand out as wrong to you. If you notice cusses, that's cool, edit away. If you don't notice cusses, don't waste time trying to train yourself to notice them. The issue will work itself out, just as easily as typos.

  • Everyone should put effort into looking for actual verbal abuse, stereotyping, exclusive language, or nasty underlying subtext. Because that's what actually matters when building an inclusive space.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 17:32

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