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Watch Your Language

Thursday 21 October, 2004 ( 3:17PM GMT)

After banging on about internationalisation, cultural bias yada yada yada, I thought it might be interesting to share a few cultural biases of my own, in the form of words and phrases that I don't find offensive or unacceptable, but others clearly do.

While I have been known to use mild swear words on the Dog Blog, which is a much more personal area of HTML Dog, I have tried to steer away from offensive language throughout the rest of the site. However, I have still received a few complaints.

One example was from a person who disliked the phrase "...without a document declaration ... your web pages can look like they were put together by a short-sighted, one-eyed infant gibbon with learning difficulties." I think this complaint was actually quite justifiable and I've been attempting to think up an adequate replacement.

What has surprised me most is the amount of criticism I've received for using the word "Hell". What? "Hell"? Now that's something that I don't remember ever being offensive in my part of the world during my lifetime. Which is the point. But...

I was also recently asked to take out the words "asexual" and "hermaphrodite" from a page on the website. Eh? What's wrong with "asexual" and "hermaphrodite"??? Sponges are asexual. Slugs are hermaphrodites. It's quite bloody natural!


Comment 1

Perhaps you should take the politically correct route:

A myopic, cycloptic, newborn Genus Hylobates with a self-paced cognitive ability.

So said Will Chatham on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 3:45PM GMT.

Comment 2

You know what? Just fuck those damn purists! Politely invite them to shove their hypocrisy and superstitions to themselves.
Your expression is your own. You should express yourself the best you can, and as natural as you can, on *your own site*.

I don't go to their curches and compain that they don't mention the clitoris enough in ther sermons. Why should they come to various sites and bitch like the douche-bags they are for content that no one is making them read?!

These people are more offensive that the content they bitch about!

So said Gabriel Mihalache on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 4:41PM GMT.

Comment 3

Well, you can't please everyone. Fuck 'em, eh?

So said Jenni on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 4:51PM GMT.

Comment 4

Dear Gabriel,

Jump to conclusions much? You assume the people complaining about the language are, quite naturally, church-going, bible thumping religious freaks. Nice.

So said TikTokk on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 5:14PM GMT.

Comment 5

It's my belief that you show more intelligence if you can get a point across without using the shortcut of profanity. As a fundamental Christian and father of three I don't want my children exposed to profanity even if they are teenagers. It took me a long time to stop swearing. Also, at home I use a product called BSafe that will exclude your site because of profanity. That would be sad if you limit your influence because of a few swear words.

Hell is a place, why have people complained about your use of the word Hell?

So said Tanny O'Haley on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 5:21PM GMT.

Comment 6

Uh oh... I wasn't trying to start a debate on whether it's ok to swear or not... And I think most readers know this site well enough to know that it certainly isn't strewn with "bad" language.

The point I was making is that it's not only the "obvious" swear words that cause various levels of offence, but also words such as "hell", with which it never even crossed my mind might offend people when I wrote the HTML Dog guides, but has become clear from messages I have received.

I don't really know *why* people are offended by "hell" and those that are are clearly from a different background or belong to a culture with different principles than I do.

Tying it all up, this is simply an example of peculiar difficulties that can arise when writing for an international audience - you can take nothing for granted.

So said Patrick on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 5:42PM GMT.

Comment 7

HTMLDog could be of value to people in educational settings because of the wonderful tutorials, so I can see how some people might expect it to live up to a certain standard. I know I have sent a lot of people to this site from various web design chat rooms and message boards because it is one of the few places that teaches html/css with web standards in mind. Now if I were a teacher in a classroom and wanted to send my students to your site for learning, I would have to think twice if I knew there was inappropriate language to be found.

It takes a lot to offend me, personally, but I can see the point some people might have moreso in an educational setting than of a religious nature.

So said Will Chatham on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 5:42PM GMT.

Comment 8

The day someone visits my blog and asks me to write in a manner that doesn't offend them is the day their IP gets banned... leaving me with approximately two readers : )

It's merely my opinion, but the language used in the Dog Blog is tame by most people's standards. It's a blog... if people don't like your opinion or the way that it's presented, who are they to judge it? In the words of a very wise man, these namby pamby politically correct folks "could power an entire city with their wining." Stop taking yourself so seriously and live a little.

I'm off to watch "Late Night with David Letter-person...."

So said Brian Reich on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 6:42PM GMT.

Comment 9

I thought the gibbon phrase was a perfectly acceptable (and funny) bit but I don't personally know any gibbons. I've heard some may be moving into my neighborhood (and you know what they do to property values).

If you were charging for subscriptions to this page as an educational resource, I would support the argument for omitting offensive language. Since this is a personal site, you are free to express yourself as you choose. I can (and will) stop reading when it becomes offensive. I have not found anything you've said to be offensive. Actually, I rather enjoy your sense of humor most of the time.

I'm willing to overlook mild profanity (stuff you could say on TV 15-20 years ago) in order to distill knowledge from this fine resource, as long as the amount of information exceeds that of offensive language or subject matter. I did find the stereotyping of one particular response to be completely ignorant. I would offer this quote, author unknown:

"Profanity is the attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully."

Thesauri are pretty cheap these days. People who are themselves cheap can find one at any public library for free. But watch your language or they may ask you to leave.

So said Jim Cook on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 7:39PM GMT.

Comment 10

What interests me more is the reasoning behind taking out the words "asexual" and "hermaphrodite". Is that something that is not talked about? What reason was given in the request mail - I assume it was one?

So said Debran on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 7:40PM GMT.

Comment 11

They just dont share the British! sence of humor.

So said Tom on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 8:48PM GMT.

Comment 12

The British have a sense of humour, actually.

So said Roman Levin on Thursday 21 October, 2004 at 10:50PM GMT.

Comment 13

I'd swear more on my blog, but it would be an akward situation if my parents found it.

Funny, in class today we were discussing swearing. The teacher said that swearing reflects low intellect. Interesting. I say fuck that. :)

So said Dante Evans on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 12:32AM GMT.

Comment 14

My mother always told me that swearing is a sign of a small vocabulary. You should always be able to find a better way to say things.

But then again, it goes to your audience. If you're writing to informal audiences, such as this, then write naturally. It's important to separate the personal from the professional, however.

So said Greg on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 9:27AM GMT.

Comment 15

"A myopic, cycloptic, newborn Genus Hylobates with a self-paced cognitive ability" - ROFL! Excellent! :)

"could power an entire city with their wining." - How does their alcohol intake generate electricity? :p

So said Marcus Tucker on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 10:52AM GMT.

Comment 16

Anyone lucky enough to catch Robocop the first time ITV showed it in the UK will understand the devestating effects of removing swear words from your vocablary.

Anyone who disagrees with me is quite obviously a mother crusher.

So said rob clarke on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 11:23AM GMT.

Comment 17

I hereby accuse you of funning my mother, you melon humper.

So said on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 2:24PM GMT.

Comment 18

I think it was me he emailed about the Infant Gibbon comment... but I don't remember saying that I disliked it. I thought it was funny too. I guess because it is funny - unless you feel that it is aimed at you.

Sometimes in class I've people who [em]are[/em] short-sighted and have learning difficulties, yet are learning about Website Design. Sure, they're not one-eyed infant gibbons, but in one case, they did feel pointed at (even though that is obviously not the intention of the comment!). Strange eh, when the site is so much about catering for the same people in terms of accessibility!

Of course, this doesn't mean it needs to be removed from the sight, I just thought Patrick might want to consider the reaction one person had... in the end, it's Patrick's decision!

So said Mick on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 10:39PM GMT.

Comment 19

Mick! It quite possibly was you that pointed out the gibbon comment. And it made me realise that I had been a tad flippant with the remark, especially when I, and this website, have an accessibility slant, as you say.

This has brought it back to light and I'll get a move on and try and change it. I don't want it to be perceived as a mockery of learning difficulties (even though, again, as you say, that's clearly not the intention).

I'm not sure I want it to be perceived as a mockery of one-eyed gibbons either - the difficulty of swinging from tree to tree without the ability of depth perception is not something to be taken lightly...

So said Patrick on Saturday 23 October, 2004 at 11:28AM GMT.

Comment 20

If my dog could help me write better HTML or CSS, I would tolerate his undesirable habits.

I find swearing much less interesting than using subtlety to openly mock people without their knowledge.

I swear when talking to people who swear. I don't otherwise.

If church sermons contained more reference to the clitoris, there would be far fewer male atheists. I for one would be an atheist attending church.

So said Atheist who Swears on Monday 25 October, 2004 at 2:40AM GMT.

Comment 21

Yeah, the British have a sense of humour! ;-)

So said Lenny Cooper on Monday 25 October, 2004 at 3:12PM GMT.

Comment 22

you have a good approach to all this, once in a while you have to go through your comments and re-evaluate, but do it for yourself first and then consider what other people find offensive, there is always a line to be drawn about "profanity cursing swearing whatever" but as far as getting your point across in a more intelligent manner(without swearing) that is asking too much and that's what makes the bad guys laugh, sometimes the most intelligent way is to tell the bad guys they are gonna get their asses kicked.

So said Ricardo Carrasco on Monday 25 October, 2004 at 5:56PM GMT.

Comment 23

Tammy: I disagree with your methods, however that is a discussion for another time.

I think the language on this site is a family-freindly atmosphere.

So said Steve on Monday 25 October, 2004 at 6:51PM GMT.

Comment 24

I don't think people were complaining about swear words. I like a good f**k as much as the next person. However you could easily see the above comments as derogatory to people with learning difficulties or visual impairments.

The Brits have a real school playground sense of humour which is fine when your around your mates as they know you're just being ironic and that you don't mean it. However out of context, it could quite easily offend. Communication is often 90% non verbal, so you have to be extra specially careful when you the other cues available to make sure people understand what your saying and where you're coming from.

So try to be less of a tw*t in the future ;-)

So said Andy Budd on Tuesday 26 October, 2004 at 5:56PM GMT.

Comment 25

Completely wonderful site. Thanks for the laughs too. This entire blog has me all tickled. From a personal perspective, keep it coming. I truly enjoy your natural sense of humor. (Hmm......And I'm not even British)

I'm a Web Design Instructor and this site is a perfect addition to my own class work. It is one of only a few sites that teach xhtml and CSS with the Standards at the forfront. But.....I am in complete agreement with Will up there at number 7. I'll have to be careful about a few things or I'll have the administrators and parents barking up my a**.

So said Sandra Purvine on Wednesday 3 November, 2004 at 6:46AM GMT.

Comment 26


Christian fundamentalists are trying to go back to the dark ages of back-alley abortions, hangings, and FASCIST oppression. They should be given no room to breathe until they get up off that shit.

Guess what, asshole? Not only will your kids learn all the delicious dirty words you forbid sooner or later (hopefully sooner), but they will also grow up to HATE you for treating them like incompetent idiots and imposing your fairy tales *cough* religion on them, presenting it as though it were real.

God? What a fucking joke.

There, how's that for offensive?

So said Your Sanity Calling on Monday 8 November, 2004 at 12:50AM GMT.

Comment 27

"Hell is a place, why have people complained about your use of the word Hell?"

I get upset at the mention of several towns in New Jersey, most in France, and just about every place in California. ;-)

Yes, gratuitous and purposeless use of profanity does show limited intelect in many cases. It also shows poor breeding, lack of class, and dis-respect. Which seems to be pretty much the norm these days. We seem to have plenty of cretins these days (people from Crete, right?) who get plenty of joy out of being as offensive as they possibly can -- not just on the web, but on TV, in print, and especially in song, and not for any real purpose -- just for the halibut. I can only assume that they have been abused as children and are possibly having a hard time coming to terms with it.

But, there are times and places for profanity and the profane. Not the juvenile rantings of "Your Sanity Calling" above, but useful emphasis or punctuation or discussion. And, I guess, "romance".

One of my acquaintances swears as a matter of course. Every other word (it seems) out of his mouth is "f-" this or "s-" that or "G-D", etc. Unlike the juvenile "Sanity", he doesn't do it to offend, he just ... does it. As if it hasn't occurred to him to use any other words. I accept it as a matter of course, but I wouldn't take my wife or kids around him. I wouldn't introduce him to most of my other friends. I don't know what grade he completed in school. He doesn't have a "trade". Heck, he doesn't even really have a job. So I can make some guesses at his level of intelligence, or his maturity, or his motivation. Even with all of his short-comings, his main virtue is, he's not TRYING to be offensive or rude.

And I'm not a prude, I just believe in being appropriate.

Specific words have shown up in my web pages, blogs, writings, etc. But they've always been there for a reason, not just because I had no other words to use.

All that said, you can't protect EVERYone against being offended. Some small-minded, overly-sensitive, or just plain cantankerous people will find some offense in just about anything. Mention not having enough room to swinging a dead cat and petaphiles become offended. Mention petaphiles, and NAMBLA members are offended. Mention NAMBLA and Catholicism and someone is sure to be offended. Hell (tm), mention NAMBLA and just about EVERYBODY should be offended. Should. I added a subjective element.

Sanity: Offensive? Why be offended by the simple-minded? You're a crude, childish fool, and nothing that anybody says will change you. Your invective is mis-guided and stupid. The best we can do is ignore you, like we would any OTHER bratty child whose parents have been too lax in his/her upbringing. All I will do is mutter a "tsk-tsk" under my breath and wish that your parents had spanked you more.

So said Marc on Thursday 11 November, 2004 at 1:57AM GMT.

Comment 28

"However you could easily see the above comments as derogatory to people with learning difficulties or visual impairments."

I'm sorry, but I can't easily see that. Anyone who reads that as derogatory needs to get that chip on their shoulder surgically removed, ASAP.

So said Jack Brewster on Monday 22 November, 2004 at 5:45PM GMT.

Comment 29

I'm an American. Over here, "hell" is considered as a fairly mild curse word. I wouldn't use it around my mother.
One of my friends explained to me that there's basically two kinds of swearing: profanity and obscenity. Profanity is when a serious religous topic is made light of, like "damn" or "hell" or taking God's name in vain. Obscenity is all the words based on sex or going to the bathroom.
I had a British roommate once who told me the word "fanny" was extremely offensive. Over here, "fanny" is the softest way possible that a person can say "butt." Not quite the same thing over there, I understand.
That same roommate told me that in Britain, you could casually mention, in church, that someone had "gone ape-shit", and no one would raise an eyebrow.
Regardless, I believe the words you use are far less important than how you use them. I would rather befriend a potty-mouth than a liar, a gossip, or a cruel, vindictive person any day. Of course, we're all potty-mouthed, lying, gossiping, cruel, vindictive people to some extent, so we have to be generous to each other when we fail.

So said Clay McKinney on Monday 29 November, 2004 at 8:10PM GMT.

Comment 30

did you ever get spanked on the bare bum?

So said gemma on Wednesday 8 December, 2004 at 4:24PM GMT.

Comment 31

With reference to :

I tend to believe that repeated swearing is not necessarily a sign of a low intellect, but of a limited vocabulary.

Mind you, I have trouble around my mother/grandmother using 'bloody' and 'flaming' of all things.

So said Chris Neale on Sunday 12 December, 2004 at 12:00AM GMT.

Comment 32

I just came across this, and in re: the gibbon comment specifically I have to point out that it is a simple, fact-based matter: that visual impairments create difficulty in visual-based tasks. Likewise learning difficulties and learning. The very term "learning difficulties" is the most politically-correct AND SEMANTIC way of describing the problem, as per the current trend away from the use of terms deemed likely to offend.

Since you're using it as an (albeit humorous) example within a tutorial on a primarily visually-oriented medium there can be no rational grounds for offence, and I would implore you not to change a rich, idiosyncratic and truly funny implementation of what is becoming an ever more bland and homogenized language. That it ever came under question at all is a sad indictment of PC culture and a sign that it has gone too far.

That sort of language is very reminiscent of Douglas Adams, and I don't hear anyone criticising him. Keep up the good work.

So said Chris on Thursday 16 December, 2004 at 1:19PM GMT.

Comment 33

My dear Patrick (and other readers who might be interested),

As an American educator employed by the second largest state university system in the US, I feel I must make the following plea:

Please, please do not censor yourself any more than you do. You sense of humor (and of humour) are perfectly delightful, and add the type of punctuation necessary for good learning. I am unlikely to ever _forget_ the image of a one-eyed gibbon (etc.), and thus by extension the lesson that the wee, challanged critter was carrying along!

Playing to the least common denominator (please note, folks, that I did _not_ say lowest; it is a math term, not a politically prickly perjorative) is never an optimal solution to systems design issues. Rather, indulge the 80%+ of us who were ROLF'd by your commentary, and made a point of sharing it with other good friends and family members.

Thanks for what you do--us dinosaurs appreciate it!

So said Paul J. Archibald on Wednesday 5 January, 2005 at 8:41PM GMT.

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