I'm not really pleased to see things on the site that are not work-safe, such as this answer to the question about "nub" pointing sticks in keyboards that used a genitalia part name (not nipple). [Note: it originally showed an XKCD comic that is now linked instead.]

Hey, I'm all for humor, and I actually find that particular comic funny, and I may have even thought of the same thing—but thought of the same thing. I didn't plaster it on my screen and the screens of hundreds or thousands of unsuspecting visitors.

Does this community really want the site to be the kind that makes users hope no one looks over their shoulder while visiting? I don't work in, shall we say, an "understanding" environment, and unnecessary references to female genitalia part names in an eye-catching way is problematic for me.

What do you think?

  • 3
    What kind of self-respecting close-minded and intolerant employer does not block i.imgur.com?
    – Daniel Beck Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 18:30
  • Good point, Daniel :)
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 18:32
  • Simple solution: Put "(NSFW Warning)" before or after any hyperlinks in questions/answers linking to any content that can be considered questionably not safe for work. Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 19:12
  • @Breakthrough, originally the image was directly in the answer.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 19:20
  • @Breakthrough: To satisfy both parties, I have edited the answer to indirectly link to the picture instead of directly showing it. That way they aren't forced to see the image but still can view it if they want to. As for the question title, I've edited it as well but will let people choose to correct my edit as they see fit. Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 20:31
  • 2
    As the one who submitted the answer, it had crossed my mind that the community might disapprove of posting images as a joke, but I thought it had enough relevance to the question to be acceptable. Not for an instance would I have thought someone would take offence to the language used in this particular comic, but if you found it disturbing, please accept my apologies. Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 21:06
  • @Marcks thank you for the apology, and, I would also like to point out that I said nothing of offensive or disturbance to me directly, but to my employer. I have no problem with posting images as a joke. The problem is what I said, and not something else--please pay attention!
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


This comes up on occasion, and our response has usually been the same. Jeff's post is still on point:


Expletives are not acceptable behavior on meta or any other Stack Overflow site. If you can't effectively communicate what you need to say without resorting to lowest common denominator cursing, then keep it to yourself.

But this isn't about a "legal issue," per se. That's not the point. This is about maintaining a civil/professional and — oy, I hate this word — "work safe" atmosphere.

This isn't a statement about freedom of speech nor am I going going to try an enumerate what words can be said an what context they can be used. It's entirely possible that the occasional off-color expletive can be perfectly appropriate for the context. But let's err towards maintaining a professional environment that keeps us focused on the task at hand.

Sites should feel free to moderate for content while not getting into these freedom-of-speech arguments and edit wars. This isn't a legality thing. This is about saying when you don't want something posted because it does not add to the content of the site.


Are expletives allowed on SE sites? on Meta Stack Overflow is the closest we have to an official statement in this kind of area. And while it looks undecided do note that the top answer (there by a tiny margin) was placed by Jeff, who was one of the network founders, so in general the answer is roughly:

No, we don't accept expletives or offensive language (or other content types) on the site.

The problem is "offensive" is pretty hard to define universally and there are very different ideas of what constitutes offensive across the globe (and even within local communities) and therefore within our user base.

So as a rough guideline, I would suggest the following:

  1. If you see something that you, personally, consider to be offensive then please go ahead and edit it out (or, if it can't be edited then please flag it for a moderator).

  2. However, don't edit out something you're OK with but are concerned someone else might be offended by. This just starts a race to the bottom where any word with the slightness possible rude meaning could get purged.

  3. If someone replaces any content your removed, then please just flag for a moderator and move on - don't go getting caught in edit wars.

  • Thanks Shog9 for confirming. Sorry, DMA, it's indeed not a legal issue. +1 Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 20:36
  • 1
    Since when has nipple been an expletive?
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 15:45
  • @TRiG: That's was what I wanted to see discussed, nobody said explicitly it was. Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 17:01
  • @TRiG - After the fact, but I just stumbled onto this. I haven't actually read the stuff in question, but I'm assuming the term in question is stronger than 'nipple'. (And if I remember this XKCD correctly, but I have heard it elsewhere).
    – Shinrai
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 18:05
  • @Shinrai. My point was actually only partly about the "strength" of language. Mainly, I was making a geeky grammar point. Nipple is a noun. Bother is an expletive.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 21:01
  • @TRiG The word was "clit", as in clitoris. Which is definitely not an offensive word - it's just a body part.
    – jsj
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 16:43

In defence of the XKCD comic - context is everything. Whenever someone asks me what the trackpoint is called, that's actually what I link to them. I've not got one complaint about it being NSFW. Most people in addition, either call it the little red eraser thing, or mouse NWORD - so sanitising the question of the word may have made answering the question harder.

While the action taken was a suitable middle ground, I don't think it would be obvious to most people that the comic was NSFW. In addition, one of the two names (the one starting with n) is something I often came across working with auto mechanics - for example, I found greasing NWORDs on trailers, and it was not censored out.

I'd think that unless the actual intent was to post NSFW language maliciously, we really can't and shouldn't go overboard on PCness. In this case the use of the NWORD was necessary in establishing context, especially if you didn't know what a trackpoint was called - editing out after it was answered made it easier, I suppose, but if someone complained about the NWORD in the question, I would have found it odd.

All in all, I suspect that was actually an appropriate use of the NWORD and other body parts, and any reasonable individual not using a dumb word flter would have noticed. If so, it's not as much a problem of offensive language, as slightly bizzare workplace policies.

Edit: removed references to giggling uncontrollably - see edit log. Now read on.

More importantly, Safe for work (SFW) is variable. Anecdotally, apparently this is SFW for me. Hypothetically you obviously find it NSFW. Anecdotal things actually happen.

I'm saying context is what's important, and both of the 'offensive' terms used are common and customary terms for a on-keyboard pointing device. I personally prefer to call it the red eraser thing. More importantly, I do not think self-censorship with the intent of keeping a question or answer to fit in with a arbitrary value of work safeness is productive. Do we apply $cultural values of SFW? Do we ban the mention of buns because it would disturb discordians? Or do we do the sensible thing and actually read the over all context? This is an edge case and one where a significant portion of people who regularly use the site wouldn't have an issue with the original posts I suspect.

What would be the effect of reading XKCD at work? In a geeky environment, nothing at all. In one less so, maybe. On the other hand, in context there's very few situations where a comic would be a suitable answer to a question and this is one of them.

  • I didn't have a problem with nipple which is a non-body part term in several contexts, not just for bottles but also as "a short piece of pipe with threads on each end, used for joining valves." However, nub worked just as well so losing it was not that bad. As for female genitalia, you are welcome to your opinion that such words should be freely displayable at work; perhaps you will change your mind some day after encountering problems due to this practice. In the meantime, the value judgment that an objection to same is slightly bizarre is itself bizarre!
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 22:47
  • Last, we are not judging intent, but effect. Anecdotal evidence about lack of offense is irrelevant. The tone of some of your words I do find objectionable. No one is bursting out giggling uncontrollably. FWIW, I thought the removal of nipple to be an overreaction, too.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 22:50
  • Do you know who the majority of visitors are? There are certainly women / adolescents among them. How do you where this is significantly displayed? It could be at a school class room, at a bibliotacary, sitting with your laptop on a bench, at an internet cafe, at home where parents / wife / children can see it. In a Geeky environment, I totally agree, but think about the others. Disclaimer: I am not defending the N WORD edit, nor supporting it; but making the XKCD optional instead of forced is something that benefits everyone. Feel free to edit N back into the title if others agree... Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 0:14
  • @ErikE. And since when were nipples part of genitalia? (And since when were they unique to females?) As far as I'm aware, the vast majority of mammals have nipples, and they are not part of anyone's genitalia.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 15:47
  • @TomWijsman. "...when you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters - because girls can read as well as boys - reading this book. Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?"
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 15:52
  • Seriously. Your wife might see the word nipple. Oh noes! She'll be scarred for life. What sort of world do you live in? And why do you assume that everyone here is a het guy? Sexist prig.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 15:52
  • @TRiG You're embarrassing yourself. Read carefully. I said "I didn't have a problem with nipple".
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 16:08
  • @TRiG: I don't have a wife, so you're obviously addressing the wrong person here. Nor do I make such assumptions, I could equally call you the same because you said wife. But who says I am male or female, who says I am straight, gay or lesbian, who says I have a relationship or not; the use of such language is way more sexist than the pointing out a he or she difference. Please, this is no place to make fun of one another. And just like ErikE, I (as in me) does not have a problem with that. Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 16:15
  • 1
    Your work seriously would let you walk around calling it, out loud, the last name in the XKCD comic? If that's so, your perspective on normalcy is very different than mine. Because, to me, it's not a legit name for use at all, thus the XKCD comic is NOT a suitable answer to the question.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 18:12
  • 2
    I don't want to worry about who i'm going to offend if I thought my best answer might be politically incorrect.I've repeatedly linked that comic as an answer to the same question, and would have posted it if I hadn't been beaten to it. The best way to deal with this really, is on a case by case basis, as opposed to tip-toeing around for political correctness. We could probably have sorted this out with a simple comment(my workplace may find this objectionable, could we please edit this for a comment) or an edit request (or even a flag with 'other') , rather than asking for a blanket ruling
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 3:56
  • @JourneymanGeek Hmmm I don't think that taking something to meta is ever wrong. I didn't want to pollute the thread. I really wanted to sound out the community rather than make it "my way over your way" right in the thread. It's incomprehensible to me why you would criticize bringing it here. It's clear from the upvotes on my question and from the upvote on my and your last two comments that the community is divided over this... so it seems to me that asking the community was appropriate.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 17:25
  • Oh, my issue isn't with seeking clarification on meta. My issue is wanting a fixed policy (or as i said ' a blanket ruling') on work safety. Its less a criticism than trying to suggest alternate, situation specific ways to handle the issue.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 23:19
  • @JourneymanGeek Remember to tag people so they get notified!
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 20:35

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