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I can't believe I'm asking this question, but what is this site's stance on morally repugnant questions?

On one hand, it is a question about the English Language, so it is a valid question. On the other hand, I have seen 3 iffy questions about this subject from this user in the past week. I don't know if we could or even should close a question just because it's about an uncomfortable topic, but this is a little bit concerning.

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    Are we absolutely certain that it's about genocide and not just trying to express something strongly in a language they're not fluent in? When my Mom said "I'm going to kill that kid when I find her!" she wasn't actually plotting to murder me or I would have never made it past age 15. My impression of the questions is that there isn't enough context to answer them properly. – ColleenV May 27 '15 at 1:54
  • @ColleenV If there isn't enough context to answer them properly I think we should CloseVote and ask for more context/details. We have repeatedly asked this Poster to clarify which people they are talking about, and what kind of language-purpose the user has in mind (fiction, historical, or actual gencide of real people living today). The question as it now stands admits to wanting to express the "hope" that certain living people be wiped off the face of the earth. – user6951 May 30 '15 at 20:19
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    @pazzo I think we agree. I abstain from a lot of this particular user's questions because of the lack of detail. On the other hand, I got a lot of push back when I didn't want to teach someone to be vulgar in ell.stackexchange.com/q/38123/9161 even after it was clear that that they wanted to be truely vile. I think maybe it would be best to not restrict information soley based on our sensitivities. I wouldn't want to answer the question, but I don't know that Ishould prevent someone else from answering it. – ColleenV May 31 '15 at 11:49
  • @ColleenV I place on hold my interpretation of the post in question, and have asked the user to clarify what he (Nima is a male name) means by "certain people", "we", and "I". Are these generic terms or are they referring to people who can be identified with proper nouns. – user6951 May 31 '15 at 17:47
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Interestingly, I do not consider myself prone to genocide (I'm not a fan, not even in a mild way) and yet, I can think of people that I would love to see removed from the society I live in.

I think there are two things that may rub people the wrong way in that question.

1) The (over) use of the word hate. In English, hatred is almost always used as a hyperbole: someone who hates cauliflower probably does not spend his days thinking about destroying every last cauliflower in the world. When hate is used without the (obvious) hyperbole, it conveys a very, very strong emotion, or rather, passion. A destructive passion at that. For that reason, hatred towards people is not often expressed outside emotional outbursts.

This is however not always the case for non-native speakers. I have noticed that many of them tend to use hate quite easily in situations where a native speakers would prefer dislike.

2) The fact that the hatred (or possibly dislike) is aimed at people, and not at their ideas. This is a fine distinction that, in my experience, is gaining popularity the last years in order to somehow remain politically correct while still aiming insults at people (cf "I don't insult you, just your religion"). In many cases, the owners of the targeted ideas will not feel the difference, and one might arue that while the difference is philosophical and sophisticated, it can sometimes appear artificial.

That a non-native speaker does not make this distinction could also be attributed to a lack of familiarity with up-to-date discourse in mayor English-speaking parts of the world.

The two together make for something that can be interpreted as a call to genocide, but even after rereading the question several times, I cannot find any reference to killing those "hated" people.

As I said, I can think of people (oh, noes! I mean "ideas") that I would love to see removed from society.

Now, in most cases, I'm quite sure that if I were to say in public that I want to remove racists from society because I hate them, I would not be charged with planning genocide.

Of course, I sound more sophisticated if I say that I deeply dislike racist ideas and I would like to see them eradicated, but even the first formulation would not give many people the idea that I am about to start killing people on a grand scale.

In short, I can see how people take offense at the wording of the question, but I can see quite easily how the question does not have to carry such genocidal tendencies at all.

That said, it would certainly not harm if Nima would have clarified the question after the questions and comments that were given.

As such, a valid reason to close-cote the question would indeed be the lack of clarity about the question and the refusal to clarify by the OP.

As for perceived genocidal motive, I don't think there is any reason to close the question.

Even if the question did enquire about genocide, the simple presence of that topic should not be a valid closing reason.

Asking how to commit genocide is clearly off-topic here, but asking how to formulate a correct sentence describing the act is not: Is the sentence "people were genocided in the war" correct?

In a similar vein, if I want help in insulting a person, that is off-topic. But if somehow I didn't manage to find a concusive explanation of the word whigger, I don't see why I couln't ask about that word and it's etymology here. Even though the correct answer would have to include one of the most taboo words in AmE.

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    I think you've pinpointed why I had a feeling that the native speaker interpretation may not match the intended meaning of the question. – ColleenV Jun 3 '15 at 19:57
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    You touch on an interesting point, by highlighting the difference between "I want to remove racists from society because I hate them" and "I deeply dislike racist ideas and I would like to see them eradicated". It could well be that the O.P. wants to say the latter, but, due to rudimentary English skills, can only express something more like the former. If that's the case, I think ELL is an ideal place to ask, essentially: "How can I word this so it isn't offensive?" I've been hoping that was the primary motivation behind these questions. – J.R. Jun 3 '15 at 20:40
  • This is a lot of words for a question that the OP has not clarified. "...even after rereading the question several times, I cannot find any reference to killing those "hated" people." Perhaps you missed: I hope they will be wiped off the face of earth from the society and also, perhaps, we don't want they exist on our society. One things is, this was (at least) the second question that was asked about wiping certain people off the face off the earth. So there is a broader context that one has to consider, not this single question. – user6951 Jun 4 '15 at 4:14
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    @pazzo: I agree that if you remove a person from (the face of the ) earth, it would kill them. But as the focus of the question seems to be on removal from society, it seems entirely plausible that the OP wasn't contemplating murder. – oerkelens Jun 4 '15 at 8:06
  • Yeah, I don't think the OP was contemplating murder, either @oerkelens, at least I hope not. I agree that in both questions (the OPs original one and this one), exactly what the OP is asking is not clear. – user6951 Jun 4 '15 at 21:50
  • The OP may have meant that he wants to change people's attitudes, and not to kill them. If someone were to say, "I want to wipe out the Mugwump Party", he might mean that he wants to kill all the members of that party, or he might mean that he wants to convert them all to his own party. The OP may have been attempting to use poetic exaggeration, like we often say, "Man, I could have killed that idiot." The OP may have been trying to describe the opinions of someone that he totally disagrees with. Without further information, (a) we don't know, and IMHO, (b) it doesn't matter. – Jay Jun 8 '15 at 22:50
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we hate them. And, we don't want they exist on our society (sic)

I have asked Nima to clarify his question. Until then I put on hold my earlier answer, although I still include it below.

In addition, I think we should be very careful when it comes to using the word "genocide" to describe/characterize the question.

Previous Answer (05/30)
I wrote a longish answer. But instead I will just ask:

How is the question not 'hate language' of a sort? And I refuse to help educate a person who wants to know how to express in English (or any language) how to wipe specific groups of people off the earth. The question is morally repugnant and should be closed/deleted.

The question is not about historical or fictional uses but about genocide of existing people.

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  • If he's talking about behavior, getting rid of people that behave a certain way is a matter of education not murder. I still think that there is a possibility of a language barrier, and because the poster doesn't want to clarify, I'm just going to vote to close it and move on. – ColleenV May 31 '15 at 12:29
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    "And I refuse to help educate a person who wants to know how to express in English how to wipe specific groups of people off the earth." - That's fine but I'm not convinced the answer is to prevent other people from answering by deleting the question. Denying an ignorant person from education will not remove his ignorance. – Mark Jun 11 '15 at 12:33
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I think the question in question (?) doesn't need moderation for this reason. Maybe it could be edited to be worded in a less frightening way.

Taking a historical perspective, what we call genocide and xenophobia now has in many other times and places been considered a great idea. Because of that, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are phrases in other languages, that when one tries to translate them word-for-word into English, end up sounding genocide-y. I also wouldn't be surprised if there are phrases that sound benign to us, that could be taken as genocide-y, but we don't hear it that way because we're familiar with the idiom.

I remember growing up, going to a church whose messages were more of a "self-help and self-esteem" nature than fundamentalist, and having the congregation recite biblical phrases calling for genocide, specifically massacring infants. I don't know anyone personally who belongs to a religion using those texts and is in favor of genocide.

I think it's more of a learning opportunity: what phrases will or won't make people think you're a terrible person? (A normal person wants to avoid that, unless they're writing fictional villain monologues.)

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IMHO, we should not be judging the morality expressed in sentences used in questions, but simply discuss the grammar and vocabulary. This is not a web site about morals and interpersonal relationships and politics and religion, but about the English language.

Someone could use a morally repugnant statement in a question for any number of totally innocent, even praise-worthy reasons.

For example, if someone is writing a history of the Nazi Party or the slave trade or the massacre of the Armenians or some other terrible period in history, his goal may well be to highlight how evil the perpetrators were. And in the course of doing that, he may want to translate statements they made into English and be seeking help in getting a grammatically correct translation, or he may be trying to summarize some statement they made. Etc.

He may be attempting to describe an idea before presenting a refutation.

He may be making an exaggerated statement, not intended to be taken literally.

Et cetera.

I don't think that we should demand that people explain their motives in using a sentence before we condescend to answer a question.

I've read lots of questions here that ask about how to understand a sentence quoted from wherever, where I completely disagree with the idea expressed. I generally avoid getting into the substance of the quote and just discuss the grammar.

If, say, someone were to ask what "anthropogenic" means in the context of global warming, we could answer his question by defining the word and maybe explaining how it relates to that particular subject. I don't think it would be necessary to enter into a debate about whether global warming is real and what laws should or should not be passed.

Similarly if someone had a question that quoted a statement about religion or homosexuality or ... or what makes a good weight-loss plan for that matter.

Occasionally when a statement particularly offends my personal beliefs I will toss in a sentence to the effect of "of course whether this statement is accurate is outside the scope of this forum", just to hedge a little. :-) But I have never said, "I'm sorry, it's apparent that you are planning to vote for a candidate that I do not support, and so I refuse to help you. You will probably just use any help I give to spread your vile propaganda, and I can't be a party to that."

And please, don't say, "Well, but I'm not talking about controversial issues here. I'm talking about statements that no decent person could possibly agree with." For of course people on both sides of any debate think that all reasonable, decent people must agree with them. If literally no one disagreed with you on this subject, then no one would be making these statements that you find offensive and the issue would never come up.

I have a personal blog where I express my social, political, and religious beliefs forcefully. But that's not what this site is for.

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  • I do think there is a gray area when talking about language, which is about communication. It is important for a learner to understand the impact certain phrasing is likely to have, so while I have no problem helping someone write a grammatically correct statement about a viewpoint I disagree with, I would like to understand very well the idea they are trying to communicate and the tone they would like to achieve. "I want to express my desire to murder all red-haired people." is not enough reason to close a question, but it might be why I personally don't answer it. – ColleenV Jun 8 '15 at 22:56
  • Oh, yes, I definitely agree with at least the first part. I've had a few questions where I've given an answer on the order of, "The words you used in your question are very vulgar and insulting. If you're just trying to express a difference of opinion, you probably want to use milder words. If you're trying to provoke a fist fight, then yes, say it this way." – Jay Jun 8 '15 at 23:06
  • It is not true that people on both sides of any debate think all reasonable, decent people must agree with them (except for a potentially negligible fraction of very silly people). There are a great many debates, even sometimes about rather important issues, that can be characterized as reasonable people disagreeing and accepting that their opponents are reasonable and decent, albeit wrong. (For example, this extremely important debate right here.) – Nathan Tuggy Jul 7 '15 at 21:51
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I read the other answers, and they all seem to agree that we shouldn't close a question because of the attitudes expressed in the question, but then include a bunch of other opinions that keep me from voting.

Here's an answer that just answers the question:

We're here to help people learn English, which is used to express ideas, not help them with the ideas themselves.

So no, we shouldn't close this question or any other because we disagree with the content. If you personally do not like the content of a question, then don't answer it.

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  • I think I do actually agree with (almost?) everything @oerkelens say in his excellent measured response above, but you'e quite right that most of it is peripheral to the specific question as asked here. So +1 for sticking to the point (and for being right! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 10 '15 at 20:13
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The original question was "How to use the verbs “wipe” and “root”. If a dictionary can't answer that, there are lots of ways to ask without using inflammatory language.

Unfortunately the original question was not really answered, other than proofreading the example sentences.

Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service under "3. Subscriber Content" and Stack Exchange Network Content Policy address the usage of hateful or offensive language. Whether this is the case or not should be determined my moderators or other appropriate persons.

What I personally believe is not the issue. SE has a responsibility to its users to manage such matters once brought to its attention (allow, modify or delete), as defined in its policy.

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    Well the real question then is inflammatory only in the eye of the beholder ? Does someone trying to learn a language understand that words that seem innocent enough from their dictionary definitions are offensive we used in certain ways? I don't like using the particular question in the OP as an example simply because it's not a great question. However, I can imagine a question that would bunch up a lot of panties without the asker having any idea that it would. Do we explain it, or do we smack them with the stick of moderation? – ColleenV Jun 9 '15 at 16:25

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