A recent question asked what were some other terms for "to waste time doing ..." I provided the various G-rated options and suggested there were many other R-rated options. Is it OK to list those options, along with any useful warnings about when and where they might be acceptable?

After all, profanity-laden idioms are ubiquitous in ordinary conversation, films, music, websites, and even Presidential campaigns. English learners should be familiar with these terms, even if they choose not to use them.

Where do we draw the line?

  • 2
    I'm not sure if we ever draw a line or ban certain words in answers, and I don't think we have a policy for this, so we should maybe make one up. I was always under the impression that as long as it answers the question, and doesn't derail into off-topic stuff, profanity doesn't matter. And you can always add a 'NSFW' warning in the beginning of the answer.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 18:11
  • You need to better define "R-rated" (vs. X-rated and such), and when you would consider it "appropriate", such as where a specific language learning question CANNOT be answered using other words. Some links to existing posts where this might be an issue should also be added. But I doubt SE should be the place to teach such vocabulary for its own sake. There are plenty other resources for this...
    – user3169
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 18:54
  • Related: ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/699
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 16:37
  • "so as not to frighten the horses who graze on the multi-collider" ha!
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 16:40
  • 1
    Also, “R-rated” and “X-rated” are American usage but not part of the movie industry in other English-speaking places such as Britain, Ireland, Hong Kong, etc. I suggest using a more geographically neutral term. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 10:39

2 Answers 2


There will always be a gray area where it's not clear whether the language is "appropriate". I personally believe that we shouldn't be too squeamish when we are educating, and that using euphemisms can turn a good answer into something really hard to understand.

If you think someone is using profanity gratuitously, flag it and it will get looked at. I believe that the best way to handle things like this is old-fashioned human judgement. If you know of a commonly used phrase or word that isn't polite, but helps answer the question at hand, I think it is a good thing to include it with an explanation of when it might or might not be appropriate to use it.

If you don't want to answer questions about profanity or feel uncomfortable including profanity in your answer, that's perfectly OK. Just keep in mind though what might come up when a learner tries to search for an answer to an English question that has profanity in it.

Will looking for an answer to a question like the rude quote from South Park turn up an explanation or just more profanity-laden text? Wouldn't it be better if a search turned up the answer to that question because it had the actual "bad" words in it instead of "f-word" and "a**-spelunker"?

As a side note, the use of the spoiler tag in the question is a good technique if you are worried about upsetting people. Just mark the text with >!

Also, be sure to explain why you have hidden the text so curious people don't get a nasty surprise.

The text in the spoiler is still indexed by search engines, it's just rendered in a special way on SE sites. Spoiler formatted text is not indexed by the Stack Exchange search by design.

  • My question is more with answers than questions, although of course I'd hope for a policy that covers both. Some questions can have rude answers, which are perfectly natural English that you may hear almost anywhere, including business meetings or social gatherings. Politeness isn't what it used to be. Do we want to mention those possibilities? Or wait until asked? Or avoid them altogether?
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 20:51
  • @Andrew The answer to the example question uses profanity as well. I don't think there is too much of a split. We want the searches to return not just questions but also answers. What if someone is searching for that idiom and finds it explained in your answer instead of having to ask the question?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 21:01
  • Interesting. The spoiler tag would seem to be a good all-around solution, although I don't know how it would show up in search results.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 21:03
  • 1
    @Andrew It's just text, so it is indexed - for example it shows up when I search for the spoiler text in my example: duckduckgo.com/…
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 21:57
  • 1
    Spoilers hide the content from the site search. Here's a search for the spoiler in this answer, for example.
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 23:31
  • 1
    @Laurel That is good to know, thanks. It looks like it is by design. Search doesn't find text in spoiler blocks
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 0:25

I don't see anything wrong with teaching profanity, but

  1. Put it in spoilers, as per ColleenV's suggestion

  2. Add an explanation that it is profanity and shouldn't be used in polite/professional circles/contexts.

Point no2 is based on the surprising amount of profanity used by the executive directors of my company (the parent company being Danish, and the company language being English). Their communications to staff seem to frequently use profanity completely inappropriately in a professional context, as they don't seem to realise that the phrase is profane.

  • 4
    I agree it's very important to indicate when something isn't appropriate in a professional or formal context. I wouldn't want to teach someone profanity, but I don't see a problem with mentioning phrases related to the question that the author may be likely to encounter. At least they'll know that someone is being inappropriate.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 19:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .