Annals of automatic bowdlerization

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At FanNation ("the Republic of Sport"), in reference to the fact that Texas Tech fired coach Mike Leach, Haledorn from Flower Mound, TX, commented:

Let me tell you as a Tech Alum that this is about traditional football. This is the only football in the area entrenched in traditional football ideals set in stone by Spike **** running an I formation and handing the ball to Bam Morris on 3 down and 8. This is about who gets credit for the rise of a program. Gerald Myers wants it and Leach should get it, so the man in power finds a way to cut him loose. I call it "Jerry Jones Syndrome".

Reader WW recognized the reference to Spike Dykes, and also recognized that an automated bowdlerization system at FanNation must have asterisked Mr. Dykes' name. This is even nuttier than  iTunes' "C*m sancto spiritu", since FanNation's software didn't even leave Mr. Dykes with  the first and last letters of his name.

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11 Comments »

  1. Thomas Westgard said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    Are you familiar with the incident involving the Olympic sprinter, Tyson Gay? Some evangelical news sites ran news stories to the effect that a sprinter named Tyson Homosexual had successfully qualified:
    http://blog.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2008/07/christian_sites_ban_on_g_word.html

    [(myl) See "U.S. sprinter undergoes search-and-replace", 7/1/2008; also "More clbuttic idiocy from lexical censors on the web", 9/2/2008.]

  2. Stephen said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    The NY Times boards used to do this, after a fashion.

    I was at one point one of a bunch of people who played baseball trivia via their message boards. One day someone posted a question to which the answer was "Jimmy Dykes" (an old-time player and manager). People tried to post the answer. The system simply refused to allow "that word" to be posted. (IIRC, someone eventually figured out what was going on and got through by Hyman-Kaplanizing it: D*Y*K*E*S was acceptable.)

    We discovered that you also couldn't post "Billy Williams hit .325" (because of the offensive 4-letter combo separated by a space in there) and a few other things.

    Weird stuff.

  3. Trond Engen said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

    My children spend (too much) time on a children's game and networking website that is a localized version of some English-language original. Word censorship is part of the package. Naturally, a great deal of the fun is to explore the filter, both to try to outsmart it and to learn new words. As a bonus there's a chanse to learn English, since perfectly innocent Norwegian words that happen to be or contain the literal translation of an English taboo word are forbidden while raving obscenities or profanities that aren't the primary translation of a taboo word slips through.

  4. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    FanNation is affiliated with SI.com, but ESPN.com and FoxSports.com have perpetrated equally ridiculous auto-bowdlerization of user-generated content. See the links I provided Arnold Zwicky in this post (under "Automated BLEEP insertion"). My favorite example is FoxSports changing "They were trading a young player" to "They were tradinBLEEP oung player," bowdlerizing the letters "g a y". (That was reported on Deadspin at the time, though I see the original has since been unbleeped. In the same post, BLEEP Bonser has been restored to Boof Bonser.)

  5. yello.cape.cod said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 3:09 am

    Did you know that even listing a person's ancestry in a news article can be offensive, depending on whether the name of the country seems to be related to a racial slur? See this picture I uploaded to FailBlog, which shows a Yahoo News headline where the recent airliner terrorist's country of origin is partially asterisked out (he is from Nigeria). http://cheezburger.com/View.aspx?aid=2998450432

    Yes, that says he is a n****ian man.

  6. Stephen Jones said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    One solution to many forums that automatically bowdlerize is to open and close html tags in the middle of the offending word with no text imbetween. The software then doesn't parse the offending string and the word goes through whilst the blank html tag is invisible.

  7. Josh said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    My parents had nanny software installed on our computer when I was a kid. It would filter profanity that was typed in, but would also ignore white space. A phrase like "wish it was better" would become "wi**** was better". The irony here was that if I was innocent and naive enough not to have been corrupted by profanity like this before, I would have gotten the opportunity to learn a whole bunch of new words.

  8. Lugubert said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    The Filter on a language board made discussion of Japanese difficult. For example, "How do you do?" became "Hajimema****e" – no shit!

    My favourite then and there was Rembrandt's famous painting, the Nigh****ch.

  9. Joshua said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

    I once saw a message board on the Parade magazine web site where a political discussion was constantly being hampered by a profanity filter. The then-Vice President became "**** Cheney", the governing document of the country became the "Cons***ution", and the country west of India became "****stan".

  10. Faldone said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    There was a board I used to go to that censored the word applet. This was discovered when someone tried to mention the city of Appleton, Wisconsin. The workaround was a little more elaborate than Stephen Jones's solution but basically the same idea. We would put a SPAN tag around the pplet in Appleton.

  11. Ben said,

    January 2, 2010 @ 12:45 am

    I think the real irony of automatic bowdlerization, even when it works exactly as intended (i.e. without any masking errors of the sort discussed above), is that whenever I see a sequence of asterisks I always assume the worst and subconsciously perform a back-substitution while reading it. So the resulting text frequently comes off seeming much more offensive that it would be in its original form.

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