span class="censoredtext" title="pute"

« previous post | next post »

Alex Boulton writes to draw our attention to a curious case of misplaced bowdlerization on the French-language web page of the English Writing Lab of the Hanyang University Center for Teaching and Learning:

The text on the Writing Lab's web page remains in English, regardless of which of the 10 language options the viewer chooses. But the navigational text changes — and apparently something else changes as well.

Alex sent the link c/o the Too Asterisked Crew at Language Log, with this explanation:

I was initially surprised to see a black square in the middle of "Computerassisted" on . Presumably it's because the French engine automatically bleeps out pute ("prostitute"), even in the middle of a word. By analogy, the English version ought to be "Computer**isted" to get rid of the ass… (Unfortunately it isn't, it would be too cute.)

In fact, I don't see any black squares in any of the other nine versions of this web page.

However, I can verify Alex's hypothesis about what has happened: the html source for the relevant part of the page in question reads:

the new Com<span class="censoredtext" title="pute">**</span>rassisted Research

And in fact, if you hover the mouse pointer over the black square on the displayed page, the censored string "pute" appears in a little pop-up box. Apparently this is an example of the "Word Censorship" feature of Moodle.

The decision to protect Francophone readers from the prurient influence of "Com****rassisted" is probably not a choice that anyone at Hanyang made. According to the Moodle documentation:

The filter settings page allows the administrator to edit a list of words via the web interface. For compatibility, the old list in the language pack is retained and will be used if the list on the settings page is empty.

As for why English readers are allowed to be titillated by Computer***isted — maybe the English language pack doesn't have "ass", or maybe the administrator noticed the dumb effect in English of this apparently mindless substring-filtering (assistance, pass/fail, mass times acceleration, etc.), and turned it off or emptied out the list.

[Joshua Zucker writes:

My friend Cassandra once tried to register (I believe at Yahoo!) for a
username and got the suggestion "perhaps you might like to try
Cbuttandra instead?"

This story seems far too good to be true; but an internet search turns up an earlier testimony by Joshua back February of 2006, and no contrary evidence.]

[Roy G. Ovrebo writes to remind us that this phenomenon, or a closely related one, is known as the Scunthorpe Problem.]

Comments are closed.