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Alex – Catch insensitive, inconsiderate writing (alexjs.com)
19 points by zdw 742 days ago | hide | past | web | 97 comments | favorite



It's a catch-22 that many things that have been perfectly considerate and inoffensive for quite a long time have been turned into something offensive by people being overly sensitive and then overly loud.

For example, say some phrase or usage, call it X, exists. X is used widely, and never with any intention to hurt, marginalize, offend, bother, or in any way cause any trouble. It's been used righteously with pure intentions and loving hearts.

Then a person comes along, and for some reason that nobody can really explain, decides that X is not OK. It is somehow offensive. People don't want to be offensive, so they stop using X. Then as people stop using X, more people stop using X. Eventually only people who are actually insensitive keep using X. Now X is only found mixed in with the rest of the insensitive things insensitive people say, and it picks up a very offensive connotation.

To me, this is all ridiculous and I think the people who look for potentially 'offensive' things, and try to police language as though enforcing softer language will inject love and understanding into people's hearts, are harmful to the world because they distract from things that actually matter to the quality of people's lives and create an easy to point to absurd narrative for the people who are actually acting out of hate to point to, which is an easy way for them to inoculate people into a knee jerk reaction against considering the larger issues involved.


It sounds like you're describing the phenomenon of the "Euphemism Treadmill" [1], the canonical example of which is the previously-acceptable term "retarded".

1: http://englishcowpath.blogspot.com/2011/06/euphemism-treadmi...


I believe that you can call the slowing down of progress "retardation" still, just not where it applies to human beings.

And that's where I feel this project is mistaken. Because it would flag any use of "retard" even if it were in reference to "flame retarding bromides" or an innocuous phrase like "the pace of development has slowly retarded" or "the tempo retards in the last four measures of the piece".


Much like a spell-checker or Word's grammar checker screw this up, yes. I'm not sure it can be helped much.


Spell checkers et al. don't check subjective properties like tone or offensiveness. (And where it gets subjective, they would rather create a false negative than a false positive.) It works rather well.


> Spell checkers et al. don't check subjective properties like tone or offensiveness.

That's true. But grammar checkers screw up rather often for the same reason things like `alex` would: understanding context as a computer is quite hard.


I see and hear "autistic" used as a slur now, too.


It might well be. It is, sadly, very frequently used as an insult (at least on the Internet, anyway).


Generally cruel people will find the word that maximizes cruelty. Since it is more insulting to claim that someone has 'clinical and official' whatever than to use the time worn insult version of the same word, cruel people will constantly chase whatever the most official version is.

To be clear, the goal of an insult is not to use some bad word, but to claim something that will hurt the person being insulted. Even when I was in school I remember 'retarded' being used almost always a replacement for 'absurd', and people being insulted with words like 'special ed' or 'special eddy'.

Not that I condone those things, but the point is that the insult was to say 'you are like that group of people' where 'that group of people' can be any group that is outside of the in-group. You can see this on message boards today where people are accused of being 'normies', etc.


Oh my, you're right. I read the blank slate about 10 years ago and must have just internalized that idea.


It's been my experience that communties generally work best when individuals are considerate towards one another. Some level of sensitivity towards avoding terms that cause discomfort to others goes a long way.

> X is used widely, and never with any intention to hurt, marginalize, offend, bother, or in any way cause any trouble. It's been used righteously with pure intentions and loving hearts.

Do you have an example of a term that falls into this category? I'm interested in words or phrases that have fallen out of use; especially ones that are "used righteously with pure intentions and loving hearts".


Well, how about the example from the page here.

It says that 'boogyman' is potentially offensive because it refers to gender. So presumably if I am not caught up on a story, and I ask who the 'bad guy' is in the story, that is offensive because 'guy' implies maleness?

That whole line of reasoning could not be more absurd. Nobody has ever said 'bad guy' or 'boogyman' with the intention of somehow excluding fictional women from engaging in immoral fictional acts, or diminishing anyone.

If sensitive people go along, however, pretty soon anyone with any sense will avoid saying 'bad guy' because someone said it is bad to say that, and nobody wants other people to think we're not considerate.


> potentially offensive

The problem is not that it is offensive. It's very unlikely anyone would find it to be so. The problem is that it normalises maleness.

> Nobody has ever said 'bad guy' or 'boogyman' with the intention of somehow excluding fictional women from engaging in immoral fictional acts, or diminishing anyone.

It doesn't matter what your intent is. Using 'he' and 'man' everywhere normalises men and excludes people of a different gender.

> pretty soon anyone with any sense will avoid saying 'bad guy'

Well, yes. What's wrong with that? If there's a superior alternative, what's wrong if people start using it exclusively?


> If there's a superior alternative,

It's not superior. Out of almost half a billion English speakers, probably a very tiny percentage 'highly educated' people would ever even think that this is a topic someone might have an opinion about.

Everyone else, from small children on up, would just explain to you that a 'bad guy' can be a boy or a girl. It's not normalizing maleness, you are the one bringing an incorrect definition of -man or -guy, and that incorrect definition, which you insist on using despite being wrong both compared to the dictionary definition and long standing usage among native speakers, is what implies maleness.

This reminds me of the people who try to claim (hopefully tongue in cheek?) that history somehow encodes maleness because it has the word 'his' in it.

EDIT: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/ba... http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bad+guy http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bad%20guy

You could go all day, no dictionary assigns any sex (in fact, most even make it clear that a 'bad guy' can be non-human).


> It's not superior.

Why is a non-exclusionary alternative not superior? If it conveys the same meaning without being exclusionary, why is it not better? It's only not superior if you think being exclusionary isn't a quality, or utterly disregard its importance.

> Out of almost half a billion English speakers, probably a very tiny percentage 'highly educated' people would ever even think that this is a topic someone might have an opinion about.

Argumentum ad populum. Even so, you seem to be projecting: how do you know people actually agree with you?

> Everyone else, from small children on up, would just explain to you that a 'bad guy' can be a boy or a girl.

Would they? Have you gone out and asked them?

'tis true, 'guy' is sometimes rather generic, so they might say so. It's not the best example. But until you actually go out and ask, we don't really know. Err on the side of caution.

(I should note that while 'guy' may be generic in some contexts, this is only because maleness is considered generic in our culture, so it would still be problematic in that case.)

> This reminds me of the people who try to claim (hopefully tongue in cheek?) that history somehow encodes maleness because it has the word 'his' in it.

It's either tongue-in-cheek or a misunderstanding of etymology. Using his-story can be a political statement about how history as we chronicle it has largely focussed on men's achievements to the exclusion of others', though.


I don't think I do need to do a study to determine this.

I have been persuaded that you might.

You are claiming that we should 'err on the side of caution'. Ignoring the false dilemma, first we must decide what that even means. Since you are proposing that we should encourage millions of people to change the way they refer to villians in fiction, I think it would certainly fall to you to provide evidence that such a sweeping change is worthwhile, and more importantly, worth costs, including opportunity cost, since we could have spent that time and effort on lots of other things.

Also consider the blow-back which may or may not exist. By exposing such a seemingly trivial preference as 'bad guy' vs 'bad person' or the non human-assuming 'bad entity' (although entity may not be inclusive to hive-minds like the Borg, or more emergent Gaia like forces, so the side of caution may just be the British 'baddie', but -ie is a diminutive, and who knows who might come out of the word-work to take offense at that, short people for a start). By having such a trivial belief, you may well inadvertently have people then conclude that all your beliefs are that trivial, academic, and generally bizarre, and then have them discount your other ideas. So certainly we need to determine if it is more cautious to 'keep our powder dry' before we leap in and insist that there is some harm being done, especially since we've really not established the harm to begin with.

Anyway, it's been fun arguing with you. I hope you enjoy the rest of grad school :)


Hacker News is a mere casual discussion forum, I'm not having nor intend to have a serious academic debate with you. I just pointed out a few holes in what you said.

A lot of people have much more time and patience than I do and could argue the case for gender-neutral language better. There are studies you could read if you're curious.

I will say one more thing, though: few things are ever as trivial as they appear. Death by a thousand cuts.

(I hope you're enjoying your life, even if you did end that with an insult.)


Thank you so much. I'm not religious but this discussion almost makes me wish I were, so I could start praying for this guy not to ever have to face the world outside academia :)


Language is not merely academic. It permeates every aspect of life and apparently 'trivial' things often aren't in the grander scale of things.

Be cautious in what you dismiss.


Your view isn't backed up by studies done on implicit bias.


It doesn't matter what your intent is. Using 'he' and 'man' everywhere normalises men and excludes people of a different gender.

Then why would 'she' (the PC/feminist recommended alternative) be any more legitimate ?


> Then why would 'she' (the PC/feminist recommended alternative) be any more legitimate ?

Some people use 'she', which has the advantage that it tries to normalise women instead (not kind to others, but it makes you think, at least), but it's still exclusionary, yes. I'm not sure if it's fair to say it's the 'PC/feminist recommended alternative'. Certainly some advocate it, I don't know if they're a majority (I don't think so?). I know that the tool under discussion, `alex`, uses gender-neutral language ('they') instead. I also use 'they'.


> It says that 'boogyman' is potentially offensive because it refers to gender.

Which is simply factually incorrect. "Boogeyman" doesn't refer to gender (or sex) at all. Like the "-man" in "woman", the "-man" that "Boogeyman" was partially derived from meant "person" -- a meaning that "man" had in English long before it acquired the alternate definition of "male human" (and even longer before that became the dominant use of the standalone word "man".)


Etymologically, yes. However, the word and suffix "man" in modern English means a "male human".


> perfectly considerate and inoffensive for quite a long time

No, they weren't considerate and inoffensive. You just didn't know they weren't.

If you don't speak much to gay people, you wouldn't realise certain terms (like, historically, 'gay') were offensive. If you don't speak much to disabled people, you wouldn't realise 'cripple' was offensive. If you didn't speak much to trans people, you wouldn't realise 'tr$&%y' was a slur.

> never with any intention to hurt, marginalize, offend, bother, or in any way cause any trouble

Intention is nice and all, but effect is what actually matters. People will be kinder on you if you didn't intend to be hurtful, but it ultimately doesn't matter if you're consistently actually being hurtful without good reason.

> enforcing softer language will inject love and understanding into people's hearts

Who thinks it will? The idea of considerate language is to avoid normalising things that are unreasonable (not all firefighters are male, don't use 'fireman'), or avoid causing hurt to people (at best a gay person would be irritated by a certain word beginning with f, at worst deeply hurt).

> they distract from things that actually matter to the quality of people's lives

Avoiding discrimination DOES matter to people's lives. Maybe it doesn't to you. But you should maybe listen to the people this actually affects, who may actually appreciate these efforts.


Please don't put words in my mouth.

Some words are offensive and people should not use them.

However, other words aren't offensive, have never been before, and don't need to become so.

Intention is everything. If there is some word, and literally nobody has ever used it from a place of hate, then taking offense at that word is wrong and a mental pathology.

I totally agree with you about words used by some to express hate and other nasty intentions.

So in your example, 'tr$&%y' is a nasty slur some people use. Everyone should stop saying 'tr$&%y'! I'm very much NOT saying that an innocent person can say 'tr$&%y'.

I am saying that if you have a word like 'boogyman', what is the point of trying to issue some kind of warning that you should really say 'boogyperson'? Are there actually some kind of non-male boogy's that we are somehow excluding?


> Some words are offensive and people should not use them.

> However, other words aren't offensive, have never been before, and don't need to become so.

Not all the words `alex` deals with are offensive, though, but inconsiderate in other ways. I'm not sure if you're saying they all are supposed to be offensive, but I'm assuming you are.

Also, which words are you referring to which aren't offensive? It's all very well talking in the abstract, but without actually defining this you're making statements that are essentially all things to all people.

> Intention is everything.

Intention does matter somewhat, but only somewhat. If you repeatedly use offensive language, without good reason, after being warned about its effects, perhaps you should stop.

And unintentional effects, while you didn't intend them, are still very much real and you should still acknowledge them.

People who feel they are doing the right thing can still cause harm. That they felt it was right doesn't completely absolve them.

Edit: By the way, are you sure expanding your comments after they've been replied to is a good idea? This makes it look like the people who've replied to you have ignored points you've made.


> Intention is everything. If there is some word, and literally nobody has ever used it from a place of hate, then taking offense at that word is wrong and a mental pathology.

Do you have any examples from the submitted project?


That was an example from the project.

>>> 1:5-1:14 warning `boogeyman` may be insensitive, use `boogey` instead


As I've pointed out in other places, the thing about that word/words like it which would make it/them 'inconsiderate' is not offense, so it's an invalid example.


Wait, you made all those posts just because of that one fucking word?


The inclusion of that word is extremely telling. Someone who thinks the word "boogeyman" is exclusionary or otherwise harmful is either completely unfamiliar with normal English usage, is not quite right in the head, or is attempting to enforce some kind of fringe agenda. Whichever one it is, they are not someone you want to hand control of your language over to.


You realise this project just flags things that you might want to think about? You're not handing control over to anyone. You can just ignore the flags.


Well, I can also just not use the software at all, if it's written by someone so goofy that they think "boogeyman" is an offensive word.

Or at least, I can avoid using the software until Github or Reddit or somebody gets bullied into adding it to their site backend. Then things get awkward.


My main concern with the word policing is for people who have been using a common term while it was not offensive, later being deemed as insensitive for having used the term.

For example if using "slave/master" terminology becomes widely accepted as insensitive, in the future someone may look through my twitter history or something and find that I had used that term, even though at the time of writing no one had considered that term insensitive.


> My main concern with the word policing is for people who have been using a common term while it was not offensive, later being deemed as insensitive for having used the term.

This might happen occasionally with words that become offensive, but I'd argue a lot of such words that "were not offensive" actually were, it's just the author was oblivious. In such cases, you'd hopefully be able to argue that the author was unaware.

Although some people might feign ignorance as an excuse when they very definitely knew what they were saying.

> For example if using "slave/master" terminology becomes widely accepted as insensitive [...]

> [...] even though at the time of writing no one had considered that term insensitive.

Well, it always has been insensitive, but the vast bulk of the tech industry has been people who've not experienced slavery (or didn't consider the implications for those who have), so they were oblivious.

> in the future someone may look through my twitter history or something and find that I had used that term

Well, you might not have realised. Someone might call you a monster, but I think people would be somewhat forgiving if you hadn't yet been warned.

(This does depend on severity, though. With some words, obviously it's impossible to argue you couldn't have known.)


> Someone might call you a monster, but I think people would be somewhat forgiving if you hadn't yet been warned.

First off, if you think that the sort of folks who make up online mobs are inclined to be forgiving under any circumstance, please let me be the first person to welcome you to the Internet. You're going to be surprised by a lot of things during your stay here.

But more importantly: "warned"? Who gave these people the authority to "warn" people about what vocabulary they use? And do other small and frequently mocked subgroups of society, like, oh, say, Mormons, or Southern Baptists, also get to "warn" people about insensitive remarks, and have their warnings automatically obeyed? If not, why not?


A long, long time ago (early 2000s), there was a plugin/add-on/whatever for MS outlook, I think, that would analyze what you wrote and assign it a score from 1 to 3 chili peppers. The angriest, hottest stuff could be prevented from being sent.

It was designed as a way to prevent you from sending an email in haste that you might later regret. GmailLabs had something similar with their email goggles function, that could require you to solve math functions before sending email late at night.*

While those were cutesy examples, this is in the same vein. If you're worried about the sort of thing chilis/GmailGoggles/Alex would catch, then you're probably happy to run a check like that. If not, then don't.

*Gmail Goggles, while a cool feature, didn't really work for the mathematical-minded. Turns out trying to multiply 3-digit numbers while drunk is kind of fun.


That sounds really cool. I've sent some unnecessarily angry emails before... this would be handy to make me cool down.



I don't see why this would be a parody. If you're going to do that, surely you'd make some incredibly strict censorship tool, since that's what people against being considerate usually frame this kind of thing as.


I don't think that it's fair to describe criticism of this as against being considerate, it's more like, against imposing some people's ideas of how people should talk to each other on to unwitting users of some Internet service. Some people are assholes on the Internet, undoubtedly, and these people take up WAY too much space, but I don't think that this is a sensible way of dealing with the problem. Things like downvoting, blocking etc work by penalising the baddies, not by making everyone confirm to some artificial idea of what intelligent discourse looks like.


> against imposing some people's ideas of how people should talk to each other on to unwitting users of some Internet service

Where is this being imposed? Where does `alex` give any indication of being mandatory on an Internet service - and even if it was used, why would it be imposing? This merely suggests ways to be considerate.


I presume someone has written this in the hope of people using it. If it was used on a forum I posted on, I'd feel it as an imposition. It may be a suggestion only, but I'm suggesting it's a bad idea. It'd be like having your annoying friend who studied too much critical theory looking over your shoulder every time you want to write something.


> I presume someone has written this in the hope of people using it. If it was used on a forum I posted on, I'd feel it as an imposition.

I would assume the use case is for you to choose to use it on your own writing.


At the bottom they note, under the heading "Importance of Equality (in Technology)", the ‘Brendan Eich Steps Down as Mozilla CEO’ HN comment thread. This is a hotly debated topic. Really dunno about mentioning that one.

It's not a joke, because Vice covered it, unironically. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/meet-alex-the-javascript-to...

I really don't get it. Really, really, really don't get it. I would be grateful if someone could explain this to me.


It's a tool that points out where you might have used inconsiderate terms. That's it.

Why would you want it? Well, it's easy to slip up and use language that's discriminatory or might cause discomfort. This helps you catch what you might otherwise miss.


"Their" instead of "His" is a horrible fix, and causes me discomfort as a speaker of the English language. More seriously, statements like those should be massaged into the passive tense as to avoid pronouns (because in technical texts, you don't need them).

It warns about stuff like "cattlemen" in lieu of "cattle rancher", some really preposterous stuff. Also, as a native Polak, I had no idea the word "polack" was offensive. In Polish, it is the most used way to refer to yourself as a Polish person. I am so confused right now.

A lot of the file [1] is either obvious ("gringo" being an obvious-yet-still-HN-publishable term) or ridiculous (above).

It doesn't really help anyone as far I can tell.

[1]: https://github.com/wooorm/retext-equality/blob/master/lib/pa...


> "Their" instead of "His" is a horrible fix, and causes me discomfort as a speaker of the English language.

Some people dislike the singular they, yes. This is strange, because it's a feature any English speaker will intuitively understand (it's been in English for centuries). I assume this is due to people being told it's not proper in school, or something.

> More seriously, statements like those should be massaged into the passive tense as to avoid pronouns

That's sometimes an alternative, yes.

> It warns about stuff like "cattlemen" in lieu of "cattle rancher", some really preposterous stuff.

Why is it preposterous? Not all ranchers are male.

> Also, as a native Polak, I had no idea the word "polack" was offensive. In Polish, it is the most used way to refer to yourself as a Polish person. I am so confused right now.

Words sometimes have different connotations in different languages, and it might depend on who's using it. A Polish person in the US might mind 'polack' less from a Pole than from someone else, perhaps?

> A lot of the file is [...] obvious

To you, yes. It isn't to everyone. Not everyone has the same cultural background, upbringing, education, exposure to different people, etc.


I've never heard "cattlemen" used. Ever.

I don't mind hearing "polack" from anyone.

And those people can learn by hearing that they're wrong. As a sixth grader, I used the word "colored" in reference to African-Americans, in a historical sense, on an essay. And I learned from that.


> I've never heard "cattlemen" used. Ever.

I haven't either, but it's probably limited to certain contexts. I'm not sure how that's relevant.

> I don't mind hearing "polack" from anyone.

Maybe you don't, but it might be a problem for other people.

> And those people can learn by hearing that they're wrong.

They could also use this tool. The difference is this tool would tell you before you potentially upset someone.


The example should really go further.

"The" implies definiteness, use "a" instead;

"all" may be insensitive, use "some" instead;

"master" may be insensitive, use "thing" instead;

"server" may be insensitive, use "provider" instead;

"read-only" may be insensitive, use "possibly unable to write" instead;

"worry" might be triggering, use "think" instead;


Thank you so much. We need all the help we can get to expose & ridicule PCness like you just did, because it looks like these people really do exist and take themselves seriously, and there's a whole new generation in US colleges that starts crying incontrollably when a law professor utters the word "rape", for example.

This might boil down to a cultural difference, but to this European guy we're way past "you've got to be kidding me" territory here.


> there's a whole new generation in US colleges that starts crying incontrollably when a law professor utters the word "rape", for example.

Constructing a straw man to prove your point is not conducive to good argumentation.

People do not "cry uncontrollably" when certain words are mentioned. People are asking that works containing graphic depictions of things likely to cause severe distress to very small segments of the population be labelled in some cases, so that people in those groups can prepare themselves. People are also asking that others not use extremely offensive language towards those in minority groups who've had to suffer through it their whole lives.

These are not unreasonable requests. They are a minimum standard of human decency and consideration.

> This might boil down to a cultural difference, but to this European guy

Neo-reactionaries exist in all cultures, I assure you.


I really, really wish I could admit guilt and tell you that I've indeed had to construct a strawman because my point required it. Unfortunately, I didn't because it doesn't. Either you are uninformed about the current levels of insanity reached in PC circles, or you belong to them and hope that nobody will notice what you guys are up to.

I will give just 2 examples, and let everyone else be the judge.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trouble-teaching-rap... One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/566202/NUS-jazz-hands-clapp... The NUS Women's Campaign tweeted from its official account: "Some delegates are requesting that we move to jazz hands rather than clapping, as it's triggering anxiety. Please be mindful!"

Who needs strawmen when reality is way more entertaining ?

I will re-iterate that people like you, advocating that this behaviour can in any way or shape be construed as reasonable or a mark of progress, are doing a disservice to victims of actual traumatic events (more to the point : spitting in their face) by trying to liken petty little everyday traumas that everyone goes through (you guys call them "microaggressions") to what a war veteran or an actual rape victim (I said "rape", not "catcall" btw, notice the difference?) actually have had to endure.

Anyway, I can't wait to see how "snowflake generation" does in the real world. Have a nice evening.


> I really, really wish I could admit guilt and tell you that I've indeed had to construct a strawman because my point required it. Unfortunately, I didn't because it doesn't. Either you are uninformed about the current levels of insanity reached in PC circles, or you belong to them and hope that nobody will notice what you guys are up to.

> I will give just 2 examples, and let everyone else be the judge.

> http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trouble-teaching-rap.... One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering.

One single student had a problem with the word "violate", which isn't entirely unsurprising. This word is frequently used in relation to acts of physical and sexual violence. It might seem ridiculous to you that single words can cause problems for some people, but trauma can be like that. If you've suffered something traumatic, a word or phrase might remind you of it. Wouldn't that make you uncomfortable? Is there really anything wrong with asking a professor to avoid that specific phrase, so you can concentrate better on your work? It doesn't prevent them talking about the subject. It's just a tiny kindness they are asking for.

And, in fact, slurs are also single words. Society has learned to stop using them. Where's the uproar?

So, your example doesn't live up to your statement:

> a whole new generation in US colleges that starts crying incontrollably when a law professor utters the word "rape"

Well, this isn't "a whole new generation", it's one student in one school who has a problem with one word. And there's not a "generation" 'crying incontrollably'. There's one student who's having trouble with it.

Yes, other students at other schools also sometimes have similar issues. Still doesn't meet your statement.

Some people have specific needs. What's wrong with accommodating them?

> http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/566202/NUS-jazz-hands-clapp.... The NUS Women's Campaign tweeted from its official account: "Some delegates are requesting that we move to jazz hands rather than clapping, as it's triggering anxiety. Please be mindful".

Certain people at an event had an issue with loud noise, and politely asked that others express applause in a quieter fashion.

This doesn't even have anything to do with political correctness.

----

I still consider the situation you have described to be a straw man. You are vastly exaggerating the nature, scale and consequences of this supposed problem.

Occasionally, people are in the unfortunate position where certain small things cause them problems. They politely ask for people not to do those things.

This is usually referred to as 'kindness' or 'being considerate'.

> I will re-iterate that people like you, advocating that this behaviour can in any way or shape be construed as reasonable or a mark of progress, are doing a disservice to victims of actual traumatic events (or more to the point : spitting in their face).

Please explain to me how, for example, it is somehow a bad thing to not warn someone who has survived rape that the book they are about to read contains a graphic depiction of it?

This is a realistic example. It happens all the time.

> I can't wait to see how "snowflake generation" does in the real world. Have a nice evening.

They'll do wonderfully. Because they are creating a world that is just very slightly more considerate than the one before.

Even if the world doesn't change, they'll do the same as they always have. People who've suffered trauma have always existed. People who are part of discriminated-against groups have always existed. They just might have a very slightly easier time now.


I don't usually reply to HN posts but in this instance I'm deeply troubled by most of the posts you've made in this thread, but the most unsettling thing you've said thus far is:

> Because they are creating a world that is just very slightly more considerate than the one before.

Who gives you, or anyone else, the right to "create a world" in which I am a member of and can dictate what I can and cannot say? Why do you get to decide what is "considerate"?

I see this in our next generation and this trend is most troubling indeed.


> Who gives you, or anyone else, the right to "create a world" in which I am a member of and can dictate what I can and cannot say?

"Dictating"? You're not being required not to say words. People are suggesting it might be inconsiderate. Although I suppose that eventually it might become culturally unacceptable.

As for 'the right to "create a world"', nobody has a "right" to change culture, it's simply a thing which happens. Some people attempt to influence how it changes.

Though another answer might be that everyone has the right: everyone has the human right to free speech, and speech affects culture.

> I see this in our next generation and this trend is most troubling indeed

Culture shifts are nothing new. People believing they can change culture, and doing it, is nothing new.


> People are asking that works containing graphic depictions of things likely to cause severe distress to very small segments of the population be labelled in some cases, so that people in those groups can prepare themselves.

The thing is, with how triggering actually works, pretty much any kind of sensory stimulus is likely to cause severe distress to some very small segment of the population -- and triggers are as likely to be color patterns or other non-verbal visual cues, smells, non-verbal auditory stimuli, etc., as words presented orally or in writing (and as likely to be associated with oblique descriptions as graphic ones); the intensity and frequency of demands for trigger warnings on the expression of particular ideas, or in particular styles of expression, are not rationally related to the propensity for an actual triggering response in the population, but they are associated with the political and ideological sensitivities of the groups making the demands.

Discussion of the validity of those political and ideological sensitivities aside, the use of "triggering" as the rationale for the warning labels is not consistent with the actual demands.


Please don't be disingenuous.

> "worry" might be triggering

Perhaps you're unfamiliar with what "trigger" means. That or you don't take the experiences of survivors of PTSD or trauma seriously.


And you, are insulting survivors of actual PTSD & trauma by insinuating that hearing words you don't like is in any way a similarly distressing experience to what they went through.


> And you, are insulting survivors of actual PTSD & trauma by insinuating that hearing words you don't like is in any way a similarly distressing experience to what they went through.

Where did I say that? I never equated mere offensive language to triggers.

Someone I know had flashbacks to a traumatic, physically-violent event after hearing someone nearby "joking" about that type of event. Are these kinds of experiences a joke to you? Something to be mocked? Because this is what trigger warnings exist to prevent.


>cripple may be insensitive, use person with a limp instead

Hard to tell if this project is parody or authentic.


Er, authentic, surely? That's a word that people with disabilities may bitterly detest, as it is frequently used to mock them.


Of course, though without context for the example, it's hard to understand if it really is being used as a noun (which seems clearly offensive) or a verb, which doesn't immediately seem offensive to me, at least (like "We shipped a crippled version of the product as a trial").


Your comment made my NLP parsing project upset and depressed. Hardly I will be able to make it pass tests until tomorrow now. Thanks.


Ah yes, that's true. I don't know if 'crippled' as an adjective applied to a non-person would cause people distress, I assume not (though I'd err on the side of caution).

Alas, that's the kind of thing that automated tools will inevitably make mistakes about. It's not doing NLP.


Clearly not context aware: typing "Wonder Woman and Superman" gives:

"Woman" may be insensitive, use Person, Friend, Pal, Folk, Individual instead "Superman" may be insensitive, use Titan instead

There is a lot of work done in the area of linguistic analysis and word disambiguation, and none of it it's trivial. So it will be a big leap moving from a toy project to something of actual use. Integrating with an existing ML api for disambiguation could vastly decrease the amount of false positives. Idilia, BabelNet/BabelFly and LingPipe come to mind.


Someone pointed out another (possible) example of this further up, with the use of the word 'cripple': https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10199900

NLP is hard, I can't fault them for not trying to do it here. It'd be a lot of extra work and it's unnecessary for the most part, given it merely makes suggestions, so at worst an incorrect match is just annoying.


""Woman" may be insensitive, use Person, Friend, Pal, Folk"

This has got to be a joke. What's wrong with these people ?


What's wrong with it? Obviously it's not correct in all contexts, but if you can avoid excluding non-women, you should do so.


"Clearly" may be insensitive, use "maybe" instead.


Yes, it discriminates against dirt-fluid trans-cleanists.


Alex is a bad name, doesn't describe at all what it does. More appropriate names, in my opinion, are: Ingsoc, Newspeak, or BB.

Orwell's head would be spinning if he saw how the English language ended up today.


> Catch insensitive, inconsiderate writing

I kept trying to figure out what "catch-insensitive" meant until I finally realized this wasn't a noun phrase...


I clicked it thinking it was going to be some kind of exception handling invariant.


Yeah, I thought it was going to be some sort of code analysis tool.


A self-censorship tool to prevent you accidentally "triggering" someone in the snowflake generation with "inconsiderate" terms, by enforcing what was first described by George Orwell as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak


> A self-censorship tool

Have you considered that self-censorship is not necessarily always bad? You've probably thought some utterly disgusting things about people you love dearly before, and refused to say them, because you know it would damage your relationship.

This also doesn't force you to censor anything. It points out things that might be problematic.

> "triggering"

Do you actually know what triggers are? Are you sure that avoiding forcing people to relive trauma is a bad thing?

(Triggering is not the same as being offended or hurt, by the way.)

> enforcing what was first described by George Orwell as Newspeak

I'd question the word 'enforcing' again. This is, to make an analogy, a spell-checker, not autocorrect.

Anyway, Newspeak is interesting. Among other things, it supposedly shows how you can control thought through shaping language. That's not really true, though. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that language determines thought, is not accepted in its strong form by most linguists. You can't absolutely control thought through language.

Language probably does shape it a little, though, and certainly using different, more considerate terms does change how people think about things at least a little. But is it bad that people speak a little more considerately? Who is losing out from being kind?


But is it bad that people speak a little more considerately? Who is losing out from being kind?

Likening the backlash against PCness to a fight against "kindness" is one hell of a strawman :) As belittling the damage to free speech that the strict observance of PC rules necessarily implies, is one hell of an "anti-strawman".

The PC movement is not asking that people speak "a little more" considerately (which we can all agree to), it is engaged in a careless witch hunt that has gone overboard, has ruined careers (google "Pycon joke"), and actively prevents normal transmission of knowledge in US/UK colleges (again see : http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trouble-teaching-rap... )

The PC movement as it operates now is quite simply, the closest thing western societies have to an Inquisition today.


> Likening the backlash against PCness to a fight against "kindness" is one hell of a strawman

How is it a straw man? Fundamentally asking of people that they use terms which are less likely to cause offense or harm is out of kindess to the people who would be offended or harmed.

> As belittling the damage to free speech that the strict observance of PC rules necessarily implies, is one hell of an "anti-strawman".

"Damage to free speech"? Can you substantiate that?

Remember that free speech is, quote:

"the right to communicate one's opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship"

The Government is not retaliating against you for using "un-PC" language, nor censoring you.

> The PC movement is not asking that people speak "a little more" considerately (which we can all agree to)

What would you consider 'speaking a little more considerately' to be then, if not avoiding terms which are inconsiderate to others?

> it is engaged in a careless witch hunt that has gone overboard,

While some comparisons to 'witch hunts' might be appropriate in certain cases, people aren't being hanged. People aren't going to jail.

> has ruined careers (google "Pycon joke")

The PyCon incident was not because of politically correct language. It was because of (ostensibly) sexist jokes and Internet call-out culture. Grouping these into political correctness is only useful if you're trying to discredit it. Internet outrage has its problems, but this doesn't discredit the idea of using kinder language.

> and actively prevents normal transmission of knowledge in US/UK colleges

This is overblown. Certain students (often those who have suffered rape themselves) are asking to be warned when topics that might cause them distress are brought up. It doesn't prevent them learning: content warnings on TV don't prevent people from watching the news or documentaries, in fact it helps them as they can prepare for potentially distressing or dangerous (photosensitive epilepsy-triggering, say) content.

> The PC movement as it operates now is quite simply, the closest thing western societies have to an Inquisition today.

Internet witch hunts are a problem, but they do not discredit politically correct language, trigger warnings, etc.


>Internet witch hunts are a problem, but they do not discredit politically correct language, trigger warnings, etc.

What discredits trigger warnings is studies showing that trigger warnings do more harm than good.

https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/the-false-dic...

>How is it a straw man? Fundamentally asking of people that they use terms which are less likely to cause offense or harm is out of kindess to the people who would be offended or harmed.

Excuse me, don't you mean straw person?


> What discredits trigger warnings is studies showing that trigger warnings do more harm than good.

It's possible trigger warnings might ultimately be unhelpful for PTSD sufferers. I don't know whether that's the case, as without further research I can't tell how selective these articles are.

Even if it's not helpful for PTSD sufferers, it might still be useful for people in different situations.

> Excuse me, don't you mean straw person?

I did think of that. I don't think there's a gender-neutral alternative to that fallacy's name.


>It's possible trigger warnings might ultimately be unhelpful for PTSD sufferers. I don't know whether that's the case, as without further research I can't tell how selective these articles are.

I'll err to the side of caution and assume they are ultimately harmful to people and not use them. Which is what you are advocating in other forms of speech (particularly erring to the side of caution of gender normalization).

>I did think of that. I don't think there's a gender-neutral alternative to that fallacy's name.

Speech is fluid and always changing. If there isn't an alternative, you're free to create one. As long as it is understood by the person you are communicating with - language has done its job. This might cause some confusion or require further explanation, since the term won't be a common part of peoples' shared vocabulary, but it will get the job done.

The worst that could happen is people don't adopt the word, choose a different word, or re-purpose the word.

On a tangent, I'd like to tell a short story about a female leader of an all-female group. She begins speaking to the group with "Okay guys". I think any reasonable person would accept that the term "guys" has lost its masculinity over the years and is used as a gender-neutral. What the meaning once was is not the meaning it holds now. This is common in both words and symbols. To share an extreme example of both re-purposing and a changed definition, see Pink Triangle [0]

Ultimately - policing speech is a waste of effort. New words will always come into existence as euphemisms of the "wrong" words and knowing that speech is "bad" allows others to use it for power.

An insult is only ever as strong as you let it be.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_triangle


> I'll err to the side of caution and assume they are ultimately harmful to people and not use them. Which is what you are advocating in other forms of speech

Myself, I'd consider the side of caution to be continuing to use them. Since they're warning people about something potentially a problem, I'd rather be careful in case people are relying on them. (That's for places where they're already used. Your approach might be better for new places.)

> Speech is fluid and always changing. If there isn't an alternative, you're free to create one.

Oh sure, I realise that! I could say 'straw person' or maybe 'scarecrow fallacy'.

> On a tangent, I'd like to tell a short story about a female leader of an all-female group. She begins speaking to the group with "Okay guys". I think any reasonable person would accept that the term "guys" has lost its masculinity over the years and is used as a gender-neutral.

Wiktionary's page on 'guys' is interesting here (see: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/guys) - it's gender-neutral... sometimes. It's not always. It's a weird case.

> Ultimately - policing speech is a waste of effort. New words will always come into existence as euphemisms of the "wrong" words and knowing that speech is "bad" allows others to use it for power.

I'm not sure this is always true. Insults against gay people being proscribed doesn't seem to have created new ones, but I may be wrong.


> What discredits trigger warnings is studies showing that trigger warnings do more harm than good.

You're misrepresenting the research. There's no problem with trigger warnings. The problem comes when people use the warning to then totally avoid that topic. What they should be doin is using the warning to prepare to engage withthe topic in a way that's safe for them.


> The PyCon incident was not because of politically correct language. It was because of (ostensibly) sexist jokes and Internet call-out culture.

I'm sorry, but this is a no-true-Scotsman fallacy. (Or should I say "Scotsperson"? Sorry, too easy, I know.) Innumerable examples exist of Internet hate mobs being ginned up by freelance language police, of people getting bullied and threatened and in some cases fired from their jobs. How many times does this have to happen before you'll believe there is a larger problem?

And, furthermore, even if you don't think there is a fundamental issue with the push for politically correct language, this is still a problem for you, not just for the evil sexists and racists. I think you're entirely sincere about simply wanting people to use kinder words. But every time the Internet hate mobs wind up and destroy another person for some baffling transgression that no one had heard of outside Tumblr fifteen minutes ago, opinion hardens against your side. Your job gets more difficult. You need to stand up strongly against the Adria Richardses of the world if you want to save this goal of yours from the people who currently symbolize and control it.


I hope this is a joke.


Why? What's wrong with being considerate?


What's wrong with it is simple: you can't define it.

Define "being considerate". Go ahead, try it. You'd have to list every person's feelings towards every word uttered next to every other possible word.

How about, we all learn not to be offended by words? That at least is scalable, consistent, and defined.


Or, rather, what's wrong with having robot tell you when to be considerate, or even being considerate instead of you?


automated enforcement of politically-correct verbiage. awesome!


I assume you find the automated "enforcement" of dictionary-correct spelling to be similarly awesome?


> automated suggestion of (potentially) more considerate alternative verbiage.


Cripple does not only mean person with a limp, but is used also about people who are paraplegic or quadraplegic, or people with leg amputation.

It's very Americo-centric. Using the word "handicapped" or the phrase "person with physical handicaps" are both likely to disappoint your audience. Especially since not all disability is physical; your considerate phrasing ignores learning(UK)/intellectual(US) disabilities as well as mental health problems.

I'm on mobile at the moment so couldn't look in more detail. It's a nice idea, but so far it looks severely flawed.


> Cripple does not only mean [...]

Well, the replacements are merely suggestions, right? You may have to adapt them to fit the specific case. But sure, it might be better to add more suggestions.

> It's very Americo-centric.

(isn't it Ameri-centric? /nitpick)

That probably reflects its author, it would need expanding. I'd note though that it's probably best to still cover stuff problematic in America even if you're not American, given any web content has a potentially international audience.

> It's a nice idea, but so far it looks severely flawed.

Maybe. I think it could be still useful despite the flaws.


Automated thought policing. Wonderful.




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