Perplexed About: Automated Profanity Filters

Warning, contains terms that some computers might flag as offensive.

Okay, there seems to be a bit of a problem with the English language…. and other languages, I’m sure.

“Queer” means odd.
“Gay” means happy.
“Prick” means what you do when you accidentally stab your finger with a needle or a pin or a pinecone or an especially sharp blade of grass. Or in my case, when I accidentally stab my finger on the blades to my mother’s blender when I’m taking it apart to put in the dishwasher.
“Fag” means cigarrete.
“Faggot” means a bundle of sticks, such as you might throw on a fire when you’re out camping.
(Anybody noticing a pattern?)

And so on.
I could go on–probably–those just happen to be the words that come to mind at the moment.
More to the point, those happen to to be the words that come to mind that I don’t already find offensive….

The thing is, not one of these words is actually offensive…. if they are used as intended.
But because they and many others have been misappropriated for offensive use for some time–that some people would be offended by the newer usage, that is, whether or not there is anything actually offensive about the concept–the words themselves are deemed offensive.

Before I go on, I will point out that I know language is an evolving thing; it grows and changes for as long as there are people to use it.
But I see a substantial difference between a word that actually means something offensive versus a word that is interpreted as offensive (and eventually comes to have that meaning) simply because of the slang, the context in which the word is commonly used; the more offensive meanings of these words can never, to my mind, be true definitions.

And to be honest, if I were dealing with a person, that might not be a problem.
A person can tell, based on context, what my intended usage of these terms is.
A person can tell, based on context, whether my usage of the term is offensive in any way.

A computer, however, cannot. And many a website, many a forum, many a program, is designed to flag and even block such terms because they are thought to be offensive, regardless of how the word is actually being used.

Even then, this is not truly a problem. Most companies, I’m sure, cannot afford to hire someone on for the exclusive purpose of sifting through forums to separate the proper usage of these terms from the offensive usage, so they employ a program designed to block all uses of the term.

The problem comes when that program cannot be consistent. When that program provides the term, allows the designers to include it while blocking the users from doing the same.

Case in point:
Just the other day, I was playing Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. I finally got around to playing through it, at least until I could activate Streetpass, after having allowed it to collect dust since…. well, since it first came out.

One of the things I encountered was the ability to create my own Dream Eaters. I can, if I so choose, rename these creatures as I create them, or I can use the game’s default name for them–their species name, if you will, sort of like raising an Eevee in Pokemon and calling it Eevee.
Now, given the Pokemon example, I typically opt to simply… not give them nicknames, allowing them to change their visible name as they evolve to another species. But in general, I tend to stick with the default names in any game, only occasionally selecting something that is more meaningful to me. In part, I simply don’t care what the creature is called; in part, there is the assumption that within a game with a built-in profanity filter, the default names are the safest.

But what happened when the creature was a Pricklemane?
What happens if I try to advance through the naming menu without making any changes, leaving the default name in place?



If you guessed that the game blocked the creature’s default name, the creature’s pre-programmed name…. then you are correct.


Given what I know, or don’t know, of the English language, I can only assume that the name was considered improper because it contained the spelling “prick”.
And in the interest of using the default name rather than creating a new one at a moment’s notice, I simply changed the spelling by deleting that “c”, at which point the game allowed it, further reinforcing this theory.
But if that spelling was so offensive, then why was it programmed with this name?

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1 Response to Perplexed About: Automated Profanity Filters

  1. Pingback: Six Degrees of Changing the Subject | Side Quest Publications

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