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On indecency and morality
Thread poster: Jean-Luc Dumont

Jean-Luc Dumont  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:00
English to French
+ ...
Jan 17, 2004

"The way in which we are born is indecent under certain standard. Acts we perform every day are indecent."

"Decency is a Victorian standard. It is an exploded category, like "phlogiston". It has nothing at all to do with morality. A terrible human being can be thoroughly decent, never mentioning sexual or excretory matters in public, and a human brimming with altruism, self sacrifice and other wonderful qualities may be thoroughly indecent. Hitler was reportedly quite decent to guests, while Gandhi sometimes spoke of physical functions to interviewers and even to the world." Taken from text below.

Please keep us free to chose how ignorant we want to be or pretend to be... I do not want to be like one of the 3 monkeys on Proz.icon_smile.gif and make it an island of prudishness sheltered from the real world in which we live and make our living.

What is good with Proz is that nobody is obliged or forced to answer questions that s/he may find offensive on political, religious or moral grounds. If I don't like a question - because of its nature or the field - I ignore it. I do not see why I should try to impose my sense of good taste, my values or lack of and my shortcomings to others who may think differently.

It is good to be able to squash questions that are obviously posted by "sick" or immature pranksters but I see no justification in squashing a legitimate question from a professional translator with a profile in Proz.

I understand that political, religious or even "controversial" topics in forums often lead to arguments and divisive if not offensive diatribes among so-called colleagues. On the other hand, I do not see why legitimate (see above) questions in the kudoZ section about a political party or a controversial organization (1), war, racial epithets or body parts or curse words should be censored. Doing so would be narrowminded and silly and the evidence of a lack of enlightment or maturity equal to that of schools that are ridiculously famous for banning literary masterpieces from their curriculum for a "bad word" or controversial idea. Imagine reading that: "A question related to a passage from "The Catcher in the Rye" was squashed in the kudoz section of a translation forum (Proz) as it was considered pertaining to rude or obscene language"icon_smile.gif.


(1) - just an example among many: The Vatican owns shares of a well-known Italian car manufacturer (no nameicon_smile.gif) who builds military vehicles and equipment and owns at least part of a company that makes landmines that cripple kids around the world... Yet the Pope gives the world his blessings every year and we do not and should not censor questions like "God is love" or questions pertaining to companies with various or dubious "concerns".

I found this text on the Web which I think is interesting.

Indecency and Morality

As I write this, Congress is putting the finishing touches on a 19th century-style indecency law which will provide for prison terms of up to 5 years and fines of $100,000 for anyone who depicts or describes sexual or excretory acts or organs on the Internet.
Decency laws have a long, disreputable history in this country, beginning with the Civil War, when shock over obscene photographs (the camera was a new technology) sent to soldiers at the front led to the passage of the first laws and the formation of the infamous New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Anthony Comstock, its chief enforcer, travelled the country as an unpaid special agent of the Post Office, destroying the lives of scores of essayists, journalists, and sex educators while banning novels of Balzac, Tolstoy and Zola from distribution in this country. Ida Craddock, author of Advice to a Bridegroom was one of fifteen women who Comstock bragged he had driven to suicide in a forty year career.

In short, decency laws, originally passed to target sexual photographs, were soon used to bar all kinds of literary and political speech in this country, which is the inevitable result of laws pertaining to speech.

Over the decades, the Supreme Court has all but gutted decency (as opposed to obscenity) as a permissible area of legislation. In Cohen v. California, the Court overturned the conviction of a protestor who wore a "Fuck the Draft" t-shirt into the Los Angeles county courthouse. (Using the word ["fukc"*] is a crime under the Internet indecency law described above, even though I used it in a dry and informative context to describe a court case. The Internet law, like indecency laws in general, makes absolutely no exception for speech with scientific, literary, artistic or political value.) Similarly, it intervened on behalf of people who had been convicted of using four letter words at school board meetings or to police officers. In short, the Court had now established that indecent speech could not be prohibited in print media or in everyday life. Finally, in Pacifica Foundation v. F.C.C., the Court considered the seminal question of indecency in broadcast media.


As we enter an era in which electronic print is increasingly supplanting paper, the Internet must be treated as a constellation of printing presses and bookstores. Thus, indecency laws applied to online speech should be wholly unconstitutional, as any attempt to regulate paper would be. Indecency regulation for the Net can only succeed if its proponents succeed in demonizing the Net and convincing legislators and judges that it is something different, more dangerous than print. Well, forces such as the Christian Coalition have successfully confused the Congress; it remains to be seen if the judges are more clear-headed. I (and scores of other people) have volunteered to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit that will soon be brought to challenge the new law.

Even if a court determines that the Net can be regulated like broadcast media, the Internet indecency legislation goes far beyond existing FCC regulations because it provides no definition of channeling. All prior laws contained clauses explaining how to comply with them--by reverse blocking, credit cards or shifting bad speech to a late hour. The Net legislation contains no advice on channeling and therefore effectively bans indecent speech entirely-- something the Supreme Court has said that Congress cannot do.

Can the Net be channeled? As I mentioned a moment ago, it already is, via the credit card most of us use to set up an account and the password that must be used to log on. If further channeling is needed, three alternatives are on the way to becoming a reality. To preserve the diversity of speech on the Net, channeling should either occur on the user's own machine, or as close to it as possible. Software like "Surfwatch" installed on the home PC can screen out speech unfit for children. Users can subscribe to the Net via services like Prodigy or Bessnet which screen out indecent speech for them. A self rating system, coupled with browsers set to screen out material with adult ratings, is also under development.

Congress, despite Senator Leahy's brave efforts, would not wait to allow us to define channeling for the Net. Apparently, a few lives must be crushed to make a point. The impact of the indecency laws is that no speech may be uttered online that would offend a member of the Christian Coalition. No matter that your standards may be different. Personally, I raised a completely moral child-- now employed, engaged to be married, and a model citizen--who was allowed to read anything he wanted and to hear and say the seven dirty words while growing up. We taught him respect for human beings rather than fear of words.

A few readers may be asking why we should care about indecent speech. To answer the question, try the following thought experiment. Stand in your neighborhood bookstore and look at the shelves packed with books. Now imagine that every book disappears which flunks the "sexual or excretory acts or organs" test. The shelves are suddenly two thirds empty. Not only steamy trash bestsellers are gone. You have lost Balzac, Zola, Hemingway, Joyce, Rabelais, but also books on AIDs, safe sex, rape, domestic violence, Our Bodies Ourselves, Freud and even the Bible.

The way in which we are born is indecent under the standard. Acts we perform every day are indecent. Men do not simply exist from the waist up, and women from the shoulders. All of our discourse, our art, our analysis of ourselves and our world must take into account the complete human being. If you give our artists, novelists, scientists and commentators only half the human being to work with, you give them nothing.

Decency is a Victorian standard. It is an exploded category, like "phlogiston". It has nothing at all to do with morality. A terrible human being can be thoroughly decent, never mentioning sexual or excretory matters in public, and a human brimming with altruism, self sacrifice and other wonderful qualities may be thoroughly indecent. Hitler was reportedly quite decent to guests, while Gandhi sometimes spoke of physical functions to interviewers and even to the world.

Indecency laws prevent speech against as well as for the banned ideas. Canadian customs routinely prevents the import into that country of explicit, anti-pornography feminist work by authors like Andrea Dworkin. A preacher thundering against abomination may use explicit phrases to describe that which is forbidden. We are not simply ruling some over-charged words out of our vocabulary; we are placing an entire world of ideas, the principal though not the sole subjects of moral discussion, off limits. But, if we cannot speak of these ideas, how can we formulate our values or know ourselves? Here is the promotion of "mass ignorance" which Charles Beard said could never happen again now that we have mass media to disseminate information.

Yeats spoke of the "foul rag and bone shop of the heart" from which the artist climbs the ladder to his art. Indecency laws deny the existence of this level of human experience, put it off limits to us entirely. The most complete censorship is the one that denies you the ability to form a vocabulary. By aiming Internet indecency laws at ideas, rather than already formed words, Congress has instituted absolute silence. Can a preacher condemn evil without telling what it is? How do you formulate "thou shalt not kill" if the word kill and the idea of killing are forbidden?

"Ignorance is bliss" was of course one of the tenets of the exaggerated world George Orwell portrayed in 1984. Our democracy, as part of the liberty granted, gives each of us the latitude to decide, for ourselves, and for our children, how ignorant to be. You have the right to declare all books sinful and refuse to permit them in your house. But you cannot ban books or ideas from entering my house. Indecency laws take choice away from the head of household who does not want his children to be ignorant of life. "Silence is golden" may be Pat Robertson's or Senator Exon's rule, but it is not mine.

ndt : I changed the spelling of the "f" word into "fukc". Did not want to commit a crime, here. I also would like to say that FUKC is not always a typo and can mean French Connection United Kindom and is a brand of clothingicon_smile.gif.

Thank you Rita for info below.

[Edited at 2004-01-17 19:13]


United States
Local time: 11:00
French to English
+ ...
Please give credit to author Jan 17, 2004

Jonathan Wallace, a lawyer and software business executive, is co-author of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace (Henry Holt & Co., 1996), a new book that probes freedom of speech issues on the Net. Mr. Wallace is also a plaintiff in ACLU v. Reno, the Philadelphia case attacking the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act.

Under the pseudonym Jonathan Blumen, Wallace is the publisher, editor, and primary writer of The Ethical Spectacle, an online zine. Meet Wallace in Electronic Frontiers on Thursday, 13 June at 6 p.m. PDT (Friday 01:00 GMT).

Personally, I do not have a problem with legitimate, explicit questions. I do have a problem with a large number of them which can dominate the "ambiance".

Also, the professional translator will obtain less resistance when he/she has taken the time to do a minimum of research before requesting help.

[Edited at 2004-01-17 19:09]


Jason Roberts  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
Dutch to English
+ ...
Wait... Jan 17, 2004

Isn't that Fcuk?

JLDSF wrote:

ndt : I changed the spelling of the "f" word into "fukc". Did not want to commit a crime, here. I also would like to say that FUKC is not always a typo and can mean French Connection United Kindom and is a brand of clothingicon_smile.gif.

Thank you Rita for info below.

[Edited at 2004-01-17 19:13]


Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:00
+ ...
Sliding down that slippery slope.... Jan 18, 2004

This is an issue I really do feel passionately about.

I have always respected someone's right to feel offended by four letter words, etc, even if personally I do not even begin to understand what their hangup is.

However, such people always have the option to "switch channels" or not to read the offending article. I think it scandalous that someone else can make a decision, supposedly on my behalf, about what I can or cannot be exposed to.

My worry in all this is that we, as a society, seem to be coming around to a position where to avoid offending a small minority we do not respect the great majority who do NOT get ofended by so-called "adult issues".

I am quite willing to cheerfully accept my neighbours believing in whatever belief system takes their fancy - however, I object strongly to them seeking to ensure (through political influence) that I am forced to share their beliefs.

May I take this opportunity of pleading with people whose personal morality is in tune with the political correctness movement, or with the so-called moral majority, to have the decency to respect the opinions of those who may not share their outrage and to think twice before censoring just because they have found something that they, personally, have found offensive" -


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
German to English
Hear, hear! Jan 18, 2004

The Decision of the United States District Court Rendered December 6, 1933, By Hon. John M. Woolsey Lifting the Ban on "Ulysses"
On cross motions for a decree in a libel of confiscation, supplemented by a stipulation brought by the United States against the book "Ulysses" by James Joyce on the ground that the book is obscene within the meaning of that Section, and, hence, is not importable into the United States, but is subject to seizure, forfeiture and confiscation and destruction.
2. I have read "Ulysses" once in its entirety and I have read those passages of which the Government particularly complains several times. In fact, for many weeks, my spare time has been devoted to the consideration of the decision which my duty would require me to make in this matter.
"Ulysses" is not an easy book to read or to understand. But there has been much written about it, and in order properly to approach the consideration of it it is advisable to read a number of other books which have now become its satellites. The study of "Ulysses" is, therefore, a heavy task.
3. The reputation of "Ulysses" in the literary world, however, warranted my taking such time as was necessary to enable me to satisfy myself as to the intent with which the book was written, for, of course, in any case where a book is claimed to be obscene it must first be determined, whether the intent with which it was written was what is called, according to the usual phrase, pornographic, -- that is, written for the purpose of exploiting obscenity.
If Joyce did not attempt to be honest in developing the technique which he has adopted in "Ulysses" the result would be psychologically misleading and thus unfaithful to his chosen technique. Such an attitude would be artistically inexcusable.
It is because Joyce has been loyal to his technique and has not funked its necessary implications, but has honestly attempted to tell fully what his characters think about, that he has been the subject of so many attacks and that his purpose has been so often misunderstood and misrepresented. For his attempt sincerely and honestly to realize his objective has required him incidentally to use certain words which are generally considered dirty words and has led at times to what many think is a too poignant preoccupation with sex in the thoughts of his characters.
The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe. In respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of his characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.
Whether or not one enjoys such a technique as Joyce uses is a matter of taste on which disagreement or argument is futile, but to subject that technique to the standards of some other technique seems to me to be little short of absurd.

"Ulysses" may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.
United States District Judge
December 6, 1933

Closing words from Ulysses: "yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Trieste-Zürich-Paris 1914-1921

[Edited at 2004-01-19 02:08]


Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:00
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

Important postning Jan 18, 2004

Great posting John!

'Mind your own business' is/was my way of expressing a sensible Internet behaviour. (MYOB is according to an English native friend = 'Piss off', which of course is no intention on my part. My interpretation is literal = Do not poke your nose into other people's affairs).

We all present ourselves on as we see fit. Every decision taken by us when choosing what to say and not to say bears risks and possibilities but that DECISION SHOULD BELONG TO US.
If I choose to contend that I do translations in 27 language pairs, that is my decision (if I were an outsourcer I would never choose that translator). It is not up to anybody to forbid me to make that choice.
If I choose to use an obscene picture on my profile page, it is my unwise or wise decision.
If I choose to ask a KudoZ question about Jews and Nazis, that question should not be squashed simply because someone happens to dislike the question.

I believe that we at should try to safeguard freedom of speech and at the same time protect people's feelings.
I propose to introduce a way of doing that:

When asking a question, the asker will have to tick one of these two alternatives:

"My question might be offensive to some and will be thus marked"

"To my knowledge my question is non-offensive"

The second alternative would always be default (no action necessary).

The question, when appearing on Page 1 or or in the KudoZ question list. It would look like this:

Warning.gif"This question might be considered offensive"size -1 >

Clicking the question thus marked, removes the possibility of squashing or criticizing the question for its being obscene, controversial or injurious.
The only remedy if the clicker is offended is the perennially present one:
Ignore the question

As Berni indicates, I would not hesitate to click any such question. I am a KudoZer by linguistic interest - not to pass judgement either on questions, askers or answerers and I wish that all members would embrace that view.

If my proposal would be realised, I think we could remove a lot of reasons for tension and also present a better image of our community.
To counteract the view that it might hurt our image, I'd suggest a number of texts, always present on public pages:

" is not responsible for any statement made on the site."

"Nobody is obliged to answer any KudoZ question. If you find a question offensive or lacking merit: Ignore it!"

"You should express views on lingistic matters, facts and views - but NOT on the person making the statement!"

In support of Kim's comment it would be very helpful if every question were automatically run through KOG (KudoZ Open Glossary) for matches before being made public.

A third suggestion of mine:
In order to remove the (conceived) problem of question overflow and to create fairness, only ONE LINE PER ASKER (on Page 1) would be permitted.
An icon would be used to indicate 'that this asker has posted several questions'. Clicking the icon, one would arrive at a list of the questions, like on the KudoZ questions page.
Thus, one asker would not 'occupy' the whole of the KudoZ box on Page 1.

In an ingenious community like there can be NO RIGHT VIEW OR EXPRESSION, only the golden opportunity of being able to air it and getting answers from all over the world, be it from professionals, so-called ones or real, students, ignorants, housewifes, jobless or even children.
"Separating the wheat from the chaff" is up to the individual reader - not to influential members, moderators or even the staff.

The only objective is the dispersion of knowledge, helping each other, broking jobs - all without anybode being hurt.

In line with such a policy I think the site policy of No politics is very wise


Mats J C Wiman
Übersetzer/Translator/Traducteur/Traductor > swe
( deu>swe & forum moderator)
eMail :
Street: Träsk 201
Post : S-872 97 Skog
Tel : +46-612-54112
Fax : +46-612-54181
Mobile: +46-70-5769797

[Edited at 2004-01-18 08:41]

[Edited at 2004-01-18 14:16]


Local time: 19:00
English to French
+ ...
At last Jan 18, 2004

someone put the debat on the right level.

I hope the staff at proz will read the posts with the same usual scrutinity.


Uldis Liepkalns  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:00
Member (2003)
English to Latvian
+ ...
Gore Vidal on bad words Jan 18, 2004

A recent decision of the Supreme. Court leaves to each community the right to decide what is pornography. Speaking for the majority of the Court, Chief Justice Warren Burger admitted that although no link has yet been found between the consumption of pornography and anti-social behavior, any community may assume that such a connection exists if it wants to in other words, an outraged community may burn a witch even though, properly speaking, witches do not exist.
The Court's decision. has of course alarmed and confused the peddlers of smut, who claim, disingenuously, that guidelines are now lacking. They complain that the elders of Drake, North Dakota, may object to the word 'damn' in a novel while the swingers of L.A. may want to read even worse words. Must the publisher, they ask, bring out two editions, one for permissive L.A. with the word 'damn' and another for high-toned Drake with the word 'darn'? Or settle the matter by publishing only for Drake?
This is a deep problem which I have solved. Wanting in every way to conform with the letter as well as the spirit of the Court's decision, I have carefully eliminated from this book those words that might cause distress to anyone. Since books are nothing but words, a book is pornographic if it contains 'bad' or 'dirty' words. Eliminate those 'bad' or 'dirty' words and you have made the work 'clean.'.
In this novel I have replaced the missing bad words with some very good words indeed: the names of the justices who concurred in the Court's majority decision. Burger, Rehnquist, Powell. Whizzer White and Blackmun fill, as it were, the breach; their names replace the 'bad' or 'dirty' words. I have also appropriated the names of Father Morton Hill S.J. and Mr. Edward Keating, two well-known warriors in the battle against smut. I believe that these substitutions are not only socially edifying and redemptive but tend to revitalize a language gone stale and inexact from too much burgering around with meaning.
(c) Gore Vidal, "Myron"




J. Leo (X)
Local time: 19:00
Dutch to English
+ ...
Burger-off! Jan 18, 2004

Who else but Gore Vidal could turn balls into Powells and penises into Rehnquists? Switching Myron Breckinridge to Myra in the book ´Myra Breckinridge´, and then back again with the sequel ´Myron´, was addressing overpopulation, the restoration of American values and the need to emasculate the American male powers-that-be in Hollywood, while the citation that Uldis includes hits Washington. I wonder what he’s done with today’s Powell and Bush combo. - may include the answer. A google search of ´Gore Vidal´ will certainly be an interesting source for this topic of censorship, among others. I recommend it. By the way, he’s a cousin of former Vice President Al Gore.
Thanks Uldis. I just returned from the States with as many of Vidal’s books as I could carry, having read ´Myron´ on the plane.

Censorship is an issue of power and control. The series of forum discussions in recent weeks/ months, have dealt with standards, ethics, unacceptable behavior and aggression among the members of this terrific website. I have followed them all with interest. I can only state my own position on these topics, which is simply a refusal to partake in the digital ´stone throwing´ of my fellow humans during a zeitgeist that is full of testosterone-induced desperation in our world.

For linguists there is a responsibility to use words, all of them, appropriately. Even as a psychologist, I would be less effective in dealing with my clients, who are from various socio-economic levels, if I weren’t allowed to use the language they know. Anyone telling me not to include ´fuck´ can just Burger-off.


Jane Lamb-Ruiz (X)  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
I agree with James Cauldfield Jan 18, 2004

No matter what anybody says, people speak the way they do...Some speech is particularly bothersome to some...Too bad. That's the way it goes...speech that is. And it's not only four letter words that are decried.

The other day I was told when trying to enter a Federal Building, that I should be quiet by the guard. I said I thought it would be useful to allow interpreters in front of the people waiting for appointments because interpreters are there to work on behalf of the US government. The guard and a girl in line told me to shut up. I kept my voice VERY EVEN and said I would not, that I had a right to free speech and that I thought it was ridiculous that people working ON BEHALF of the government has to wait in same line as those PETITIONING the government. It turned out that the security company, also working ON BEHALF, of the government, thought interpreters were hired by the immigrants petitioning the government. That's what one guard told me. I said, no, we are working for the government through an agency. So that shows you what the first guard thought re immigrants, perhaps.

Had the first guard continued to harass me, I would have continued to speak in an even and clear tone. There was just no way I was going to give in. However, he backed off when he saw I was not going to give up.

The question I ask of the guard is "Why does my expression my opinion on lines and entries into a building make you so mad?". That's a real issue. And sometimes, simple, albeit true issues enfuriate people. So, it's not just "indecent" language. Sometimes just asking certain questions are enough to cause anger.

Long live free speech!

[Edited at 2004-01-18 18:53]

[Edited at 2004-01-18 18:57]


Paul Roige (X)
Local time: 19:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
words, images, freedom Jan 18, 2004

It's all a matter of how you feel about yourself and the world. For me there's nothing awfully wrong with "f***", it's just a combination of letters, but then, voilà`, here I am using asterisks. Why? Well, Willy The Pear Tree Shaker says that there's nothing that's good or evil, thinking makes it so. So, I say f***, then I think, rats, couldn't I have used a different word? Got into "rats" lately, which for whatever reason brings to memory images of that cute mouse in The Green Mile, much cuter than whatever image f**** may ever bring up (somehow this word brings up images of horny helmeted Vikings pillaging Northumbrian villages and, well, I prefer the mouse really). I am thinking too of Captain Haddock's expletives, "bachi boozuk" (forgot spelling) et al, they're not a bad choice either, brings great memories too and people turn hilariously blank (but not offended) when I happen to utter it, rarely really.
And then there's the world out there. There are many people who feel offended when they hear the F word. Well, one can say "too bad, their problem" and that's OK. One can also say, well, I don't really want to offend people, makes me feel bad so I'll tone it down. It's not such a great deal, but it does help to make communication more fluent. That's the big problem with F*** and soundalikes, that tense moment of silence and doubt that may follow (it implies anger, unease, frustration, ...). Better make sure you know who you're talking with if you really need to use it.
Incidentally, we are all linguists here. We are expected to own a wealth of vocabulary... and to use it too!
Balance, that's all. Long live, ae, freedom of speech. I don't care for censorship. No one should tell us what to say and how to say it. Nothing should prevent us to use the F word, but, think, isn't there a better way to express ourselves? That's freedom too, and a helluva lot of it too.

[Edited at 2004-01-18 20:48]


Johanna Timm, PhD  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:00
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
The civilized approach... Jan 19, 2004

Paul Roigé wrote:
It's all a matter of how you feel about yourself and the world.
can also say, well, I don't really want to offend people, makes me feel bad so I'll tone it down. It's not such a great deal, but it does help to make communication more fluent.
Great attitude. Thanks!

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