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Let's not hide it - it is just common language. Many people do call their friends "b * * * * * s" or "m * * * * rf * * * * rs", and there is no negative context to it.

The iOS autocorrect feature does not (at least in Polish) include popular swear words used on daily basis by many people. The T9 dictionary on my old Nokia e52 did not include them either. I don't know how it is on Android or Windows Phone, or other feature phones (never tested), or desktop system spell-checkers. but a question arises:

If swear words are popular, and thus they are a inescapable part of everyday language, should they be included in autocorrect/spell-check dictionaries by default? Or is the correctness more important?

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Well, while I do agree on the fundamental layer, this question is totally not wbout what is correct and what is not. Habits are not always correct, and let's not forget users belong to various groups and thus have various habits. Some will say "Hi, Sam" the others "Yo, mfckr." I'm just wondering if this group needs should be considered as well. –  Dominik Oslizlo May 18 '13 at 21:09
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"Inseparable part of everyday language"? Excuse me? Whose language? Maybe if you find yourself in a community that lacks the verbal skills to express themselves without using swear words, but they are most certainly not an inseparable part of everyday language in any community that I have had the pleasure of being a part of over the last 51 years. –  Marjan Venema May 19 '13 at 9:30
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Certainly where I live, swearwords are used all of the time. I am not offended by swearwords, and will occasionally use them myself (generally to express frustration, etc). I think to dismiss the discussion as 'uncivilised' is trying to impress your individual exposure to the world as absolute truth. The fact this discussion seems to polarise opinion, I think, is reason enough for a civilised discussion. –  Brendon May 19 '13 at 10:06
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@Brendon and Dominik: I am not so much offended by swear words as I am stumped/flabbergasted/stupefied by their users inability to express themselves without resorting to them. Swearing is a learned behaviour and hardly ever necessary. Rants against someone or something often make much more of an impression when the ranter paints a picture using a varied vocabulary, than when the ranter just strings swear words together. In my view that is just as much a weakness as resorting to violence is. –  Marjan Venema May 19 '13 at 16:28
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I have never seen a (sub-)culture which held in high esteem both the use of swearwords and correct spelling. –  Rumi P. Aug 14 '13 at 12:02
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4 Answers

There's two factors here; the first is brand image, the second is that autocorrect isn't perfect, and mistakenly swearing at people is a pretty city thing to do.

First and foremost, brands want to project an image. That's probably why, aside from legal concerns, Youtube doesn't allow pornography. Legal issues aside, Youtube can't be taken seriously by a large number of people if it suddenly becomes the largest porn site. Like porn, swearing is something the majority of companies don't want to be professionally associated with, particularly in the US (but certainly not exclusive to the US).

Including those words seems like a UX win for those trying to use them, but it's also an implicit endorsement of their existence (or it seems like one to some people). It's the sort of thing where all it takes is one soccer mom and a bored headline writer and suddenly you have APPLE THINKS YOUR FRIENDS ARE F*CKERS or FOUL MOUTHED GOOGLE KILLS CIVILITY WITH ANDROID OPERATING SYSTEM.

Now, some brands are much more relaxed than that. Some don't want the family-friendly appearance Google and Apple have to keep up, but for the most part if you're shipping an operating system you probably have to worry about broad appeal too much to include swearing out of the box.

Secondly, Autocorrect doesn't always work. It screws up a lot, actually. If Autocorrect included swears out-of-the-box there can result in some very nasty mistaken corrections like Hey I'm at the park feeding these f*cks. Which would accelerate the mockery and headlines mentioned above.

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Plus the corollary: we're getting some spectacular new euphemisms for swear words. "Duck" is (at least in some circles) now a recognisable euphemism for it's more vulgar cousin. –  Kit Grose May 21 '13 at 1:24
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+1 "mistakenly swearing at people is a pretty city thing to do." –  Koviko Jul 9 '13 at 22:11
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No, for the simple reason that though you might have users who enjoy using terms like that as ways of endearment, there is always going to be a user base which is going to be offended.

Also another reason is that texting is often done on the fly and there are numerous examples of where people have typed something else and autocorrect messed it up resulting in a totally different meaning. Check out Damn you autocorrect. For example, I might be typing Fun but autocorrect might make it fu*k and if I accidentally send it, you suddenly have a big cause of concern or I might potentially shock someone.

Another reason is culture and a lot of cultures would react negatively to such terms being found or even displayed as suggestions in the autocomplete dictionary. Here is an except from a news article where a woman was sentenced to 50 lashings for using swear words while texting

A Saudi court sentenced a local woman to 50 lashes for swearing at her friend, following an argument, a newspaper reported on Monday.

The two Saudi women, aged 33 and 31 years, had decided to go out with their children for a weekend night but differed on where to go.

“An argument ensued and the two women decided to split … one of them later sent a text to her friend’s mobile phone swearing at her,” the Arabic language quotidian Kabar reported.

“The other woman went to court and showed the judge the message … although that woman said she was joking, the court ordered her lashed 50 times.

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Giving such absolute answers are dangerous as the right answer, in this case is likely to depend on the context of use. If it's part of a school website or pre-teen application then correcting swear words is vital. If it's part of an open frank discussion then there are times swear words are vital. –  Stewart Dean May 20 '13 at 8:56
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If such words are used often, it would be handy to have them in the autocomplete lists. However, UX is more complicated than simple mechanics of efficiency.

The brands releasing such software would want to prevent any association with this kind of language. Having swear words in autocomplete features could suggest that Apple or any other organization supports and encourages their usage. Any such association damages their image and might affect user's appreciation of the product. The reality may be that f*** is so commonly used that typing anything that starts with an f will make it show up as a suggestion. This has to have an affect on the impression the product makes. While it's somewhat ok for autocomplete software to be dumb, it's probably not a good idea to make it both dumb and offensive.

In fact, as Deer Hunter helpfully illustrated, for every user helped with a quickly auto-completed swear word, there will be many offended users. Sometimes quite severely offended.

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Although I don't necessarily agree with including swearwords by default, I will play devil's advocate and say yes, swearwords should be included.

I think the first, most important reason is that swearwords are extremely common words. It is estimated that 0.5-0.7% of spoken words are swearwords -- that's about 90 words per day. For comparison, the common words 'we', 'us' and 'our' are used 1% of the time . So a typical SMS user may be expected to use swearwords a couple of times per day. Not autocorrecting swearwords could be seen as annoying 99% of users, to avoid offending a 1% minority.

If we can have some way of ensuring that users definitely do want to use swearwords, we should not stop them. If the user types 'b******s' accurately, I think we would agree that it should not be changed to 'badgered'. This is how Android seems to work. But suppose the user mistyped one character: should we autocorrect it? Well, if we have data which suggests that the user did want to type the swear word, I do not think we should. That data could be, for example, the user having used the swear word in past SMS messages.

Of course, there will be some people who are offended by swear words. At very least, I think the user should be given the option to enable swearword autocorrection if they wish. Perhaps there could be an 'automatic' option which disables such autocorrect by default, but enables it automatically if the user frequently uses profane words in their messages.

I would make one last point about the differences in attitudes about swearing between different age groups and cultures. It is my understanding that, in general, swearing is seen as more offensive in the United States than it is in the United Kingdom, for example. In the UK, research by Ofcom (about swearing on TV) demonstrates that 93% of 18-34 year olds find swearing acceptable in certain circumstances; for 55+, the figure is 49%. This may be interpreted that swearing is becoming more socially acceptable in modern times.

1 Jay, T. (2009) The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 4 (2), 153–161. URL: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pps/4_2_inpress/Jay.pdf

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Few problems with the logic. First, if 0.5% of words that are spoke are swearing, what is the percentage for written communication? Writing and speaking are different mediums with different uses. Second, what is a "swear"? What constitutes a naughty word? Third, while common use of alcohol is to get drunk, it is not distributed freely to the public, because of the negative outcomes on certain populations. Why is this different for naughty language? Finally, what is so g*damn hard about turning on the option / adding the word? We're talking about DEFAULT settings not overall restrictions. –  David Clarke May 19 '13 at 18:59
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@DavidClarke 1. I suspect slightly less than 0.5% but I still think they are quite common. 2. There's some examples in the reference. 3. Totally different concepts. Why should I be restricted in my choice of words in private correspondence? 4. What's so hard about turning off the option? –  Brendon May 19 '13 at 21:14
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What's so hard about turning off the option? Nothing. However, I shouldn't have to configure any device I purchase to be "kid appropriate" - it should be that way out of the box. –  David Clarke May 20 '13 at 1:26
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