Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Words to watch

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"Characterize", "describe"[edit]

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

"Stated" is a universally-agreed-upon neutral verb, but we use it so much that prose can suffer, so neutral synonyms are desirable. When somebody states that "X is like Y", I assume it's also neutral to say they're "describing" X as Y, or "characerizing" X as Y. Does either of these seem problematic? (Context: this was reverted, which surprised me. But the topic area is highly fraught.) Thanks. --Middle 8 (leave me alonetalk to meCOI?) 10:28, 4 July 2014 (UTC)

"Characterize" is not strictly a synonym for "describe". To characterize means to "define the character or identity of, to mark, distinguish; to be typical or characteristic" (OED). Thus it's a bit less direct than describe/call. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 10:44, 4 July 2014 (UTC)
A good synonym for "characterize" would be "demarcate", which is exactly what people do when they call something pseudoscience, which is why I thought it was a decent choice. (OED's cousin) defines "describe" as "Give an account in words of (someone or something), including all the relevant characteristics, qualities, or events", and defines "characterize" as "Describe the distinctive nature or features of", so they're pretty close. --Middle 8 (leave me alonetalk to meCOI?) 11:19, 4 July 2014 (UTC)
Demarcation is a different thing again: setting the dividing line between things. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 16:57, 4 July 2014 (UTC)
I shouldn't be saying "synonym" when I mean "cousin". "Characterize" isn't the same thing as "describe", but a "word to avoid" in this context? There's a sense of "less direct", but it's also more specific. It seems like a good choice, because it's got some.... characteristics in common with "demarcation". But I guess it seems too close to hedging and therefore not neutral. "Described" is probably better, and I think it's better than "stated".--Middle 8 (leave me alonetalk to meCOI?) 23:51, 4 July 2014 (UTC)
Maybe we should invite Roxy the dog to this discussion via WP:Echo so that Roxy the dog can elaborate on the reasons for reverting? Flyer22 (talk) 02:47, 5 July 2014 (UTC)
This showed up on my watchlist: "re two edits down -- "described" may be best fit, cf. MOS discussion Special:Diff/615612765/615634335"
Where is the agreement in this thread for the change? I prefer "found" but can live with "stated". QuackGuru (talk) 05:17, 5 July 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── On inspection, this isn't primarily a dispute over word choice, but about neutrality: to what extent does Wikipedia assert that acupuncture is pseudoscience (flavouring it so with words such as "found" or "noted") or suggest more that this is an opinion ("characterized", "described", etc.). I suggest that this perma-discussion is better continued on the Acupuncture article's Talk page. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 05:41, 5 July 2014 (UTC)

My reasons for reverting were clear in the edit summary. The difference between "stated" and "characterised" is not insignificant, the source did not characterise, it stated. The result, before my revert, allowed a little more wiggle room in the meaning of the sentence. Apart from improving the article, I just made a small repair to the dam, like putting a hand over a hole, just to help stem the tide of fringe pushing. -Roxy the dog (resonate) 07:51, 5 July 2014 (UTC)
For me, the distinction is a reflection of WP:ASF: assert simple facts. When an authoritative source (in this case an editorial in Nature) makes a statement that is not contradicted by another equally good source, we should be treating it as fact and reporting it in Wikipedia's voice, like this: "X is true". When there is significant disagreement between sources, then we neutrally report the opinions of the sources by attributing those opinions, like this: "A states X is true; but B states X is false". Sometimes we end up with "A states that X is true", which informs the reader within the prose of the source of that conclusion (even though the citation is easy enough to click on), but starts to mimic the construction we use for disputed conclusions. When the dispute is only among the editors, not among the reliable sources, I'd prefer to stick with ASF. A further change of "A stated X is Y", ("found" or "concluded" are useful alternatives for stylistic variation) to "A described X as Y" (or "characterised") emphasises the author rather than the conclusion and casts the statement even more as an opinion. --RexxS (talk) 10:48, 5 July 2014 (UTC)

Agree this would have been better at Talk:acupuncture (with perhaps a concurrent fork here), and with minor refactoring, have moved it there [1] -- see Talk:Acupuncture#.22Stated_it_is_X.22.2C_.22described_it_as_X.22 --Middle 8 (leave me alonetalk to meCOI?) 12:59, 5 July 2014 (UTC)

The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Human rights abuses[edit]

Are being added as a "contentious" label, which is obviously rubbish. If sources call something a human rights abuse then so would an article, there are nothing contentious about it. Darkness Shines (talk) 15:29, 11 July 2014 (UTC)

Proposed amendment to WP:LABEL section[edit]

The WP:LABEL section currently includes reference to the use of "pseudo-". We need to make a clarification regarding the term, "pseudoscience." The reason for this, is that the content guideline, WP:FRINGE (which has equal authority with this guideline) specifically discusses pseudoscience (in this section) and in general, obligates editors to "call a spade a spade", supported of course by reliable sources. Additionally, there is an Arbcom ruling on pseudoscience topics that explicitly authorizes use of the term "pseudoscience" in specified contexts. Therefore, I suggest that we add the following to this section:

"As per Per With regard to the term "pseudoscience": per the policy, Neutral point of view, pseudoscientific views "should be clearly described as such." Per the content guideline, Fringe theories, the term "pseudoscience" may be used to distinguish fringe theories from mainstream science, supported by reliable sources. In addition, there is an Arbcom ruling on pseudoscience topics that explicitly authorizes use of the term "pseudoscience" in specified contexts."

Is this OK with everyone? Very open to suggestions for improvement. Thanks. Jytdog (talk) 01:49, 22 July 2014 (UTC) (amended, per below Jytdog (talk) 02:20, 22 July 2014 (UTC)) (added reference to NPOV policy which also authorizes use of the term. Missed that Facepalm3.svg Facepalm Jytdog (talk) 13:03, 22 July 2014 (UTC))

I'm fine with your suggestion. Flyer22 (talk) 01:55, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
Thanks! I also want to note that "pseudoscience" was discussed on this Talk page before, here, among a limited number of participants. Jytdog (talk) 02:00, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
I'd prefer "Per" to "As per", but whatever. InedibleHulk (talk) 02:06, July 22, 2014 (UTC)
done, thanks! Jytdog (talk) 02:20, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
You're welcome. Consider me fine with it. InedibleHulk (talk) 02:50, July 22, 2014 (UTC)
A bit late to the party here. But I agree. A spade should be called a spade and pseudoscience should be called pseudoscience. NathanWubs (talk) 09:51, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
Thanks. Not late at all, I'm giving this a day to give folks a chance to weigh in, and will add it tonight if things continue this way. Jytdog (talk) 12:05, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
I am also late but agree. Go for it. Dougweller (talk) 13:10, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
Apparently I'm super late, but also in agreement with proposal. Yobol (talk) 14:30, 22 July 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── moving this into the guideline now. thanks again all. Jytdog (talk) 23:03, 22 July 2014 (UTC)

Note, in my ignorance, I included reference to Arbcom "authorizing" any sort of content. Struck that. Arbcom deals with behavior, not content. My apologies. Jytdog (talk) 01:57, 23 July 2014 (UTC)

Okay, you've solved that!

My question most often comes up in a personal context: "pseudoscientist. Material in article, cites, categories (!), etc. Let's assume that WP:BLP as been solved. Yes, astrology has been derided since the 19th century and before. Does that make, for example, Nancy Reagan, a "pseudoscientist"? I am annoyed by personal labels more than "objective" ones. Let us assume, for the moment, that the person did not spend but a fraction of their time on the pseudoscience; one-time, or peripheral occupation. I can even tolerate "Category: People who practice astrology". My annoyance is with "astrologist" for someone for whom that wasn't a fulltime occupation. Student7 (talk) 13:21, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

I am unaware of any policy or guideline on the term "pseudoscientist" and agree that appears to be problematic. It is not something I would use. Jytdog (talk) 13:50, 28 July 2014 (UTC)


The guide uses the word "claim" in "Claims about what people say..." but then later says that "Said, stated, described, wrote, and according to are almost always neutral and accurate." Why isn't the guide following its own prescription and using "Statements" instead of "Claims"? I think we should resolve this contradiction by dialling back the assertion that "said" etc is "almost always neutral and accurate". if the claim is outrageous/contradicted etc in my books using the word "claim" would be more "neutral and accurate" than use of a word that would imply a false parity with better evidenced statements. In my experience WP:CLAIM is used to argue that "claim" may never be used. This should be left to case-be-case considerations.--Brian Dell (talk) 23:42, 3 August 2014 (UTC)

The words to watch section is not a list of words that are banned, only ones that require care and thought. If you encounter people who are applying the advice rigidly, maybe send them to the lead of this guideline? A search for the use of "...claimed that...", for instance, shows that it's still used tens of thousands of times on Wikipedia so it doesn't seem to be in danger of extinction.__ E L A Q U E A T E 00:06, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
Well then either there needs to be a purge of most of those instances or "almost always neutral and accurate" to use different language is an overstatement, no? "Almost always" is a high hurdle that invites a dispute every time one deviates from that and it pretty hard to argue with "almost always", never mind that it is actually quite frequent that someone is making a dubious, unverified "claim" as opposed to an uncontroversial "statement." In my view, this section should focus on being descriptive, making sure that readers understand what claimed means, as opposed to being as prescriptive as it is. The language used should simply be appropriate to the nature of the remark.--Brian Dell (talk) 14:52, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
Most uses of "claimed" still have an attribution of opinion problem. Your rationale for using the verb "claim" seems to be to impart a sense of "dubious, unverified" in Wikipedia's voice. While that characterization may be arguably "true", it is usually better to have that attributed somehow than as an unattributed reflection of editor opinion. "Claimed", in the sense you want to use it, is a bit of editorializing (whether justified by the situation or not) and if someone is saying that a statement is dubious, the readers should have a chance to see who it is that believes it is dubious. It's usually better to have X said 'Y'. This other reliable source doubts 'Y'. than it is to have the fuzzier X claims 'Y'.__ E L A Q U E A T E 15:38, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
And as far as "almost always" goes: Saying a particular option is generally good, is not the same as saying all other options are bad. Using "said" does happen to be almost always good. If "claimed" has an editorial component, it probably should require a bit more work to convince people to use. Otherwise we have a lot more "The subject claims to have been born in Kansas." which does nothing but confuse a general reader and cast the subject as a suspected liar. If there's reason to suspect a fib, that doubt should usually be elaborated on from attributed sources, not fuzzily implied with Wikipedia's voice.__ E L A Q U E A T E 15:38, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
Replacing "almost always" with "generally" sounds good to me. Editors are taking the current reading to mean other options are bad. It's like primary sources in that many editors don't bother getting to Wikipedia:PRIMARYNOTBAD, they find a rule of thumb and run with it. In my experience, I haven't encountered a lot of "The subject claims to have been born in Kansas." What I have encountered is POV pushers who demand that dubous propaganda be treated the same as solidly sourced material. It creates a false parity, in my view. The doubt usually is elaborated on in my experience in that it's evident to the reader why the claim is doubtful. In any case, the AP and NYT style books etc don't seem to be nearly as afraid of "claimed" as Wikipedia's. Simply following RS will mean a lot of "claims" flow through into Wikipedia. Using editorial judgment to spin that to "statements" is arguably inserting ourselves between the sources and the reader.--Brian Dell (talk) 18:46, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
If an editor thinks something's "dubious propaganda" that's fine, but "claim" doesn't usually indicate who made that judgement. You identify that using certain words could frame a statement as not being as dubious as an editor may find it, but I think that's vastly superior to the dangers of framing people as very probably dishonest without attribution. You can argue that both "said" and "claimed" have editorial connotations, but one is pretty flat and the other usually indicates that people have had serious doubts about the statement. "Claimed" means more OR and unattributed editorial on the part of editors, whether or not editors believe it's justified outside of sourcing. Anything to do with Wikipedia:PRIMARYNOTBAD just indicates that people sometimes don't follow guidance. That's fine, and won't change if the guidance changes; the guidance should indicate best practice whether individual editors follow it too rigidly (or not rigidly enough) on occasion. I think your proposed change makes it slightly easier for the same people to make negative editorial points without attribution, which is arguably less helpful for the project as a whole than encouraging more unattributed doubt-casting.__ E L A Q U E A T E 19:58, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
I strongly disagree that passing judgement on a source's reliability is OR. If we do anything on Wikipedia besides just copy and paste, it's make decisions about what's RS and what is not. We should be self-conscious about that gatekeeping we do. I think it's often better to include a marginal RS and transparently flag it to the reader as marginal than not include that contention at all because it doesn't make our cut. I think this is constraining our flexibility to present material, essentially demanding a black/white cutoff between what's RS (and therefore should be presented with language that doesn't suggest any doubts about how R it is) and what's not RS. What's R is on a continuum and in my view it should accordingly be left to local consensus whether "claim" is an accurate reflection of the source's place on the continuum. If "claimed" is "almost always" out, then "reportedly" ought to be binned as well, no? What's the point of adding "reportedly" if not to imply a lack of verification? A tool shouldn't be thrown out just because it's occasionally misused. I also think "very probably dishonest" is an overstatement. Webster's definition of "claim" is " to say that (something) is true when some people may say it is not true". Nothing about the speaker being "dishonest" there, could be as benign as a Blind men and an elephant difference of perspective.--Brian Dell (talk) 02:36, 5 August 2014 (UTC)
Using "said" or "claimed" has nothing to do with whether a source is considered reliable, or whether a source can be used. The idea that "claimed" is a way to mark something as "dubious" was not my idea originally, but I agree that many people take it that way. If people didn't have that connotation with the word, even in benign uses, then it probably would have never been added to the guideline as a word we recommend only using with special care and thoughtful intention. But it does, so we do.__ E L A Q U E A T E 03:37, 5 August 2014 (UTC)
So we don't follow the dictionary definition because readers don't follow the dictionary definition? That'a a large statement, not least because it's far from clear that readers don't follow the dictionary definition. If "Using "said" or "claimed" has nothing to do with whether a source is considered reliable" then I fail to see how using "claimed" unfairly suggests unreliability. If "claimed" DOES have something to do with reliability, then it's not unfair to use "claimed" when the source is of dubious reliability. We make decisions all the time about whether we think a particular source should be trusted. Instead of just doing that behind the curtain, put stuff out there with our verdicts still attached so our decisions are transparent. I'll add that in my books acting with "special care and thoughtful intention" means assessing on a case-by-case basis instead of of applying some broad rule. Having said all that I appreciate you having explored this issue with me.--Brian Dell (talk) 05:17, 5 August 2014 (UTC)
It seems to me that the word "claim" pops up when one editor has been forced to back away from a WP:FRINGE argument, in other words, the editor has failed to make a case against total deletion of a statement. Not "Horses can fly(cite)" but "Ancients claimed that horses could fly(cite)". Perhaps better construed as "Heptarcus reported that horses once flew.(cite) This perhaps came from the ancients discovering large fossils with obvious wings which....(cite)" In other words, there is really two sides to the story. Horses still don't fly, but Wikipedia can report the facts without violating WP:FRINGE (for example).
Except there may really be two close-to-identical counter arguments which deserve equal treatment. But one editor is holding out for "Smith claimed that horses can't fly(cite Smith) but the ancients knew they could(cite)." Student7 (talk) 01:10, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

Collateral damage and ethnic cleansing[edit]

See Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Words to watch/Archive 3#Ethnic cleansing and Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Words to watch/Archive 3#collateral damage and Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Words to watch/Archive 3#RfC on collateral damage and ethnic cleansing Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Words to watch/Archive 4#Collateral damage and ethnic cleansing

I propose to remove "ethnic cleansing" and "collateral damage" from the section "Euphemisms" as neither term "lacks precision" (see the previous sections listed above in the talk page archives for more details on this. -- PBS (talk) 14:40, 21 August 2014 (UTC)

  • I object. We should never use mealy-mouthed euphemisms to disguise or legitimise mass murder. --John (talk) 15:50, 21 August 2014 (UTC)
A fair bit of "collateral damage" killings could more reasonably be prosecuted as manslaughter, deadly negligence or recklessness (assuming these things went to court). Especially when the main target is a bridge, generator or other structure. If we don't even know what crimes are under the disguise, it clearly lacks precision.
Ethnic cleansing is every bit as rhetorically backwards as cleaning somebody's clock, wiping a village off the map, mopping up stragglers or taking "the bath". In case I'm not clear, that's a bigger bit than a "fair bit". InedibleHulk (talk) 17:16, August 21, 2014 (UTC)
"Clear the field", "polish him off", "wipe the floor with her". InedibleHulk (talk) 17:24, August 21, 2014 (UTC)

See Ethnic Cleansing#Definitions

In reviewing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Bosnian Genocide Case in the judgement of Jorgic v. Germany on 12 July 2007 the European Court of Human Rights quoted from the ICJ ruling on the Bosnian Genocide Case to draw a distinction between ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It [i.e. ethnic cleansing] can only be a form of genocide within the meaning of the [Genocide] Convention, if it corresponds to or falls within one of the categories of acts prohibited by Article II of the Convention. Neither the intent, as a matter of policy, to render an area “ethnically homogeneous”, nor the operations that may be carried out to implement such policy, can as such be designated as genocide: the intent that characterizes genocide is “to destroy, in whole or in part” a particular group, and deportation or displacement of the members of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group, nor is such destruction an automatic consequence of the displacement. This is not to say that acts described as 'ethnic cleansing' may never constitute genocide, if they are such as to be characterized as, for example, 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part', contrary to Article II, paragraph (c), of the Convention, provided such action is carried out with the necessary specific intent (dolus specialis), that is to say with a view to the destruction of the group, as distinct from its removal from the region. As the ICTY has observed, while 'there are obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as 'ethnic cleansing' ' (Krstić, IT-98-33-T, Trial Chamber Judgment, 2 August 2001, para. 562), yet '[a] clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide. |ECHR quoting the ICJ.[1]

  1. ^ ECHR Jorgic v. Germany §45 citing Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro (“Case concerning the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”) the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found under the heading of “intent and 'ethnic cleansing'” § 190

The Final Report of the Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 defined ethnic cleansing as "a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas."

Ethnic cleansing is not an euphemism for genocide or mass murder it is one group removing "by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas". The violence may lead to crimes against humanity and genocide but ethic cleansing is not an euphemism for either term any more than "war" is a euphemism for mas murder or genocide. -- PBS (talk) 20:34, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

@InedibleHulk: see the article military necessity, along with distinction and proportionality and the comments made by Luis Moreno-Ocampo 2006 that starts "Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does not in itself constitute a war crime." I do not see how your comments have anything to do with the use of collateral damage in an article. Collateral damage is a dictionary phrase it does not mask civilian casualties as the phrase covers the incidental destruction of property and the killing and maiming of non-combatants. Whether the destruction of property and the harming of non-combatants is a war crime depends on military necessity and proportionality. So in what way does the use of collateral damage in an article mask civilian deaths? -- PBS (talk) 20:34, 22 August 2014 (UTC)
It's not exactly a mask, just a softener. "Damage" implies they weren't human (like how "target" works for the people they wanted to kill), and "collateral" implies they're beside the point. Easier to ennumerate using plain English, too. "The operation involved significant collateral damage" is one thing, but if we know the toll, far easier to say "The operation inadvertently killed six people, injured ten and destroyed two buildings." Does it work as a verb, "collaterally damaged"? Not sure if your first quote is because you think I think killing civilians is always a war crime, but no, I don't. InedibleHulk (talk) 23:49, August 24, 2014 (UTC)
Wasn't Timothy McVeigh a great fan of the phrase? I am not. I understand your arguments but I do not agree with them. --John (talk) 08:21, 23 August 2014 (UTC)
I fail to understand the significance of anything that Timothy McVeigh may or may not have said. Do you consider "mass forcible transfers" to be an euphemism for genocide? If not, why do you consider ethnic cleansing to be an euphemism for genocide? -- PBS (talk) 10:42, 23 August 2014 (UTC)