Wikipedia talk:Words to avoid/Archive 4

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giving power to the person currently editing the dictionary

Does anyone understand this sentence?

"Often, sects follow guidelines that undergo some slow modification over time while cults follow charismatic leaders or written doctrine that never changes, giving all power to the person currently editing the dictionary."

This has been in here since April 2002, so I guess it must mean something, but I have no idea what that might be. Is it a joke that's survived for 5 1/2 years?

Joriki (talk) 21:02, 6 January 2008 (UTC)

Well, I can parse that for you but I am not sure what place it has in the MOS. It is saying that sects show some flexibility or change or growth in their doctrine (as it responds to changing conditions in the society or the needs of the members, I imagine) but that cults do not exhibit that but instead have a static or dictatorial structure. The bit about the dictionary is probably a stab at Scientology and David Miscavige (i.e. Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary, see Scientology terminology) . . . or maybe not. Guess that whole thing is someone's opinion. --JustaHulk (talk) 21:03, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
Might be part of this succession which you just removed. It should be removed, it's hardly very clear or helpful. - Zeibura (Talk) 21:16, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
I did not much look at it but that whole little backdoor sub-article on cults raised a red flag for me and I wondered why the MOS was expounding on the subject of cults. --JustaHulk (talk) 21:34, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
Actually, after seeing the line in context, I imagine the dictionary bit simply means that the distinction between whether a group is a "controversial cult" or just a "sect" comes down to whomever is editing the dictionary. Anywho, it is a very OR-ish bit that serves no real purpose in an MOS and I removed it along with a similar OR-ish and unneeded line. --JustaHulk (talk) 19:46, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

Slight dispute over "common errors"

  • Many people think that dolphins are fish, however, this is not true. They are mammals.

While this may be true, it is irrelevant what "many people" think.

Not necessarily. If statements like this can be sourced and are notable errors then they should be included in articles, and perhaps expanded on. Without sourcing, statements like this are useless, but have a look at the lead in dinosaur where it mentions the misconception that the pterodactyl is a dinosaur, or in techno which mentions the term being used excessively as an encompassment of all electronic dance music. Both of these are "common errors" but they are verifiable and notable, and will add more clarity to readers of articles who know little about the topic.

Obviously, "many people think" is pretty terrible wording, but the principle of including common errors isn't always a bad idea. - Zeibura (Talk) 18:53, 18 January 2008 (UTC)


I propose we add

The word controversy may be used to promote a minority view by encouraging the reader to believe significant doubt exists, for example in the phrase "scientific controversy". Controversy may indeed exist in the general public on an issue which is not controversial in the science community. An example would be evolution. But unless a significant number of scientists hold the view the word controversy should be avoided. A similar line of reasoning applies to other fields.

Mccready (talk) 00:15, 12 February 2008 (UTC)

Scientists simply do not have a lock on controversy. We can't eliminate all words which might in context indicate the wrong thing. When the word controversy is used, it must be put in proper context. In a well-written article, there is nothing wrong with its use. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:16, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
Martinphi reverted this without discussion. The words he removed were
The word controversy is sometimes used to promote a minority view by encouraging the reader to believe significant doubt exists, for example in the phrase "scientific controversy". Controversy may indeed exist in the general public on an issue which is not controversial in the science community. An example would be evolution. But unless a significant number of scientists hold the view the word controversy should be avoided. A similar line of reasoning applies to other fields.
Martinphi opines that "Scientists simply do not have a lock on controversy". This is irrelevant, even if true. He then suggests that it must be put in proper context in a well-written article. The point of my edit which he reverted was indeed to provide that context. Martinphi, would you care to rewrite the proposal to provide a guideline as you see it? Thank you. Mccready (talk) 02:33, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
There are any number of words which could be used to promote a minority view. But the term is as often used to indicate that a fringe view is in controversy with non-fringe as the other way around. Controversy itself is a neutral word, and it remains neutral as long as the source of the controversy is explicated. If the controversy is not notable, it should not be mentioned. Where people are POV pushing, they may use the word controversy, but that is a matter to be dealt with by NOTABILITY. Otherwise, the word controversy is often used explicitly to promote NPOV, because it does not itself designate the nature of the controversy, or which side is right. It's an intrinsically very NPOV word, and like all NPOV words can be used to POV push. As such, it does not belong here. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:42, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
There's no rush to add this section. (Martinphi actually didn't rv without discussion; his reply above was made one minute before his revert, and it's good to be cautious about changing guidelines.)
I can see Mccready's logic, but I'm also not sure we need the proposed section. As Martinphi says, use of the term is not a problem as long as we show the source of controversy (whether that source used the exact term should not be an issue and left to editorial discretion). Between WP:V and WP:WEIGHT (cf. Jimbo Wales quote re majority, sig minority etc.), it seems to me WP already has this issue covered. I don't see the term being misused at intelligent design, for example; editors take care to make sure false equivalences are avoided, while properly depicting the spheres (e.g., education and politics) in which there is controversy.
Additionally, I wouldn't want this guideline to imply that a view held by a prominent minority could not be described as controversial, so the text would have to at the very least be revised to reflect that. regards, Jim Butler (t) 05:58, 15 February 2008 (UTC)

Those interested in ts discussion may wish to comment on a related RfC that I have filed at Talk:Fibromyalgia. Dlabtot (talk) 05:31, 15 February 2008 (UTC)

Jim, and others, do you have a problem with the words I proposed? If so, could you please suggest revisions here to meet your concerns. Mccready (talk) 07:51, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
It's not have a problem with the wording, it's that I totally disagree with your underlying premises and see absolutely no justification whatsoever in adding this. Dlabtot (talk) 08:11, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree, especially as per Jim Butler. There isn't a need for this. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 08:21, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
Dlabtot, I don't know what you mean by "underlying premises." Wikipedia, except in exceptional circumsatnces is not about voting, so could you explain your reasons. Martinphi, you seem to misunderstand Jim's position. He said "the text would have to at the very least be revised to reflect that." I ask you to contribute to that revision. Thank you both.Mccready (talk) 09:24, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
Hi Mccready, actually, I think you might not be understanding my position. The main point is that I'm dubious about including a section on the word "controversy" at all ... but if we did, it would have to be reworded to cover sig minority views, and as I think about it, also NPOV vs SPOV. If you want to change something major like a guideline, you need to persuade other editors why. Does the material you want to add clarify more than it confuses? Does it add anything beyone what NPOV and VER already say? --Jim Butler (t) 21:45, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
As I already explained, you haven't provided any valid reason, that I can see, that "controversy" should be a "Word to avoid".
Let me just ask you explicitly: Why should the word "controversy" be avoided?
As far as 'underlying premises', if you want to know what it means, look here. Dlabtot (talk) 17:40, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
For a little context, not even looking at article content, here just a few of the hundreds of articles that use the word "controversy" in their title:
Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy
Water fluoridation controversy
Karmapa controversy
Adnan Hajj photographs controversy
Arctic Refuge drilling controversy
Thiomersal controversy
Hockey stick controversy
Vaccine controversy
Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy
Electric Dylan controversy
10 Agorot controversy
Biscuit Fire publication controversy
John Kerry VVAW controversy
Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
Global warming controversy
British Airways cross controversy
Native American mascot controversy
Redbud Woods controversy
New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy
Pantheism controversy
Arian controversy
Rotvoll controversy
The Archpriest Controversy
Firestone and Ford tire controversy
Joe Horn shooting controversy
The Great Stirrup Controversy
The Old Side-New Side Controversy
2002 FIFA World Cup hosting controversy
There are many, many, many more. Dlabtot (talk) 18:57, 15 February 2008 (UTC)
Yes, the word is too endemic if nothing else. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 03:24, 16 February 2008 (UTC)
Controversy? There shouldn't be any problem at all using the word. After all, this is an encyclopaedia, and surely if there are any controversies at all we must stand outside the fray and cite both sides of a controversy. Not doing that is where we at times go wrong here in Wikipedia. We appear to take sides by either ignoring one side or the other or even coming down heavily on one side or the other. It is our task as encyclopaedists to show all valid opinions, and if we don't, we are failing in that task.
As long as we make it clear, that none of what is being cited is anything to do with our own opinion, but that it is so-and-so's opinion, and and that there is another side to the argument, we should cover ourselves as Wikipedia members. However, it is our right writing an encyclopaedia to bring into an article all that is being presented by all responsible sides, especially if they are scientific ones. Since we don't do our own research we have no way of knowing whether, especially scientific, opinions are valid or not and which one is necessarily the correct one. All we do is cite what is out there. Dieter Simon (talk) 20:53, 16 February 2008 (UTC)
Well said, except it should be notable (WP:NOTABILITY) opinions, not "valid opinions" or "responsible sides". ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 07:01, 17 February 2008 (UTC)
  • Unless and until WP:FRINGE or the arbitration decision against pseudoscience comes into play. The opinions and beliefs of the fringe may be dismissed as absurd. Their opinions need not be treated as valid, even if they are notable.Kww (talk) 02:35, 18 February 2008 (UTC)
Given the above discussion, and my thanks for it, would someone like to modify the proposed words to take into account the points made. For exmaple, the article says "The term "scandal" should not be used at all in article titles on current affairs, except in historical cases". Similarly, wouldn't it be wise to say "The term "controversy" should not be used at all in article titles on current affairs, except in notable or historical cases."? Mccready (talk) 10:10, 17 February 2008 (UTC)
Why not? Dlabtot (talk) 03:02, 18 February 2008 (UTC)

I was asked to comment here. I see no problem with the word "controversy," because it simply implies that there has been troubled or unresolved debate. McCready makes a good point that the word shouldn't be overused to describe tempests in a teapot. It also shouldn't be used when unambiguously unreliable, fringe sources (and I stress "unambigously") have objections to something they're not in a position to judge. For example, it would be wrong to say there is "controversy" over the idea of man-made global warming just because the LaRouche movement doesn't like it, but it is fair to say there's "controversy" if more serious, non-scientific groups make objections that are published by reliable sources.

The problem with McCready's proposed addition is that it gives one community a monopoly over whether the word is being used appropriately, but the idea of a "reliable source" extends beyond any given community. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 06:57, 18 February 2008 (UTC)

I think McCready's point is valid, and this isn't just a list of words to avoid but also a guideline on proper usage of certain words even if they are commonly used. I would say everything above boils down to WP:WEIGHT, part of the NPOV policy. I would word it to that effect and say:

The word "controversy" should be avoided when there are no reliable sources to indicate that there is a significant controversy concerning the topic. According to the NPOV policy, we should not attempt to represent a dispute as if a view held by a small minority deserved as much attention as a majority view. This includes the view that a topic is controversial, if that view is held by a small minority.

That covers pretty much anything and is according to policy. --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:32, 26 March 2008 (UTC)

"Controversy" is IMO a special case of something that I think would improve this guideline. This may or may not be in support of no-no #3, "Imply that Wikipedia shows support or doubt regarding a viewpoint". I would say: "Controversy", "uproar", "argument" (and their adjectives), and thousands of other words can support the idea that something is more important than the sources say it is. Don't describe a routine police patrol as a "stakeout", or hair removal as an "operation". Don't choose words that convey a false sense of importance, urgency, or danger. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 01:05, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
P.S. I realize that "hair removal" is a little goofy, but I'm trying to get across the idea with just a few words that we're not talking just about words like "controversy" that have an obvious meaning; every situation has special words that can mean "an important or urgent case", and we can't possibly make a list. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 11:46, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Proposed addition to "Words that may advance a point of view"


Avoid using solution to refer to products, services, software or a combination of these things. This usage, while common in advertising circles, inherently advances the viewpoint that the offered product or service actually solves the problem it is intended to solve. "Solution" used in this context should be replaced with specific types of products, or more concrete descriptive terms such as "software and support".

I consider the use of "solution" in this manner to be a per se violation of WP:NPOV, and one of the surest indicators of spam. And it really, really, really, really, REALLY bugs me. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 17:19, 20 February 2008 (UTC)

Hear, hear. "Solution" in this sense is mush-mouthed marketing-speak and is not usefully used to describe anything in reality. --FOo (talk) 08:05, 28 March 2008 (UTC)

Use of the word 'Terrorist'

What is the point of not allowing the use of this word? The word Terrorist has a clear definition in the dictionary, by blocking it you are denieing the opprotunity to present facts on this encyclopedia. The English language has no other precise word for the intentional political killing of uninvolved civilians. If you bring a reliable source that states that a person or group have commited a crime that fit the dictionary's definition of terrorism, it would simply be untruthfull not to use the word terrorist or terrorism to describe that person/group/act.AviLozowick 13:33, 22 February, 2008 (UTC)

"Intentional political killing of uninvolved civilians"? That can occur outside the context of terrorism, and terrorism can occur without politics, killing, or civilians, though by definition, its victims are always involved. Without looking it up, I'd guess that a terrorist is a person who engages in or advocates illegal acts intended to change the behavior of a community by intimidating it. On the other hand, when a dictator, revolutionary leader, religious demagogue, paterfamilias, or gangster engages in such illegal activities, he's not called a terrorist. By its usage and by current events, the word has acquired political connotations. Unfree (talk) 23:08, 24 February 2008 (UTC)
This mixes examples of political (the first 1 and maybe the next 2 or your examples) and non-political (the last 2). Maybe "intentional political crime against uninvolved civilians" would be better. But why are we arguing about the nuances of the definition, rather than the policy of blocking the usage altogether? IMO, "terrorist", with a sufficiently SPECIFIC definition, ought to be as legitimate in WP as "controversy" [about which there is also discussion, in the other direction]. If the policy comes down to a recognition that there IS no widely recognized, specific, and denotative ("unloaded") definition, then I guess we are stuck with it. But does it? (talk) 03:45, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

A terrorist is instilling fear in a person or group to get what it wants. Often this is done through violence. When an institute such as a government is terrorizing, the state is probably a tyrannical state. The usage of terrorist nowadays is corrupted by the 9-11 attacks and the USA etc etc. In Europe at least. Before that no one was making trouble when the PLO was called a terrorist organisation. The word is corrupted in the sense that terrorists are absolute monsters that have no families and no conscience. There is always another side of the medaillon. Fact is, like someone mentioned earlier, there is no other word for practices like terrorism. Mallerd (talk) 19:12, 12 May 2008 (UTC)

There was an edit today at WP:Words to avoid#Article title over use of the word "terrorism". I don't take a position, except the position that contentious topics need to stay in their own section (the section on "terrorist") and not spill over into unrelated sections ("Article title"). Btw, the implication was that Wikipedia thinks that "Islamic terrorism" exists but not other kinds of religious terrorism; you can see that's false from Religious terrorism, and the links to Jewish terrorism (also known as Kahanism), Christian terrorism and Islamic terrorism.


"Majority" (not in the sense of "over a certain age") should not be used to refer to uncountable things, like amounts of liquids. I hear phrases like "the majority of the asphalt used", but "most" means what the speaker intends (and can be used with both numbers and amounts), whereas "majority" means "more than half the number of," where "number" is countable. The distinction between amounts (or "measures"), which must be associated with conventional units of measurement (such as grams), and numbers -- of countable things, like kangaroos -- seems to be lost on many people. Unfree (talk) 22:18, 24 February 2008 (UTC)

And when used about people or opinion, it needs sourcing. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 09:08, 28 March 2008 (UTC)
Even when sourced about people or opinion, it can still be a sign of a problem in an article: it's often an indicator of an appeal to majority, which is a fallacy frequently used to present opinion as fact. We should probably avoid "majority" except when reporting on a statistical result, an election, or somewhere else where it has a neutral meaning. --FOo (talk) 08:51, 2 April 2008 (UTC)

What about the "Call a spade a spade" guideline?

Wikipedia has a guideline called "Call a spade a spade". How can these two guidelines co-exist? Emmanuelm (talk) 14:37, 25 March 2008 (UTC) (cross-posted in Wikipedia talk:Call a spade a spade)

No, it's not a guideline. It's an essay. Any editor can write an essay. That doesn't make it good advice. Dlabtot (talk) 14:54, 25 March 2008 (UTC)


I've removed this from the page because I can't see any problem with using this word:

Phenomenon has two meanings that are easily confused and cause problems when used in relation to paranormal or pseudoscience claims.

  • Phenomenon can mean an occurrence, circumstance, or fact that is perceptible by the senses.
  • Phenomenon can mean an unusual, significant, or unaccountable fact or occurrence as a marvel or wonder. As such, a phenomenon would be something that was extraordinary and perhaps controversial.

Because it is sometimes difficult to distinguish which of the two is meant, it's best to avoid its usage in places where the meaning of "phenomenon" is ambiguous.

I can't see how the meaning of it would be unclear, and we anyway can't list every ambiguous word as a word to avoid. :) SlimVirgin talk|edits 17:08, 2 April 2008 (UTC)

  • Where's the confusion? Dlabtot (talk) 17:25, 2 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, ScienceApologist doesn't like it's use in paranormal related articles, because he thinks it is a word which smacks of science or material reality. Even though it is the traditional way of phrasing it, "paranormal phenomena." I just can't see how it could actually be mis-used, except in a truly dreadful article which gave no context whatsoever. And in that case, what we need to do is rewrite the article, not eliminate "phenomenon" as a WTA. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:17, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm not really sure there's any utility in attempting to speak for someone else. I think you should just express your own views, and let others express their own views in their own words. Dlabtot (talk) 02:52, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Could be. It was not my intent to put words in his mouth, but I think I said it correctly. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 03:00, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Having butted heads with SA over the use of phenomenon on several occasions, trust me, those are his words. Because the technical definition of "phenomenon" is an "observable event", he argues that "phenomenon" is misused in conjunction with "paranormal" because there's no actual event taking place. I understand where he's coming from, but of course I argue that even if it's a delusion occuring in one's mind, there's still an observable event going on. He would say that's misleading : ) --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:21, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, the observable event in that case would be the synaptic firings in the brain. Antelantalk 03:31, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Yep, but still a phenomenon. Of course I'm a personal fan of phenomenology. See also Phenomenon#Use in philosophy, "perceived" events, which would be applicable to "paranormal phenomena" from the sense that although physically a UFO is a synaptic firing in the brain, optical illusion, whatever, it's studied as it's perceived -- a UFO -- whether that all exists in the mind or if it has a physical referent. Take it as people view it, that sort of thing, would be a phenomenological approach. In fact, I would argue that perception is really what "phenomenon" is about. The actual "thing in itself" is a noumenon, according to Kant. The synaptic firing is the noumenon, the UFO is the phenomenon. --Nealparr (talk to me) 04:26, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
That's a total misreading of Kant. Kant would say the actual thing would be the movement of the electrons. The phenomenon would be the synapse firing. The UFO is an interpretation of the phenomenon, not the phenomenon itself. ScienceApologist (talk) 12:52, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Kant would say (did say) that the actual events are unknowable, and that ipso facto it makes no sense to speak of them. All we have are phenomena. SlimVirgin talk|edits 22:15, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Now I need a t-shirt that reads WWKS? lol --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:16, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

This is just saying to avoid using the word when it is ambiguous. There are many cases where it is ambiguous. Simply avoid using "phenomenon" in those cases. When phenomenon is not ambiguous use it. Plenty of other words on this list are used all the time in Wikipedia, only they are used in instances where the word isn't problematic. "Paranormal phenomenon" as a term is borderling POV-pushing. ScienceApologist (talk) 12:50, 3 April 2008 (UTC)

I disagree with you on Kant, but more relevantly I disagree with you on the use of "Paranormal phenomenon". I'd really like to see "POV-pushing" as a word to avoid. Not everything is pov-pushing, and "paranormal phenomena" is widely used, widely sourced, and all over the place in skeptical literature. You might have problems with it, but all those other published people don't. Example: [1] --Nealparr (talk to me) 16:28, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica uses "phenomena" in relation to the paranormal in its article on spiritualism:

Some phenomena associated with mediums were found among those regarded in the Middle Ages as possessed by devils—e.g., levitation and speaking in languages unknown to the speaker. Similar phenomena were reported in the witch trials of the early modern period, particularly the appearance of spirits in quasi-material form and the obtaining of knowledge through spirits. [2]

SlimVirgin talk|edits 22:20, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Regarding "POV-pushing" as a word to avoid: this is a content guideline, not a behavioral guideline. Antelantalk 01:41, 4 April 2008 (UTC)
And it's addressed in behavioral guidelines. I'm just saying it should be avoided, especially when there's evidence to the contrary, like the skeptical sources. SA did say it's "borderling", but I don't even think it's that. When both sides of the aisle use the same term it's as neutral as it gets. When SA first added the term here it read "Because it is sometimes difficult to distinguish which of the two is meant, it's best to avoid its usage in places where the existence of the 'phenomenon' is disputed"[3], which less a statement about ambiguity and more a statement about POV (ie. "where the existence of the 'phenomenon' is disputed"). Like I said above, skeptics use the term all the time, even when they are disputing the existence of the phenomena. There's no reason to avoid use of the term "paranormal phenomenon", even from a POV standpoint. --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:39, 4 April 2008 (UTC)
There is no logic to add an entire section for one word, that is sometimes ambiguous. Many English words are ambiguous (depending on context). If we had a section for each, this guideline would be longer than the entire encyclopedia. We are supposed to use common sense. Crum375 (talk) 13:28, 3 April 2008 (UTC)
Yeah, common sense, and exactly what could be wrong with "paranormal phenomenon?" That's exactly how it would be used when it is not ambiguous, as it's paranormal. Like I said, the article would have to be horrible before you'd have a problem- just fix the article. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 01:27, 4 April 2008 (UTC)
We should avoid neologistic jargon for one. Calling it "paranormal phenomenon" is what the promoters from the Parapsychology Association want to do. We're not in the business to help them out. Just call it "the paranormal" and be done with it. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:16, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

- The definition of "phenomenon" in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (a very reputable dictionary) is quite in accordance with ScienceApologist's original post, i.e., the possibility for ambiguity here seems to be quite real. ( )
On the other hand, as Crum375 commented, we obviously can't add every possibly ambiguous term to the list. It comes down to personal opinion on whether this is worth including or not, + consensus arrived at here between our various personal opinions.
-- Writtenonsand (talk) 03:17, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

I concur that the def above and SA's def is the technical def. My comments were about it's usage. --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:21, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

We aren't talking about adding every possibly ambiguous term. This one has cause problems. Let's just avoid it. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:13, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

I don't find a need for that section, as explained above. Nor do others, it seems. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 00:31, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
  • ScienceApologist, the consensus is clearly against you. Do you really believe that you can overcome this consensus by edit-warring? [4] [5] - Dlabtot (talk) 01:10, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
    • Consensus is not against me. I suggest you try a different metric. ScienceApologist (talk) 12:33, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

Edit warring/protection

Why is that the page was reverted to the version including the word "phenomena" as a WTA before locking it down for edit warring? Most editors (as in a simple straw poll reflecting all of the above would agree) were opposed to the word "phenomena" appearing in the WTA, for various reasons including 1) Not really a word to avoid and 2) Out of place in a minimalist list. In the edit warring there were three editors who removed it (including one admin) versus one editor who kept putting it back in. Why wasn't it simply locked down, instead of revert-then-lock? That doesn't seem right. It was an admin not involved in the discussion who was reverted.

I'm pointing this out because I've watched several articles go the same route. An editor edit wars and when he doesn't get his version somehow the article mysteriously is reverted to his version and locked. It's happened several times on multiple articles. --Nealparr (talk to me) 01:09, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Was fixed.[6] --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:41, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
As an eventualist, I don't really care in what state it was protected. Eventually, it will reflect consensus. But the reasons why things happened as they did should be pretty obvious. Dlabtot (talk) 01:16, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
m:The Wrong Version will explain all. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 01:20, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
I guess so. Still not right. --Nealparr (talk to me) 01:31, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
That page is hard to resist, although I suppose I just violated the "don't be sarcastic" rule. The bottom line is that page protection is supposed to get resolved quickly enough that it doesn't matter which version was protected. If it's not resolved quickly, then holler :) - Dan Dank55 (talk) 02:07, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
I love the part about involving Jimbo : ) I'd hate to see his inbox. --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:40, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

And the only way for it to get resolved quickly is to arrive at a consensus. Is there a consensus? Does the word 'Phenomenon' belong in the list of 'Words with controversial or multiple meanings'? As I understand the issue: since the word 'phenomenon' means loosely in one sense 'something that happened', the use of a term like 'paranormal phenomenon' implies that a paranormal event actually happened, which clearly is not something that we would want to state as a fact - or even imply. We only want to report about how other sources have described things. But the usage of the word as something exceptional is common and generally understood. I submit that these usages are so common that there is not really much ambiguity. Dlabtot (talk) 06:59, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

That's right, except that you have the "paranormal" part there, which means that it might not be a real phenomenon (: Automatic qualification. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 07:02, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Again, like I said above, the issue isn't the "actuality" or "realness" of phenomena. That was the argument for putting it in the WTA to begin with, that it's POV to call it phenomena because it's not something real and thus not observable, but that's not really related to the definition of phenomena which isn't about points of view. Even in the case of a hoax or delusion, "something observable" actually happened, which is the definition of phenomena. It's only when you get to explanations of the phenomena that it becomes a point of view, or questions of "realness" come up. But even there it's not a POV in the wiki-sense because the WTA isn't about definitions, it's about usage, and "paranormal phenomena" isn't used as a point of view. It's used as a label or category by anyone wanting to discuss what they're talking about. Skeptics call it paranormal phenomena even as they're explaining how it's not really paranormal. That's by necessity -- you have to say what you're talking about, label it, before you explain it one way or the other. It has nothing to do with "realness", and it's not in any way a word to avoid, especially when those who doubt the "realness" of it, skeptics, don't avoid using it. --Nealparr (talk to me) 08:49, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
I was thinking about "controversy" rather than "phenomenon" when I wrote it, but have a look at what I wrote yesterday at the end of the Controversy section. (And I'd appreciate a response in the last two sections at the end of the page, too, I'm trying to do some cleanup here because this page is one of the WP:GAN requirements.) Would it make any sense to add "phenomenon" as one of the many words there that conveys a false sense of urgency, danger or importance? "phenomenal" is clearly one of those words; "phenomenon" is less clear and depends on context. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 11:42, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
I actually don't have a problem with it being in the WTA if the rationale and wording reflects that "phenomenal" or "phenomena" might convey a false sense of urgency or importance. Like "it was a phenomenal event" or a "phenomena that's sweeping the country". Here it was put in as something that's problematic when used in conjunction with "paranormal". If that's the reasoning for it being here, it doesn't need to be here. --Nealparr (talk to me) 20:08, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Used that way, it would go against WP:PEACOCK. Dlabtot (talk) 20:21, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
WP:PEACOCK seems too narrow to handle everything that we want to handle of this nature in WP:WORDS; but maybe it has been interpreted to cover more than it seems to cover. It seems to only apply to the subject of the article, and only to the concept of importance, and it seems to focus on words that are synonyms for "important" and similar ideas; to meet the goals of WP:WORDS, we don't want the editor to skim the article for synonyms of "important", we want them to read the article carefully, and see if any words (such as "stakeout") imply a greater importance, urgency or danger than is supported by the sources. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 23:02, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Phenomenon expressly does not mean "something that actually happened"; it means something that appeared to happen (from phainein, to show, cause to appear). As the OED puts it: A thing which appears, or which is perceived or observed; a particular (kind of) fact, occurrence, or change as perceived through the senses or known intellectually; esp. a fact or occurrence, the cause or explanation of which is in question. From this derive the special senses of "immediate object of perception" and "marvel, prodigy". This is a tempest in a teapot. We need not avoid the word, which is commonly used because it implies nothing about the reality of the appearance. Please unprotect, and look up words before you argue about them. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 02:50, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

  • I think you need to read that more closely. Many of the things being described as phenomena are completely imaginary. They were not perceived, they were not observed, and they are not known intellectually. They are delusions, fabrications, or both. I don't think that SA is going to win this one, but he is right.Kww (talk) 00:28, 26 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree that "phenomenon" is not the prime example of a word to avoid, and I wouldn't mind leaving it out of my proposed text. (On the other hand, I wouldn't mind leaving it in, since the point is that almost any noun can be misused.) What happened to the hot dispute here? No one has posted in a while; is ScienceApologist or anyone else insisting on including "phenomenon"? - Dan Dank55 (talk) 03:25, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

Proposal concerning controversy, argument and phenomenon

←Proposed language: At the start of WP:WORDS#Terms that are technically accurate but carry an implied viewpoint, I propose the following language to handle several different things (including the page protection) all at once:

Many words, when used in the wrong context, can indicate a sense of respect, importance, urgency, or danger that is not supported by the sources. Unless the words are being attributed to someone else, be careful when using words such as controversy or conflict to make sure the sources really do support the existence of a controversy or conflict. If you're not sure if you have the right word, look for an online definition. Even the word the can falsely imply that something is definite or the only or most important thing of its kind. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 14:43, 13 April 2008 (UTC)

Sorry, I have kept forgetting about this.
It looks good to me, but I have a couple of corrections to make (in bold):
  • Many words, when used in the wrong context (I am unsure about the following comma.)
  • can indicate or can imply (as in the section's title); I don't think a single word can really support a point of view (especially if it is done inadvertently), as support means that it is successful in proving something. At least that's how I see it.
Could you please elaborate on how you intend to integrate the paragraph into the section? Waltham, The Duke of 09:35, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
There's actually a couple of things I think need addressing. The first glaring thing is that "supposedly" itself is a WTA, so I don't know why would advise editors to follow something with the word. "Would" and "could" should also be WTAs per WP:CRYSTALBALL, as in Wikipedia doesn't speculate. I would drop the entire last line after the semi-colon. Next, "argument" is a strange addition when under "Synonyms for say" it says "'Argued' is neutral and useful to paraphrase how someone has promoted a view or idea." Finally, as we've seen already on this talk page, "phenomenon" is a word that apparently more than a few editors don't know the meaning of, or how it is used. So if included, that would need further explanation. In short, I don't think the paragraph is all that necessary, or correct as worded. Really the only thing conveyed by the paragraph, that something shouldn't be made out to be more than it is (as in whether a controversy exists), is already covered by other guidelines. I think one even points out that you shouldn't say there's a controversy if there isn't one. I forget which. --Nealparr (talk to me) 09:56, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

Duke, I made your suggested changes. It would be the first paragraph under WP:WORDS#Terms that are technically accurate but carry an implied viewpoint. Neal, I dropped the last part after the semicolon, and added "definite". As to whether that's an actual problem that needs addressing, that was a problem from a WP:GAN review that brought me over here. In the article Black hole, the editors were all aware that the current thinking is that we can't quite say for sure yet that the "compact object" is a black hole, and they didn't mean to say that; but repeated use of the phrase "the black hole" had the same effect as a word to avoid; it got the reader to believe something not supported by the sources. This is the point of this paragraph. The 24-hour news channels use this trick constantly, saying that there is a "controversy" or "argument" where neither exists, and because the larger culture gets it wrong, and gets away with it, I believe this is a very important thing to have in this guideline, which is one of the few guidelines specifically mentioned in WP:WIAGA. I agree that there are some words, such as "phenomenon", that editors don't know the meaning of, but per WP:NOTLEX, it's better to ask them to look the word up than to define the word ourselves, and the current trend in style guidelines is to be short and avoid explanation where possible. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 13:00, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

I completely agree on "controversy", because that implies there are more or less equal opposing sides in a debate, but an "argument" can just be one person's singular opinion. The WTA guideline already suggests that "argued" is a neutral synonym for "say", so such a clause would be somewhat contradictory. Does it really need to be there? I don't see any reason for "phenomenon" to be included if the goal is to point out that so-called debates aren't really debates because there's no substantial opposition. Unlike "controversy" and arguably "argument", "phenomenon" doesn't really fit as it has nothing to do with debates. --Nealparr (talk to me) 02:31, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm happy to keep deleting words..."argument" is gone long as people can still see both points: that some words are often misused, and that any word can be misused. In fact, I just added "If you're not sure if you have the right word, look for an online definition." An argument over the use of "phenomenon" lead to the page protection, and so it would be helpful to pull that word into the text. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 02:43, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
The argument over "phenomenon" that led to the page protection would be an example of a false-controversy : ) One editor, the editor who added it in the first place, edit warred to keep it in there when no reasonable argument for it being there was offered. It's evidence of what you're saying, that sometimes what seems like a controversy isn't really controversial -- basically I'm still saying there's no real good reason for it being included, but I'm not going to press it and will let others comment or not. --Nealparr (talk to me) 03:53, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
You're right, it has been a while now and no one has argued one way or the other. If there's no controversy about the word "phenomenon", we don't need to mention it. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 04:32, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
P.S. Changed "phenomenon" to "conflict"...anyone have a problem leaving "phenomenon" out? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 11:57, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
Conflict is a good addition. Good call. --Nealparr (talk to me) 19:33, 25 April 2008 (UTC)

"Phenomenon" needs to be in the list. It is used inappropriately by the paranormalist factions on Wikipedia and needs to be eschewed. ScienceApologist (talk) 17:14, 25 April 2008 (UTC)

Same story as before, the skeptic "faction" (the other side of the aisle) also uses it, so it can hardly be seen as a word to avoid. --Nealparr (talk to me) 19:33, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
No, you're the only one I know of who wants it there. We aren't here to right great wrongs in the tiny minority of articles which are about the paranormal. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 18:20, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
ScienceApologist, can you point me to the article(s) that was/were a problem? If you want to keep people from misusing "phenomenon", I believe there was support for you (or at least, what I understand you want from reading this page) in the guidelines before, but once this new text is added, the support becomes crystal clear, even if we don't mention the specific word "phenomenon". I think the only way to find out for sure is for you point us to the article(s), make the change(s) you want, and let's see what happens. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 19:41, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
P.S. I'm busy with monthly updates to styles guidelines at the moment, but when I get done, I'm going to index some of the style guidelines archives. The reason for that is discussions just like this one. People generally agree that we want the guidelines to be just as short and clear as possible, people already try to avoid reading them because they're too long. But if we keep them short, we can't list every example, such as "phenomenon", that might be important in one argument or another. That's what the talk archives are for: to provide a record that everyone agreed that "phenomenon" should also not be misused, we just didn't think it was necessary in the guideline to get the point across. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 19:50, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
Take a look at current activities at Parapsychology to see what paranormal true believers do. ScienceApologist (talk) 21:15, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
That was very helpful, thank you. I don't remember now, but I remember being convinced at the time that the Duke parapsychology people were consistently lying. The biggest problem with that article is that is says things that (I used to be pretty sure, based on what I read) were thoroughly discredited by reliable sources. What words they use to say these things seems like a secondary concern to me. But I see what you're getting at with misuse of "phenomena" in that article. How would you reword "Today, the SPR and ASPR continue the investigation of psi phenomena"? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 21:43, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
Why use phenomena at all? Just say "Today, the SPR and ASPR continue the investigation of psi." Or, I might say, "Today, the SPR and the ASPR are two groups who still advocate for psi investigation" since it is arguable as to whether they are actually "investigating" with the proper techniques. In any case, phenomenon is a problematic word entirely. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:37, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
Now I do agree that in that case it could be dropped (isn't necessary to the sentence), but why? There's no reason to. Your argument is that it should be avoided, but no one avoids it. The Skeptic's Dictionary, which you often refer to, uses it regularly. Not just "paranormal phenomena", but also "psi phenomena"[7]. Linked off the "psi" article at SkepDic is a book by Michael Shermer, a well-known and respected skeptic, titled Psychic Drift: Why most scientists do not believe in ESP and psi phenomena[8]. If Shermer doesn't avoid it, why should Wikipedia? He even put it in his subtitle. --Nealparr (talk to me) 00:41, 26 April 2008 (UTC)

←SA, I think you should keep fighting to change the text of that article by attacking the sources, but when I look at other articles that seem similar to me, I don't think you're going to win on the point of removing "phenomena" from the article. In general, words that are used in similar articles are worse than "phenomena", which sometimes means "things that are perceived". Read Miracle, and see how many times the words incident, event, and occurrence are used. What makes that okay is the statement in the lead section that it's disputed that there's any evidence at all, and what makes "phenomena" okay in Parapsychology, IMO, is the statement right up front that it's fringe science, although the article could be improved by additional examples of debunking. Articles like this wander into NPOV territory, and NPOV says in this case: even when you don't believe it, if there are significant numbers of people on both sides of the issue, you have to let both sides tell their story. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 23:04, 25 April 2008 (UTC)

What a great statement (-: ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 00:33, 26 April 2008 (UTC)
Still no response from Ryan on removing the page protection, so I put in a request at WP:RFPP. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 16:18, 2 May 2008 (UTC)

"Claim" in legal sense

This is probably immensely picky, but I'd suggest a minor edit to the "Claim" section. Where it says:

I'd suggest an amendment.

I suggest this because before I was editing, I found a few articles where divorces and criminal cases were called "claims", which is generally wrong. Now of course I can't find them, but it would be good to be accurate. --NellieBly (talk) 21:23, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

In the United States, at least, "claim" can be properly used in connection with divorces. I'm not sure what you mean by "petitions" but in New York practice, a petition is the document that begins a special proceeding under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. In that sense, it's analogous to a complaint, and "claim" is a proper term.
Beyond the litigation context, "claim" is appropriate in other contexts that would be ruled out by your suggested expansion -- for example, "The United Kingdom and Argentina both claimed the islands." JamesMLane t c 07:43, 22 April 2008 (UTC)


If you don't want your writing to be edited mercilessly or redistributed for profit by others, do not submit it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Sachin to (talkcontribs) 17:27, 9 April 2008 (UTC)

I see you have found words to embrace. :) Antelantalk 01:51, 11 April 2008 (UTC)


"Cripple" redirects to "Handicapped"? It seems to me there are several things wrong with offering that as a prime example of an inoffensive sentence. For one thing, it's not true :) I didn't change it because I'd rather hear what the point was, what you guys think would be an appropriate substitute. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 22:28, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

A cripple can't walk, so he is a handicapped human. Why is not true? Mallerd (talk) 12:43, 13 May 2008 (UTC)

Cripple does not redirect to Handicapped. For that reason, and also because there was no objection for several weeks, I took the sentence out as soon as the page protection came off. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 13:18, 13 May 2008 (UTC)

Definite articles

Under what circumstances is "the" a word to avoid, in front of a conjectured or doubted thing or event? Here's my guess:

  • Okay: "Mary said she saw a ghost. The apparition was 10 feet tall." (It's pretty clear the writer is saying that Mary said it was 10 feet tall.)
  • Not okay (from Cygnus X-1, an article at WP:GAN): "...the remaining matter is believed to pass through the event horizon of the black hole." The article also says "...the star may have instead collapsed directly into a black hole", and generally avoids saying that it is, for sure, a black hole. My feeling is that those two the's give the supposed black hole a weightiness (grin) that it didn't earn from the text or the sources. I would add it to my proposed subsection on "Words that express false importance, urgency or danger", something like this:

[proposed text] Even the word "the" can imply that something is the only thing of its kind, or the most important one. Also, don't use "the" to refer to a thing if the existence of the thing is disputed, unless:

    • it's clear from context that that "the" is being said by someone else, not by you, the writer, or
    • the thing is immediately followed by "would", "could", "is supposed to", "supposedly", etc.

[end proposed text]

In this particular case, my belief is that that "believed to pass" isn't enough; instead, I'd prefer "A black hole would have an event horizon, and the remaining matter would pass...". - Dan Dank55 (talk) 22:47, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

This is a grammar issue. Antelantalk 12:38, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
On issues where it's easy for experienced editors to differ, it should be covered somewhere (in a guideline or essay, depending on whether we want to be prescriptive or give information that people like to know), regardless of whether it's grammar or not. Since the issue here is one of "undue" effect, this seems like the likely place, but putting it somewhere else would be fine with me. - Dan Dank55 (talk) 12:42, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Specific language suggested above under #Proposal concerning controversy, argument and phenomenon - Dan Dank55 (talk) 14:43, 13 April 2008 (UTC)


Deserves much caution; but the following set of facts need to be expressed somehow:

  • We have an article on Event E. A well-known primary source A said that X happened at E, and this has been often repeated by secondary sources. In the last few decades, historian B has shown that X cannot have happened, and it is the modern consensus that Y actually happened instead.

If we try to say nothing about X, someone will insert it. If we assert X, or omit Y, we are misinforming our readers. It is difficult to phrase this set of facts without using actually. We need either a substitute, or a note on this case (like other words to avoid in the same class). Septentrionalis PMAnderson 16:48, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Except you just did it. If it happened that you wrote it without "actually" by accident, how hard can it be? ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 01:21, 13 April 2008 (UTC)
I wrote it is the modern consensus that Y actually happened instead. That you didn't notice suggests that it is indeed natural in this context. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 21:09, 13 April 2008 (UTC)
Yeah, it would usually be fine, I'm guessing. But, like above, you could just leave the word out entirly. "Y happened instead." ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 21:36, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

I would like to add a footnote about Steven Pinker

Hi, why is this protected? I would like to add a footnote for WP:WTA#Point out, note, observe about Steven Pinkers discussion of factive verbs in his book The Stuff of Thought. There is a rebuttal to that kind of argument online though, here. But reading Pinker made me a bit more sensitive to the use of words, especially synonyms for "state". Could it benefit others to have a footnote giving some authority to this page, and providing some pointers for further reading? Merzul (talk) 16:10, 22 April 2008 (UTC)

I'll be happy to look into this in a couple of weeks, I've put it on my todo list on my userpage (and if anyone wants to beat me to it, that's good too). - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 00:34, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
Damn, I never got to this. I see your edit; I'm uncomfortable with including direct quotes anywhere, even in WP-space, without a citation, but we don't generally put citations on style guidelines pages. Would you be okay with moving the direct quotations and the citation into a footnote, as you proposed in April? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 16:55, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I even share your discomfort, but I wanted to dump the information there. We can move it too a footnote, or do whatever we want with it. We should probably trim away the actual example. It is biased against the Bush administration and perhaps one should avoid real-world examples in our documents? In any case, I wanted to add this stuff to stress that this guideline is not just something Wikipedians have dreamt up, but quite serious business. I will try a bit more discretely. Tell me what you think. Merzul (talk) 19:55, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
That's much better. I think the footnote "pointing out" Pinker is good, he is really very enlightening. I agree that in general we want to avoid political statements; on the other hand, as soon as Bush is out of office, I don't think that many people would mind using examples from his speeches, as you did. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 21:48, 26 June 2008 (UTC)

Is Negro a word to avoid?

In the article Washington Irving, the beginning had reference to a "Negro messboy drowning." This wording was used because it was taken directly from the cited New York Times article but has since been changed to "black messboy." Just as we tend to use British English for articles about England, does it make sense to use language from the time of an article (in this case the word Negro instead of today's black) when describing something from history? Or would we only do that when quoting the original source? Do we want to be Politically Correct or use language of the time in question? Perhaps not in that we probably would not want an article about Shakespeare to be written in Elizabethan English. Further, if we find Negro offensive and to be avoided, shouldn't we also avoid using messboy which also has negative connotations today? Is this question already addressed somewhere in the manual of style? Thanks. WilliamKF (talk) 23:28, 23 April 2008 (UTC)

Is it a word to avoid? I think so. Is it a word to prohibit? I think not. Direct quotes shouldn't be tampered with, and negro isn't so offensive as to require gymnastics to avoid, but black is generally preferable. In those cases where you are actually dealing with a US citizen of African ancestry, African-American is probably preferable. I had to edit "African-American" out the Blackbeard article the other day, because I sincerely doubt that Blackbeard sent a report to the Queen counting the number of "African-Americans" on board. I take it out of music articles frequently, because people keep referring to people from the West Indies as "African-American". I always leave a note explaining that I live on an island that is 85% black, but I've only seen two African-Americans in the last several years.Kww (talk) 23:52, 23 April 2008 (UTC)


Is this a word to avoid? The dictionary meaning of the word is one who sacrifices his life, his station, or what is of great value to him, for the sake of principle or to sustain a cause. If it is verifiable that a person / a group willingly sacrificed his/her/their life in support of a belief/cause, and it is also verifiable that the person / group if frequently and commonly referred to as Martyr or Martyrs in 3rd party sources, is it still unacceptable to use the word in Wikipedia? Arman (Talk) 09:56, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

You're using "verifiable" in a different way than Wikipedia uses the term. We use the word to mean published in a reliable source. Various historical figures have been identified as martyrs. If we're talking about a person who recently died, that's different. WP:NPOV requires us to let any religion with a significant following tell their own story in their own words (as long as it's attributed to them rather than stated as fact), within reason. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 12:43, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
See Martyr, but notice how careful they are to say that martyrdom is a viewpoint rather than saying "X is a martyr", even for historical figures. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 12:52, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
We should never underestimate the range of differences in religion. Would you believe that Christians don't even agree on the precise list of the Ten Commandments? We shouldn't avoid words like this completely, but we should be careful not to go beyond what our sources say. Wnt (talk) 22:24, 4 May 2008 (UTC)

Words to avoid because Wikipedians tend to get them wrong?

There's one class of words to avoid that aren't here (or anywhere else that I can see): words that Wikipedians get wrong. An example would be "portmanteau", which means a word that combines both the sounds and the meanings of other words, such as "smog" (smoke + fog). "Gerrymander" is not a portmanteau word, since it doesn't mean something that is part Elbridge Gerry and part salamander. Wikipedians tend to use "portmanteau" wrong about 3 times out of 4. Are there other words that Wikipedians tend to get wrong? Should they be avoided, on the theory that they make an existing problem worse? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 17:20, 2 May 2008 (UTC)


In editing Jeremiah Wright sermon controversy I saw someone proposing "attempted to justify" as a more neutral substitute for "explain". I disagree with this but noticed "justify" isn't on this list. My feeling is that "justify" could be permissible if used within the context of a specific legal or ethical code, but not when used in the sense of trying to argue the appropriateness of something in the absolute sense. For example a tax lawyer could "attempt to justify" a particular tax exemption claimed under an article of the tax code, if the outcome of the case was pending and perceived by a source to be in doubt, but a politician should not be said to "attempt to justify" that exemption in terms of the jobs it would create. I'm not sure that would be seen by others as a meaningful distinction. Another possibility would be to say that it is justified, so to speak, to use the term when that word is used by a source; or you could just blacklist the word altogether with the others, or tell me I'm wrong ;). What do you think? Wnt (talk) 22:17, 4 May 2008 (UTC)

It depends on which section you want to put it in; can you propose some text? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 22:49, 4 May 2008 (UTC)

up to, as many as

Not sure if this discussion has come up before.

Many media outlets use phrases like (e.g.) "may cost up to six billion pounds" or "as many as 300 people are likely to lose their jobs". The use of "up to" and "as many as" is often undescriptive as the number could have been plucked out of the air, and "up to" includes anything from zero to the figure quoted. If the figure is exceeded (as it often is in the case of death tolls / project budgets), the statement becomes even more meaningless. If estimation over a figure is involved it is better to quote the estimation, say that it's an estimation and say who says it. I think Wikipedia does better job than most at avoiding these terms, the Cyclone Nargis example on the front page avoiding sensationalism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jw6aa (talkcontribs) 09:05, 8 May 2008 (UTC)

It depends on which direction we want to go with this guideline. I would certainly include "up to" as one of the darling phrases of the 24-hour news channels. Listing phrases commonly misused in news sources could be helpful, but it will make this guideline very long. Which direction do we want to go with this guideline? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 12:02, 8 May 2008 (UTC)

"claim" in fringe articles

This page says to avoid the word "claim", but perhaps it should be stated that that does not apply to fringe articles. There's a special problem with fringe articles: in an article devoted to describing a tiny-minority viewpoint, a significant amount of coverage needs to be given to describing that viewpoint because it's the subject of the article, but there need to be ways to nevertheless maintain the neutral point of view which normally gives no space at all to such a viewpoint. Various techniques can be used to try to ensure that while describing the fringe viewpoint it is not given undue legitimacy. One of these techniques is the use of the word "claim", and we used it to get this effect at the article Mucoid plaque. I suggest adding the following to the bottom of the "claim" section of this page:

"Claim" can be useful in fringe articles, to help avoid lending legitimacy to a tiny-minority viewpoint while describing that viewpoint in detail.
Acceptable use:
"Anderson claims that mucoid plaque is created when the body produces mucus to protect itself from potentially toxic substances."

Perhaps someone can come up with a better example. Coppertwig (talk) 15:14, 11 May 2008 (UTC)

A fringe topic can be described neutrally without the use of claim. For example, "Anderson [contends, argues, asserts] that mucoid plaque .... , however in medical literature the consensus is ....". The use of claim in fringe articles is a contentious issue and I personally know of several editors who will fight tooth and nail to keep special exemptions for fringe articles out. The problem, as the WTA points out, is that we shouldn't try and cast doubt as to the sincerity of people like Anderson, or make it read as if they are intentionally being dishonest. It's likely that Anderson believes wholeheartedly that whatever fringe idea he promotes is correct, even if it isn't the more popular view. As a neutral third-party, Wikipedia can describe that Anderson's view is a minority view without implying that Anderson is being dishonest or insincere. Instead, simply point out where he's wrong (and possibly where he himself didn't know he was wrong), clearly, and avoiding words that aren't necessary (WTA). --Nealparr (talk to me) 15:45, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
Ah. One of the many grey areas in Wikipedia. Thanks for your feedback. I won't push to have the word included here, then.
To clarify the problem anyway, though, just describing the fringe topic neutrally is not enough; a description of a tiny-minority-view topic using a more neutral term such as "asserts" would tend to give an undue impression of legitimacy to the topic unless things are done to prevent that; using "claim" is only one of a number of possible techniques which can be used in combination. This problem doesn't occur in normal articles because there the proper weight is provided by the relative prominence (amount of space, etc.) given to each viewpoint. Coppertwig (talk) 16:52, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
The connotations of "assert" is basically saying something against the odds, knowing someone's going to disagree with you : ) There's dozens of synonyms that can be used without giving the statement undue legitimacy. I do completely agree with your principle, btw. There's been a lot of talk on Wikipedia lately about how to clearly state that a minority view is minority while still being neutral. A lot of that discussion is over at Wikipedia_talk:FRINGE (see the discussions surrounding "particular attribution"). --Nealparr (talk to me) 17:15, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
Ah, I think I understand what you're saying: that the word "assert" can be used instead of "claim" and gain a similar effect of implying that there is opposition to the statement, but that "claim" as described on this page could imply that the person is being deliberately untruthful (if I understand right) whereas "assert" merely implies that the statement may not be true or may not be accepted by others, without making any uncharitable implications about the speaker's honesty. I think "assert" doesn't have as strong an effect in toning down the legitimacy of the statement, but that can be lived with, I suppose. Thanks for the pointer to the other discussion. By the way, I just wrote a first draft userpage essay related to this. Coppertwig (talk) 17:55, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
Yes. --Nealparr (talk to me) 19:03, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
Well, just to be contrary, I disagree with both of you! I think that "claim" has a connotation that "assert" lacks, namely that the statement is false. I don't see "asserts" as a way of conveying disagreement with the statement. It's like "states", "contends", "has written", or many others. The objective fact, which we know to be true, is that Anderson has enunciated a particular position on the point, so we report that. Even if the viewpoint is a fringe one, I don't see why we need to keep throwing rocks at it in every sentence. The overall article should make clear its fringe status. In presenting particular points that are part of the fringe view, our article should also distinguish between what is generally accepted and what is contentious: "Jones's body was never found. [citation to reliable source for undisputed fact] Smith has written that Jones is still alive. [citation to where Smith states this fringe view]" That conveys the information we have. JamesMLane t c 18:56, 11 May 2008 (UTC)
That's not that different than what I was saying, just different words. --Nealparr (talk to me) 19:03, 11 May 2008 (UTC)

(←, ec, not so relevant anymore, as it seems I'm preaching to the choir here, but still...) I also have strong feelings about this. This style guideline is about our choice of words to avoid the appearance of bias, while NPOV and DUE are content policies. In the case of fringe theories this mean that we must effectively side against the theory in terms of the content presented; but there is no need to do this by means of manipulative uses of verbs. In the case of fringe theories, the facts speak for themselves, and describing one side as "claiming" and the other side as "pointing out" and "noting" adds nothing to the presentation of facts. Quite contrary, I think it sometimes can undermine the credibility of the facts we present. If instead, we represent the fringe view as fairly as we can, then our presentation of the mainstream view will look far more credible and not as spoon-fed. I apologize if this post has nothing to do with the current discussion, I'm not editing the same article as Coppertwig, but thanks for listening anyway, Merzul (talk) 19:14, 11 May 2008 (UTC)

Actually, I prefer not using the word "claim", anyway, per Merzul. I wasn't asking in connection with any page I'm editing at the moment, but I was seeking clarification for the above-mentioned essay I was writing. The perspective I suggested at the top of the thread was what I had gotten the impression we were supposed to do – though I wasn't sure, which is why I tried to clarify it here. Coppertwig (talk) 13:27, 14 May 2008 (UTC)

"It is unknown"/"It is unclear"

Should this be added? Take for example this: [9] - in context its piling on support for the character's bisexuality and weasling out by saying "actually, it's not really confirmed, but you know...?" Sceptre (talk) 22:09, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

That article gives specific conversations that show a theme of sexual innuendo. If the information is accurate, then clearly the innuendo was put there deliberately by the writers, not dreamed up by the Wikipedian editor(s). But perhaps I'm not understanding your point; clearly "it is unknown" is the kind of phrase that's good to avoid when possible in Wikipedia (ie if you don't know, then don't say anything, unless our lack of knowledge is somehow incredibly important). - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 23:22, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
You've never watched House, have you? At the very least, (Gregory) House is a dick. But I digress. Sceptre (talk) 23:43, 15 May 2008 (UTC)


I think this should (heh) get an individual mention, under 'words that editorialize'. I see a lot of 'should' in newer or niche articles, and it's almost always HOWTO and/or POV content. I actually can't think of a circumstance in which an article should ever actually say use 'should' outside quotations (but I'm sure there are some). What does everyone think about this? (talk) 11:41, 26 May 2008 (UTC)

Tentative support - at least before my morning coffee, the above above logic appears accurate. TheRedPenOfDoom (talk) 12:13, 26 May 2008 (UTC)
There is a secondary meaning to "should," as in "should X be the case, then Y." It's also appropriate in paraphrasing, as in "Marx believed people should worship hippos." It can also be used in factual sentences, such as "if x is chosen correctly, the algorithm should terminate" although in this case you could also say "will terminate." I think if there's anything that consistently needs avoiding, it's the particular phrasing "you should" - it's presumptuous and typically superfluous. Dcoetzee 12:24, 26 May 2008 (UTC)
"should" is also one of the more common words in style guidelines, although of course rules for WP-space are different than article-space. It's a complicated issue; I'm pretty sure we don't want a blanket rule against it, but discussion would be helpful. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 13:10, 26 May 2008 (UTC)
"you should", "one should", "it should be" etc is what I'm getting at. A blanket guideline against any word is unwarranted. As long as there is a good, accessible description of acceptable cases and cases to avoid, it shouldn't be a problem. I can't believe I didn't think of those uses though, although I think "will terminate" is preferable for discussing a deterministic algorithm than "should terminate", if there is a proof. WP-space is, of course, a different matter. (talk) 15:50, 26 May 2008 (UTC)


I think this category is not only a problem, but a serious risk for libel.

The current description for the category is:

"This category deals with topics relating to events, organizations, or people that have at some point in time been referred to as terrorism, terrorists, etc., including state terrorism."

Which, technically, will allow anyone ever accused of terrorism by anyone to be included. The word gets thrown around a lot these days, and I can't imagine the variety of people that have been accused. Any thoughts on this? - TheMightyQuill (talk) 15:50, 6 June 2008 (UTC)

To deal with problems posed by the category itself, try Categories for discussion . - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 00:42, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

'X recognises Y"

How about mentioning the construction "X recognises Y"? I see this used a lot to subtly endorse a viewpoint in articles. For example, from [[10]] (currrent revision):

Tribal sovereignty refers to the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves. Current federal policy in the United States recognizes this sovereignty and stresses the government-to-government relations between Washington, D.C. and the American Indian tribes.

As can be seen, while the first sentence blatantly endorses "inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves" (as opposed to saying "Tribal sovereignty refers to the concept that indigenous tribes have an inherent authority to govern themselves"), this is easily spotted and fixed. However, the second sentence has a more subtle NPOV issue, in that it implies that "this soverignty" is valid, and that the US federal government recognises that this is so. I think this particular construction deserves a mention here, as, from what I have seen, this appears to be a pretty common problem. Anyway, tell me what you reckon, guys. (talk) 16:29, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Ah, but this is difficult... On the one hand, if I write "X recognizes the flaws in Y", then this implies there really are flaws in Y, but if we write "nation X recognizes the independence of Y", then that refers to the political act. I think you are raising an important point though, I'm not sure what the answer is. Merzul (talk) 19:40, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Yeah, I think writing a clear and effective guideline for the use of it could be difficult to do while still allowing for the legitimate uses. (talk) 10:52, 17 June 2008 (UTC)
There's also the legitimate sense of "to encounter a person or thing that one knows from previous experience" (John recognized Bob from the beach; the electrician recognized the type of light bulb by its shape). There's also the sense of "to be aware of" as in "the Court recognizes the lower court's reasoning, but does not find it compelling." Dcoetzee 01:50, 27 June 2008 (UTC)


Please comment at Wikipedia_talk:Avoid_weasel_words#.22Assume.22. Thank you, --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 04:41, 26 June 2008 (UTC)

Alleged, purported

I think the wording under WP:WTA#So-called, soi-disant, supposed, purported, alleged needs a bit of work. Specifically:

  • Purported and purportedly really belong with supposed and supposedly, rather than alleged and allegedly. "Alleged" is widely and legitimately used in legal contexts (see my next point); "purported" strikes me as being a more of a stronger alternative to "supposed".
  • Quite a bit of the next paragraph is problematic - there is no such thing as a "indicted but unconvicted criminal", since a criminal is (by definition) someone who has been convicted of a crime. If you're indicted and facing trial, you're a defendant, not a criminal (innocent until proven guilty!). I suggest rewording the first lines to read: "Alleged (along with allegedly) is different from the foregoing in that it is a widely used term in some specific contexts, most notably concerning legal matters. Newspapers, for instance, almost universally refer to any person facing prosecution as having "allegedly" committed crimes." Note that I've excluded "purported" from that sentence, and I've emphasised the likelihood of seeing "alleged(ly)" in the specific context of legal reporting.
  • We could use a line about a dubious use of "allegedly"; I suggest the following; "He allegedly said that he would break up the company if he was unable to find a buyer. [Attribute the allegation instead: "According to [source], X said that..." or "[source] asserted that X said that..."]"

See [11] for a before-and-after diff. I've self-reverted the changes for now so that they can be discussed. -- ChrisO (talk) 23:17, 29 June 2008 (UTC)

Good job. Also, "soi-disant" (with or without hyphen) only gets 182K Google hits when restricted to English, and I haven't read it in years in newspapers or magazines. If there really is a problem with people sneaking "soi disant" into articles, fine, but otherwise, I vote to axe it. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 23:39, 29 June 2008 (UTC)
I have a feeling that "soi-disant" may not be used as much in US English as in UK or overseas English. It's certainly used, but not very frequently (see [12] for recent examples from news outlets). -- ChrisO (talk) 01:05, 30 June 2008 (UTC)
Thanks...I should have done that, but I was too cocky :) Okay, we can leave it in. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 02:39, 30 June 2008 (UTC)

I oppose this proposed change as it relates to the word "alleged" and its variations. It would unduly restrict legitimate uses of that word, and it has apparently been proposed in order to gain an advantage in an ongoing content dispute, see Talk:Muhammad al-Durrah#rephrasing intro. 6SJ7 (talk) 01:40, 1 July 2008 (UTC)

I don't think the proposed change would allow "alleged" to be used in the first sentence of that article, 6SJ7. We're saying that you can only use "alleged" in the cases where someone has been accused of a crime, in order to talk about the crime while protecting the right to be considered "innocent until proven guilty". An army doesn't have this legal right to protect; only an individual who has been or likely will be arrested does. I guess it would help to say this explicitly. We also need to add that "alleged" is an exception in the second sentence in the section, and correct a mistake or two in the proposed text; are there any more suggestions? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 01:59, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
It's not strictly accurate to say, as the present text does, that "alleged" is "generally used by those who genuinely have no predisposition as to whether the statement being cited is true or not." As far as Wikipedia is concerned, "alleged" is often considered a weasel word or a way of expressing a POV about the truth of a particular statement. But it's important to note that there are specific legitimate circumstances in which it should be used, most obviously in the context of legal reporting, which is the main thrust of my proposed changes. The proposed text highlights the legitimate use of "alleged" in the legal context - which is where people will most often see it - and provides an example of a dubious use of "alleged", which we don't presently have in the article. And as I've already noted above, there are elements in the current version that are simply wrong (the "indicted but unconvicted criminal" bit). -- ChrisO (talk) 08:03, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
One of the meanings of alleged at Websters is "accused but not proven or convicted"; I think we're agreed we need to allow this, there's no other suitable word, and this is an essential word for dealing with some WP:BLP issues, that is, when a person has been accused of something that is or could potentially be criminal. Can't we say this? In most other senses of the word "alleged", it's a bad idea to use it for exactly the same reason as "supposed"; is there some other context you'd like to use "alleged" in, Chris? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 13:14, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
No, I can't think of any other contexts. I'm having a look at some media style guides at the moment to see what they say about "alleged". I'll come back to this page later on with some comments about how professional writers use the term - it's always a good idea, in my experience, to look for examples of "best practice" from the real world. -- ChrisO (talk) 13:26, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
Great, good luck. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 13:33, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
Interestingly enough, it turns out that the word "alleged" was actually coined specifically to refer to a legal concept - according to Chambers it's derived from the Latin term "ex litigare", via the Old French esligier, "to clear at law". -- ChrisO (talk) 13:55, 1 July 2008 (UTC)
"Alleged" and variations thereof are widely used outside the legal context, as well as inside it. We shouldn't be trying to change the meaning of the words as used on Wikipedia by means of a "words to avoid" policy. 6SJ7 (talk) 17:20, 1 July 2008 (UTC)

OK, here's what I've found:

  • The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage describes "alleged" and "allegedly" as "police-blotter jargon, best rephrased into conversational English: accused of, charged with or suspected of". Where the modifier "alleged" has to be used for legal reasons, it should be applied "to the offense, not the suspect: alleged theft, not alleged thief. It also deprecates the use of "suspected" by itself ("if a suspected architect is an architect, then a suspected rustler is a rustler) and advises the use of the modifier "of" (as in "suspected of rustling).
  • The Associated Press Stylebook advises that the word alleged "be used with great care". It recommends that you "avoid any suggestion that the writer is making an allegation" and "do not used alleged to describe an event that is known to have occurred, when the dispute is over who participated in it. Do not say: "He attended the alleged meeting when what you mean is: He allegedly attended the meeting". It also advises against using alleged as a routine qualifier and suggests apparent, ostensible and reputed as alternatives.
  • The Editor's Toolbox comments that "alleged is overworked" and advises: "The story must state clearly who is doing the alleging, and often that person must be a privileged source [defined as a police or prosecution source, a regulatory agency or a legislative body or member]." It goes on: "Often alleged is misused, as in alleged meeting or alleged robbery. Such events either take place or they don't."

This is pretty much in line with the thrust of my proposed changes, and there are some points here which I think it's worth reflecting in our guidelines. In particular, the style guides' comments suggest to me that our current wording about there not being a "neutrality problem" isn't really true. I'd like to propose the following revised paragraph covering "alleged", reflecting what the various style guides say (and tying that in to existing wikipolicies):

Alleged (along with allegedly) is different from the foregoing in that it is often used in some specific contexts, most notably concerning legal matters where someone is stated to have "allegedly" done something. (Indeed, the word alleged derives from a Latin legal term.) It should be used with great care, particularly where accusations against living individuals are concerned. Always make it clear in the article text (not just the footnotes) who is doing the alleging - in legal cases, this will usually be a prosecutor, state body or plaintiff. In contexts other than legal cases, consider avoiding the use of alleged altogether and look for alternative forms of words such as "[source] asserted that [allegation]" or "according to [source], [allegation]." Avoid using it as a weasel word to cast doubt on a statement or imply wrongdoing, as this may not be compatible with Wikipedia's principle of a neutral point of view. Do not misuse it as a routine qualifier; consider using alternatives such as apparent, ostensible or reputed.

Any thoughts? -- ChrisO (talk) 18:39, 1 July 2008 (UTC)

Sounds good. Do we want to include accused of and suspected of as being good and bad in the same contexts that "alleged" is good and bad? How about recommending "alleged theft" rather than "alleged thief"? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 01:49, 4 July 2008 (UTC)
I think accused of and suspected of might be better off in a separate short paragraph - I'll come up with some words. Just thinking off the top of my head here, but I wonder if it might be worth writing up a brief stand-alone supplementary guideline page on reporting legal cases? It's one of the trickiest issues in journalism (libel, sub judice etc) and we have the additional complications of BLP and NPOV to observe as well. -- ChrisO (talk) 08:13, 4 July 2008 (UTC)
Great idea. Wikipedia:Manual of Style (legal) is already in Category:Wikipedia style guidelines. Could you add the language there, and then we can link to it from the project page here? - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 12:48, 4 July 2008 (UTC)
I'll go ahead and add the wording above to the guideline. Re Wikipedia:Manual of Style (legal), I'm not sure that's really what I had in mind. I've been re-reading the AP Stylebook, which has a lengthy section on media law, and it occurs to me that there is a wider issue than just reporting legal cases - namely how to report accusations and allegations in a way that meets BLP, NPOV and legal concerns. I'll have a go at creating something in user space and get some feedback on it before transferring it to the Wikipedia: namespace as a proposal. -- ChrisO (talk) 17:39, 5 July 2008 (UTC)
AP Stylebook is excellent on these issues. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 17:59, 5 July 2008 (UTC)
That edit looks fine to me, Chris. - Dan Dank55 (talk)(mistakes) 01:06, 6 July 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. And thanks also for your very helpful suggestions. I'll keep you posted about the draft guideline I mentioned above. -- ChrisO (talk) 09:14, 6 July 2008 (UTC)