Wikipedia talk:Words to avoid/Archive 7

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There's a discussion about the use of "concluded" versus "realized" at Talk:Charles Darwin that may be of interest to some who comment on this page. Outside views would be useful! Peter coxhead (talk) 12:00, 26 November 2009 (UTC)

Terrorist attacks

Is it OK to call a specific terrorist attack a "terrorist attack" and the people who carried it out "terrorists"? A lot of the articles in Category:FA-Class Terrorism articles do this, e.g. American Airlines Flight 11, so obviously in practice Wikipedia has decided that this is acceptable, but it seems like this would be forbidden by the guideline as it's currently written.Prezbo (talk) 05:10, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Guidelines are supposed to reflect consensus across Wikipedia. Unfortunately, this particular section doesn't do that very well, and has been a frequent subject of dispute. I suggest you look at the general context of "Words that label" and discuss on relevant article talk pages whether a particular use of "terrorist attack" is a contentious label, or an accurate description. Geometry guy 19:53, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
The guideline explains why terrorist is not a useful label, and how the article can be improved by either attributed in the description in the article text, or by using other more descriptive labels such as hijacker. -- PBS (talk) 21:20, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
If you don't understand "by either attributed in the description in the article text", consider the following. If an organization orchestrating a particular attack states that it aims to generate fear within a civilian population, then it may be reasonable to use the adjective (discuss it on the article talk page). Geometry guy 21:46, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Um, isn't that just what the USAF had as a stated aim in operation "Shock and Awe" in the first week of the 2003 Iraq War? A central part of the idea was to strike fear and despair into the ordinary people of Iraq and to show them they could not hope for anything by keeping up any military effort. I think Noam Chomsky has pointed out many times that the American neo-con watchword "fight the rogue states", if taken logically, would be turned against the US armed forces themselves and the political aims of domination which they are sometimes used for. Especially in the Third World. /Strausszek (talk) 03:21, 3 November 2009 (UTC)

Is the intent just to avoid "contentious" uses of these words? Right now the guideline really says that these words should never be used: "These words are inherently non-neutral, so they should not be used as unqualified labels in the voice of the article."Prezbo (talk) 23:23, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

It is very easy for all right thinking English speaking people to label foreigners, who do not speak English and who bomb English speaking people, terrorists, but often it tells us more about the systemic bias of Wikipedia than it does about the bombers. See for example the section "Pejorative use" in the "terrorism" article.
One way to consider this is in the troubles where there are two articulate sides to a dispute, both well versed in how to manipulate the sentiments of English speaking audiences, and who know how to maximize the use of propaganda, and where the usual systemic bias of Wikipedia is less pronounced. For example in the troubles of 1916-1920 where the Black and Tans the terrorists or the IRA? -- PBS (talk) 13:34, 31 October 2009 (UTC)

There are cases where the term terrorism clearly applies. The problem here seems to be a lack of understanding of the term by too many editors. In order to speak on the subject intelligently editors should be versed in the major accepted definitions of the word (by Counter Terrorism experts, as well as legal definitions). Too often people reduce the term to "deliberate targeting of civilians" or attacks meant to "inspire fear". Most complete definitions are not this jingoistic, and make it clear that something like Shock and Awe, in no way qualifies, but something like the Mumbai attacks does. It looks to me, like lots of editors have a political axe to grind. The last person who should be given a voice on this issue is a person like Noam CHomsky (who is writing way outside his field to begin with, and more a commentator than academic at this point). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:49, 16 November 2009 (UTC)

I agree that editors here tend to focus on the contentious cases to dismiss the idea that the word can be used in any uncontentious way (which is in itself, a fallacy). I've tried to make this point on several occasions. If you want to succeed where I have failed, you probably need to supply more detail and explain how some examples clearly fit the definition and others do not, or are more controversial. Geometry guy 00:21, 17 November 2009 (UTC)

Sounds like fun, but given that other words like Dictator are also being called into question here, I think the bias at work is obvious and no amount of specific examples will change things. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:23, 17 November 2009 (UTC)

Frankly, WTA is problematic, as people seem to be using it as a dumping ground for every word that can be used problematically, as they come up. I've given up checking it on my own Good Article reviews, relying instead on common understandings of good English style, as embodied in Strunk and White (among others). I think that is closer to the original purpose of this guideline than the current wording, honestly. RayTalk 19:12, 20 November 2009 (UTC)

I agree - people seem to enjoy adding words to this page, and also WP:PEACOCK. But WP:TERRORIST has been around a long while and has general acceptance. This page is a useful pointer to avoid having the same discussion again and again regarding calling things terrorist. It correctly points out that saying "X designated Y a terrorist organization" is a lot more helpful than saying "Y is a terrorist organization". Law enforcement in the United States gets a lot of mileage - funding and attention - out of calling things terrorist incidents. Here's an interesting example of a crime that most people wouldn't consider terrorist but apparently is, in a legal sense.[1] I don't think the incident is notable but if it were we could say that the person was charged with the crime of making terroristic threats, but not that they committed a terrorist act. - Wikidemon (talk) 19:41, 20 November 2009 (UTC)

That some people uses the word "terrorism" wrongly is not a reason to get rid of it. There are many academic experts who use it properly even if you have never heard about them. It is ashaming the degree of ignorance about terrorism that is deployed by people in this page and in wikipedia in general. E.g. a hijaker without political motivations is not a terrorist so to use "hijacker" instead of "terrorist" is not more precise at all. Please refer to Hoffman and the academic authors about the subject before giving baseless opinions. --Igor21 (talk) 17:43, 14 December 2009 (UTC)


I think we should avoid metaphors when it is practical to use a more formal, less poetic alternative. -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 06:35, 15 November 2009 (UTC)

I agree (except of course in quotation, or when attributed), but do you see this as a widespread problem? We already have a segment on avoiding euphemisms for death. Geometry guy 14:56, 15 November 2009 (UTC)
I don't know if it's a widespread problem, however I did some quick searches, "meteoric rise" is currently used in over 200 content pages, and "landslide victory" is used in over 800, and over 3000 content pages contain some form of the term "decimate", which doesn't have a single clear meaning in the English language. -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 05:22, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
The overall suggestion is good. However, all language is metaphor. Whether you can identify a particular source or not, nearly every noun and verb in the language is a reference to something else that has become generalized. Words like "shift", "closed", "entered", and "built" are so commonplace that one does not pause to notice that they are being used in a sense far afield (spatial metaphor there to stand for conceptual distance) from the physical things they describe. "Landslide" is a specific term relating to election outcomes, and in many cases cannot be more succinctly or adequately described, so it is perfectly legitimate. "Meteoric rise", however, has no such specific connotation and can be described more precisely using direct language. This particular guideline, though, is getting too full of things to avoid, and errs on the side of over-inclusion. I'm wondering if the avoidance of overly colorful language when simple facts will do might best be stated as a separate section or even a separate essay or style guideline, if it is not already. - Wikidemon (talk) 06:47, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
The guideline is intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive. I agree that "landslide" is now a standard election term, hence encyclopedic. "Decimate" and "meteoric rise" could be more problematic, but searches do not reveal the context, and whether the terms were attributed or quoted. Geometry guy 00:26, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
Or factual Crassus decimated his ineffective legions. -- PBS (talk) 01:54, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
I've split the massacre discussion into a separate subtopic. What about something narrower, such as needlessly poetic or flowery language? -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 07:27, 17 November 2009 (UTC)


  • Interesting point. I wonder if "mass killing" appropriate to a famine even if it was a result or examplified by (ignorant/ineffctive) government policies (but called so in the source)? Is not this is a metaphor and should or not such famine belong to a "mass killing" article? Or, say, a massive AIDS infection due to medics' negligence called a "massacre" following the source? Or even calling "murder" a bad medical treatment?--Dojarca (talk) 01:25, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
See list of events called massacres --PBS (talk) 01:54, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
Thank you but my question was not about traditional calling but about classification. Should for example a state leader known for cruelty or repressions be included into a category of "Mass murderers" provided a source which calls him "mass murderer" exists?--Dojarca (talk) 01:59, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
The talk page archives of list of events called massacres and the two AfDs have yards of coverage on why the term massacre should not be used as a name for an event unless it is well sourced. But that is different from saying that so and so massacred such and such (the use as a verb instead of a noun) and I think that comes down to editorial judgement and how neutral sources describe the event. Generally though I suspect that the use as a verb should be avoided as it often has POV connotations. However I do not think it needs to be included on this page as we already have lots of examples and the general NPOV covers it.-- PBS (talk) 08:41, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
Once again I think it comes down to how terms are actually used and understood by the large majority of people, rather than how they could, technically, be interpreted. It seems to me - though I'll grant that this is purely a subjective opinion - that mass murderer to most people implies someone who personally killed many other people through their own direct acts. To call a genocidal tyrant a mass murderer may be perfectly acceptable and easily understood metaphor, but I don't think it's what people will be looking for when they seek a list of mass murderers. Barnabypage (talk) 07:09, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
What do you think about inclusion of famines into the article Mass killings under Communist regimes? Can it be interpreted as a metaphor?--Dojarca (talk) 17:08, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
I'm not sure this is the place to discuss specific article content - the article's Talk page is better for that. But since you ask, in general I think a deliberately-induced famine could be classed as a mass killing, yes. But clear intent is crucial. Barnabypage (talk) 17:34, 22 November 2009 (UTC)
A massacre has to be fairly limited in location and span of time. It's like the difference between a battle and an entire war operation or campaign: no one would call the entire liberation of France in 1944 a single battle, and you wouldn't call the Rwandan genocide the "Rwanda massacre". IMO a single massacre can't really last longer than maybe two weeks - mostly shorter of course - and it should be just one place. The Katyn Massacre is a bit of a borderline case, because it now refers to killings in several prisons and outdoor locations - chiefly the Katyn Forest of course - over a few weeks, but those killings were all closely coordinated and the original use was just for the Katyn Forest execution shootings of April 1940. With a famine - no, that can't properly be called a massacre and I also think the contention that the Ukraine famines were deliberately provoked by the Kremlin (Robert Conquest, Richard Pipes) is a bit shaky. Strausszek (talk) 22:53, 30 November 2009 (UTC)
Hi Strausszek - just to clarify, I was referring to mass killing as potentially an okay term to describe some famines - not massacre. (This section is a bit confusing because we seem to be discussing both terms at once.) I agree with your analysis that a massacre should be limited in time and space. Barnabypage (talk) 22:58, 30 November 2009 (UTC)


I'm unconvinced that however implies preference.

"Some people think Bin Laden is a terrorist. However, others think he is a freedom fighter."

This seems to me to state that some people believe A and others believe B. Using however here doesn't, to me, seem to give any more weight to position B than position A. Tim Vickers (talk) 22:29, 3 December 2009 (UTC)

That is correct. However, the (somewhat misnamed) guideline "Words to avoid" aims to draw attention to situations in which the choice of words may (perhaps inadvertently) favour a particular viewpoint. It is meant to be a source of advice, not a list of proscribed words. Geometry guy 22:58, 3 December 2009 (UTC)
I think the goal is to raise awareness that the use of words can introduce bias, not that specific words must be avoided. "However" is misused when it suggests a juxtaposed view where none of equal weight (or substantial if minor weight, at least) exists. —mattisse (Talk) 23:01, 3 December 2009 (UTC)
I agree with you. However, that isn't what the guideline says at the moment. The guideline says "however" implies preference. Tim Vickers (talk) 23:23, 3 December 2009 (UTC)
The only way this guideline will improve is if editors like yourself watchlist it, contribute to it, and steer it in the right direction. It is on my watchlist and I will do whatever I can to help. Geometry guy 23:36, 3 December 2009 (UTC)

First person and second person pronouns

I think we should add first person and second person pronouns to the list of words to avoid. Would it be appropriate to mention them in the "words that editorialize" section, or would it be more appropriate to cover them elsewhere? -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 05:55, 7 December 2009 (UTC)

Since no one has objected, I've added them to the end of the "words that editorialize" section. -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 02:09, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Softening of points of view

Sometimes words such as claim, alleged etc are not just not to be avoided but are actually very useful in describing opposing points of view. If NPOV is to be maintained you cant say definitively that either side is correct, and to say both are correct makes the article completely schizophrenic. These words can be useful because they qualify the opposing versions of the truth. I'm going to have to think up a way to say this on the page... Mdw0 (talk) 04:52, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

That's true, but be careful not to encourage weasel words. Gigs (talk) 21:33, 8 January 2010 (UTC)
Read the guideline's claim section, it clearly states that ""Claim" can be appropriate for characterizing both sides of a subjective debate or disagreement. Do not use "claim" for one side and a different verb for the other, as that could imply that one has more merit.", then provides some examples of acceptable use. -- Gordon Ecker (talk) 02:51, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

Myth and Legend

Because of the dual use of "myth" with "false belief," it may be appropriate to avoid the term when dealing with living religions. While on a scholastic level all belief systems are "myth" (and let's not fool ourselves, we also mean "not objectively true"), that's not the case for the vast majority of the planet, who have some adherence to a living religion. There are more neutral terms.EGMichaels (talk) 14:19, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

Proposed Wording Change

The current wording of the Myth and Legend section needs to be clarified to state more clearly what is implied: (changes in bold)

Myth has a range of formal meanings in different fields. It can be defined as a story of forgotten or vague origin, religious or supernatural in nature, which seeks to explain or rationalise one or more aspects of the world or a society. All myths were, at some time in the past, actually believed to be true by the peoples of the societies that originated or used the myth. In less formal contexts, it may be used to refer to a currently held belief in a fictitious story, person or thing.
Formal use of the word is commonplace in scholarly works, and Wikipedia is no exception. However, except in rare cases, informal use of the word should be avoided, and should not be assumed. For instance, avoid using the word to refer to propaganda or to mean something that is commonly believed but untrue.
When using myth in a sentence in one of its formal senses, use care to word the sentence to avoid implying that it is being used informally, for instance by establishing the context of sociology, mythology or religion. Furthermore, be consistent; referring to currently held "Christian beliefs" and "Hindu myths" in a similar context demonstrates an informal use, while "Hindu beliefs" and "Greek myths" does not.

The difference between the formal and informal sense of "myth" has less to do with veracity (neither are literally true) than it does with currency (a formal "myth" was believed at some time in the past but not now, while informally a "myth" is something currently believed but false). One can refer to "Greek myths and Christian beliefs" in the same context but not "Hindu beliefs and Christian myths" in the same context. There are no living religions upholding ancient Greek beliefs, but Christianity and Hinduism are living religions.

This is implied in the original wording under the formal meaning when it says the story is "or forgotten or vague origin" (that is something so far in the past that we have no direct records) and "at some stage, actually believed to be true by the peoples of the societies that originated or used the myth" (the societies are not currently believing the myth, but used -- past tense -- the myth).

The formal sense does not insult or berate anyone, because all the representative believers have passed away. The informal is inappropriate because there are other editors, readers, and notable and reliable sources that uphold the belief.

The Jewish tale of the Golem, then, is a myth -- while the parting of the Sea of Reeds is a belief. While neither has direct evidence, only one is actually believed.

This has become apparent in the subject of Creation Myths, where representative living religions are being equated with dead religions. Living religions quite often employ metaphor in such a way that the word myth does not give an accurate representation of the belief structure.

The changes I've proposed (and tentatively put in the body of this guide article) are not meant to change the original meaning of this article, but rather to clarify what is already implied in the use of tenses of the original wording.EGMichaels (talk) 13:04, 25 February 2010 (UTC)

Furthermore, be consistent; referring to currently held "Christian myths" and "Hindu beliefs" in a similar context demonstrates an informal use, while "Hindu beliefs" and "Greek myths" does not. is not being consistent. This edit contradicts itself. I have more to say on this but I'm out of time. Nevertheless, I have reverted your change now please do us the courtesy of WP:BRD instead of reverting me again. Ben (talk) 13:40, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Greek myths are not currently believed, hence no contradiction.EGMichaels (talk) 14:30, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
You don't just change a guideline or style guide like this. Take your suggestions to the village pump. This page is based on a consensus of editors, and requires more than you two talking about it to enact your changes. --King Öomie 15:07, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Village pump?EGMichaels (talk) 15:10, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
WP:VPP. People gather there to discuss policy. Make a thread, with your diff before and after your change, ask for input. --King Öomie 15:14, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Thanks! To be honest, I didn't like my edit either -- but tried to clarify what was there instead of making a real change. A real change would include the use of myth as symbolic language even for contemporary ideas, which may or may not actually be believed. Santa Claus, for instance, is a modern myth. That's a better way to express a formal use of the term than the tense differences I was exploring from the original wording.EGMichaels (talk) 15:19, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
It's no problem. Unilaterally editing a policy that arguments elsewhere rely on is never good. But if you can get community consensus in favor or your edit (or a related one), I have no issues with it. The page has to reflect consensus- not whichever version best suits my arguments. --King Öomie 15:22, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Hence the reason I was afraid to make a substantive change, rather than clarify what already seemed to be there. But I'll go to the Village Pump. Please come too if you get a chance. :-)EGMichaels (talk) 15:26, 26 February 2010 (UTC)

King, Ben -- rather that create a huge row on the village pump, I'm adding "symbolic literary structure" into the formal meaning. The problem has been that there is not been a clean cut way to separate the formal and informal meanings. The informal is synonymous with falsehood. The former is synonymous with symbolic (which would be true or untrue, and lacks value judgment). This seems too small for a full blown debate, but if you disagree, feel free to discuss.EGMichaels (talk) 14:02, 28 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi Gabbe -- could you please elaborate on how this is substantive? The current definition gives no clear way to avoid the informal meaning for current belief systems. The informal meaning is "commonly believed but untrue". A formal meaning, therefore, must either be 1) not commonly believed, but 2) not necessarily untrue (i.e. neither true nor untrue). My first attempt to solve this problem was to address current verses dead belief systems -- the 1st option. This was rejected. Therefore, the only other avenue is by means of the 2nd option, on focusing on symbolic rather than literal truth. One of these is required by the current wording, which mandates a rejection of the informal use. Am I missing something here? I haven't altered the inherent meaning at all, but clarified what is mandated by avoidance of the informal meaning. I'll be happy to work with you here, but between you and Ben the article is retaining an inherent problem, which has spilled over into at least one article, and perhaps others.EGMichaels (talk) 15:25, 28 February 2010 (UTC)

Regarding this edit: The reason I think it counts as "substantive" is that what it did wasn't a mere tidying of spelling or merging two short paragraphs, but a "clarification" as you put it. Whether your edit constituted a mere clarification or actual change of meaning is something that should be decided by a consensus at this page.
Now, allow me to be clear: I'm not saying your edit was necessarily anything more than a clarification. What I'm saying is that you should wait and give others a chance to give feedback on your proposal before altering this page. From what I saw there was a discussion about your previous edits, which you concluded with this comment. After that I think you should wait a while to see if anyone objects to that suggestion before altering WP:WTA accordingly. Remember: WP:BOLD is typically not a good idea on pages documenting policies and guidelines. Gabbe (talk) 15:42, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
Fair enough. How long do you wait? And would you care to participate? Thanks.EGMichaels (talk) 15:48, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
I would wait a day or possibly two if I were you. If nobody objects here, I'd take that as a tacit support of your alteration, and you can feel free to re-revert my revert. Gabbe (talk) 15:57, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
Thanks Gabbe :-)EGMichaels (talk) 16:26, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
I'm not so sure. This edit[2] makes the sentence more confusing, and I'm not clear on exactly what it accomplishes. Also, is it really true that a myth is something that people used to believe is true but no longer believe? I hear the term "creation myth" all the time - for example, the Book of Genesis tells the Jewish and Christian creation myth. Some groups of Native Americans have a creation myth involving a turtle, or coming out of a kiva on a ladder. I think most would acknowledge that they don't literally believe these, yet they are part of vital, ongoing religious and cultural stories. On a side note, I think you could call someone a "baseball legend" or a "legend in the kitchen" or something, if you put it in quotes and footnoted it. That's a very different meaning of the word. Obviously Wikipedia can't adopt that tone directly, or endorse the truth of someone being a legend. - Wikidemon (talk) 17:01, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
Right -- Ben was probably right in not limiting "myth" to past beliefs. But myths are not literally true either, even current myths. A myth symbolically represents something else, much as a metaphor does, but as a larger literary unit. A myth is not a metaphorical phrase, but a symbolic story. A turtle may hold up the planet, or the sky may be the inside of Ymir's skull. Clouds don't just look like Ymir's brains (a simile), but are Ymir's brains (a metaphor). These are symbols. Graves goes to great lengths to define myths in this way, as does Campbell, and neither were theists.EGMichaels (talk) 17:10, 28 February 2010 (UTC)

EG, do you have a source that discusses / defines myth as a symbolic literary structure? I think your suggestion to change the wording of one of the various definitions would carry a lot more weight if you could show that it's not just a product of your own opinion on the matter. Nefariousski (talk) 21:18, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I do. Should I put them here on this talk page?EGMichaels (talk) 21:22, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
This is probably the best place for initial discussion. Are you intending to open this up at the WP:VPP as well? Nefariousski (talk) 21:31, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
I've never used the VPP and was hoping this was too minor to bring up. How about I supply the documentation here, and we can both touch base with the VPP to give ourselves a sanity check. Fair enough?EGMichaels (talk) 21:43, 1 March 2010 (UTC)

Myth as Symbol

Nef, since my time is crunched right now, it may take me a few days to add all the sources to round out the idea. I'll build this piecemeal, with comment added when I'm done. For each reference, I'll add italics to sections that I believe speak most specifically to myth being designed as symbol:

  • Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, volume 1 (Easton Press edition), page 12: "True myth may be defined as the reduction to narrative shorthand of ritual mime performed on public festivals, and in many cases recorded pictorially on temple walls, vases, seals, bowls, mirrors, chests, shielfs, tapestries, and the like."EGMichaels (talk) 01:25, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
  • Margaret E. Noble and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Myths of the Hidus and Biddhists (Easton Press edition), page 4: "in India mythology is not a mere subject of antiquarian research and disquisition; here it still permeates the whole life of he prople as a controlling influence. And it is the living mythology which, passing through the stages of representation of successive cosmic processes and assuming definite shape thereafter, has become a power factor in the everyday life of the people." Also page 8, describing the Mythical Origin of Caste: "This myth is true in an allegorical sense."EGMichaels (talk) 01:49, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
  • Lewis Spence, Myths of the North American Indians (Easton Press edition), page 81 on Totemism: "In each of these attributes the several animals to whom they belonged appeared to the savage as more gifted than himself, and so deeply was he influenced by this seeming superiority that if he coveted a certain quality he would place himself under the protection of the animal or bird which symbolized it."EGMichaels (talk) 01:49, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
  • Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Commemorative Edition), pages 17-18: "The archetypes to be discovered and assimilated are precisely those that have inspired, throughout the annals of human culture, the basic images of ritual, mythology, and vision. These 'Eternal Ones of the Dream' are not to be confused with the personally modified symbolic figures that appear in nightmare and madness to the still tormented individual. Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solution shown are directly valid for all mankind." (Here Campbell is contrasting the personal unconscious of dream with the Jungian collective unconscious of myth, with mythology forming archetypes from shared symbolic touchstones hardwired into all humans).EGMichaels (talk) 03:06, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
Please note that seperating the word "Myth" from formal terms isn't going to change the interpretation or definition of those formal terms. Creation myth passes no judgement regarding interpretation, falsehood, truth. It simply defines a religious cosmogenical account that is the deliberate act of one or more diety. No matter how many sources you find for "myth" unless any of them are specific to discussing "Creation myth" I don't see how any changes made to this guideline are going to bring about changes to the articles that discuss creation myths. Creation myth isn't defined as a myth about creation because then value judgements are introduced (by using the word "myth" alone) which formal terms should not do. Precision is lost when the words are seperated and nowhere will you find it defined as such. Nefariousski (talk) 17:47, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
Nef -- the creation myth proponents were pointing to this very guideline. I didn't make that up. And when I got here, I noted that the "formal" meaning was not worded in such a way that the "informal" meaning was excluded. It is not enough to claim formality -- one must also avoid informality in the process. My three words will do just that, and are right in line with the near universal meaning of the word "myth" in academic works. In any case, if you were NOT trying to pass a value judgment, then you would have easliy considered a change in terms. You wouldn't -- precisely because a value judgment was intended. "Symbolic literary structure" allows you to keep your value judgment, without having to fight so hard, since something "symbolic" is both "not literally true" (your value judgment) and the "not necessarily false" required by avoidance of the so-called "informal" meaning. You cannot claim to use a formal meaning if you cannot avoid the informal. The problem wasn't in you, but in the specificity of the guide. These three words should solve the problem.EGMichaels (talk) 18:04, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
  • Reject proposed "Symbolic literary structure" language - I'm sorry EGM. I'm not going to challenge whether you are right or wrong on this, I'm simply going to say the language you propose is too esoterric. Additionally, as King mentioned, you can't just change policy like this. Please self-revert. NickCT (talk) 19:20, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
I'd be happy with a full rewrite that's not so poorly written, but these three words proposed are the least intrusive. If you can propose a different wording in which the "formal" use excludes the "informal", I'm all ears. But the poor wording in the previous version is the source of a number of unnecessary conflicts. In any case, let me finish my quotes (should be another dozen books or so) and we can see if there is another way to fix the problem without completely rewriting it.EGMichaels (talk) 20:07, 3 March 2010 (UTC)

Here's the problem.

Meaning Ascribed Truth Value
Informal Untrue
Formal N/A

You are extrapolating a meaning of "untrue" from the formal definition apparently from its failure to say "empirically true". The formal definition simply doesn't address the issue at all. There's nothing to exclude- you're drawing your own conclusion. But to your question, Henry Luis Gates, Jr. used 'myth' in its formal sense in the television series (special? Not sure) Faces of America-

"This isn't one of those family myths. This one is documented."

-Referring to a family story, passed down, about a famous relative, or one involved in a famous series of events, upon providing empirical evidence that said event actually took place. In his statement, it might have happened, and it might not have- but to the family, that distinction is unimportant. --King Öomie 20:44, 3 March 2010 (UTC)

King, it's not a problem of extrapolation, so much as a problem of HOW truth or falsehood is not applicable. It isn't applicable because myth is symbolic. In any case, give me a few days while I populate the examples. I'm not trying to show THAT you are wrong, but HOW you are right.EGMichaels (talk) 20:52, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
EGM - A couple of editors have expressed issues w/ "the symbolic literary structure ". Given that you editted it in outside the usual norms for policy articles, I would strongly suggest you self-revert. NickCT (talk) 00:15, 4 March 2010 (UTC)
EGM - Following no response, I'm going to revert. NickCT (talk) 22:12, 4 March 2010 (UTC)
Nick -- there was nothing to respond to. You haven't made any suggestions to improse the policy. But I'll give you 24 hours to suggest something.EGMichaels (talk) 22:19, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm also going to have to request that we see this discussed at WP:VPP before we make any sort of change to the policy. Policy articles are an instance where WP:BEBOLD doesn't apply. Nefariousski (talk) 22:24, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm still asking for something logical. If I take it to VPP, I'll argue for a full rewrite.EGMichaels (talk) 22:30, 4 March 2010 (UTC)


I'm removing the newly proposed caution to avoid describing things as "notable",[3] per WP:BRD for a couple reasons. First, in a number of cases saying that X is noted for Y is sourceable, and is the best, most succinct way of describing why a person or thing has gained the public's attention. In the lede, a sentence like "Mongo Industries is an American fashion company noted for a series of brightly colored animal print dinner jackets, favored by entertainment celebrities" gets to the heart of the matter. Second, in stub and start-class articles, an assertion of the notability of the subject is required to avoid speedy deletion. The most direct way to say that, often, is to say in simple words, upfront, why something is noteworthy. That's usually a transitional state, because ultimately it is better to source the article fully, in which case the article does not need an obvious claim to notability. But in the meanwhile, having one guideline that seems to require editors to state why something is notable, and another than says you can't describe things as notable, creates a bit of a minefield for new articles. - Wikidemon (talk) 17:08, 27 February 2010 (UTC)

Agreed. All articles must satisfy the General Notability Guidelines in order to exist, so the use of "notable" and derivatives (when talking about the subject of the article) should not pose any sort of problem. That being said, I can see instances where derivatives of "notable" might be used when not specifically referring to the subject, so conceivably some form of guideline could be useful. -- Scjessey (talk) 17:22, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
This or another guideline might, however, usefully advise how to use "notable". I see quite a lot of articles stating "John Smith is a notable Canadian biologist" - transparently, and clumsily, an attempt to assert notability without giving any substantive reason - rather than "John Smith is a Canadian biologist notable for his studies of X, Y and Z", which is much more useful both for the reader and for other editors. Barnabypage (talk) 17:25, 27 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi guys, As the one who added the words on "notable" I think I should explain myself. This idea comes from a discussion at the village pump. The issue identified was that the word notable appears too often, especially in fairly new articles. As you have already identified, this often comes from people wanting to show that notability requirements are met. The point we are trying to make is that you don't do that by using the word notable in an article. I agree that there are some occasions where you do want to use the word notable, but I think that is adequately covered by the caveats given in the lead. "There is no word that should never be used in a Wikipedia article" etc. Yaris678 (talk) 13:43, 28 February 2010 (UTC)


Use of the word "terrorist" is usually frowned upon in articles, yet it seems to have a life of its own in category titles. Is there a reason for this? Lapsed Pacifist (talk) 02:33, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Probably because is a word that is necesary to describe reality and in the articles can be avoided by semantic contorsions while in categories there is no way to substitute with long euphemisms. The avoidance in the use of the word "terrorism" is one of the shames of the en-wikipedia that reflects the corrosive power of the PC. Once more I want to state that terrorism is a disctinct phenomena and that to call it in bizarre ways is confortable for editors -because they avoid discussions with fanatics- but is unconfortable for the truth and unfair with the victims.--Igor21 (talk) 11:10, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
And how would you go around defining terrorism then? I see you edit a lot about al-qaeda attacks, probably emotionally because your country was hit by an al-qaeda attack. But are insurgents fighting for independence terrorists? Were, let's say, my ancestors of the Dutch Republic terrorists when they fought Spain for 80 years? I'm sure the Spanish kings thought of it that way, but modern history doesn't. You edit articles related to attacks by Al-Qaeda. Nobody jests the use of the term terrorist much, since nobody likes Al-Qaeda. But for the hundreds of other conflicts ongoing in the world today, or in the recent past it's much harder to define who are terrorists and who aren't. That's why an encyclopedia should refrain from using such terms, because terrorist equals "enemy". Neutral articles don't ever call people enemies by definition, not even World War II articles. (talk) 02:55, 7 January 2010 (UTC)
Are there particular category titles, or applications of those titles which you're concerned about within the subcategories of {Category:Terrorism}? Шизомби (talk) 13:59, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
Part of the trouble is that the word terrorism is very often used loosely with the meaning "illegitimate (or not legally authorized) political acts of violence". That cloude the issue of the supposed reason a certain act was committed, and the point that with some of what's done by an army or a guerrilla movement you sympathize with, it would, by that definition, be called terrorism as soon as one disapproves of its agents.
Like, when Palestinian outfits fire rockets from Gaza it's called "terrorism" even if the ability to hit a target is low, but when Israel replies by an air strike killing hundreds of civilians it's seen as proper military operations, hence nowhere near terrorism. The difference, apart from which side you sympathize with, is that many people simply don't think the Palestinian groups (most of them looser than a proper army brigade of course) are legitimate, so they refuse to recognize these are fighting with the means they have.Strausszek (talk) 04:34, 4 January 2010 (UTC)
Category titles are navigational devices for allowing readers interested in a subject to find other articles they should read. They are not always claims that someone is or is not a terrorist. For example, if an organization is suspected of being involved in a terrorist plot in India, but later exonerated, then subject to BLP concerns it might make sense to apply the a category like "Terrorism in India" to the group's Wikipedia article, but not a category like "Terrorist Groups". A professor who studies terrorism, anti-terrorism groups, books about terrorism, etc., may all be put in the category. The problem isn't with acknowledging that terrorism is real and a valid subject, it really only happens when we're making the tough decisions on whether to call someone or something a terrorist. Does that make sense? I think there are similar problems with calling people criminals because they have committed a crime. That doesn't stop us from using crime categories. - Wikidemon (talk) 04:52, 4 January 2010 (UTC)
The banning of the word "terrorism" is ridiculous and is based in the ignorance of academic research on the subject. E.g Strausszek above gives a full lesson of confusion : an army can commit crimes of war but cannot commit terrorism that is reserved by definition to non-governemental entities. However, he is correct that the definition of terrorism (stolen to the wikipedia readers) does not include nothing about legitimacy. Terrorism is a tactic very easy to define and I hope that one day, the serious people will gather momentum enough to finish with this ludicrous ban and the mindless definition that is written in the article as part of the terrorism denying.--Igor21 (talk) 12:13, 8 January 2010 (UTC)
Igor21 there is no ban on the use of the word terrorist but there is a ban on non neutral point of views. What WTA says is "These words are inherently non-neutral, so they should not be used as unqualified labels in the voice of the article." which is in line with WP:ASF "Assert facts, including facts about opinions—but do not assert the opinions themselves."
If an army is not at war then how can it commit war crimes? If it is at war then the "terrorists" are belligerents and would be subject to the same laws of war as the "army" and so presumably, by your logic, are no more capable of committing terrorism than an army? If an army is not at war then what does one call the members of a unit that uses terror to subdue opponents? When you go down that route how does one categories the sides in the Rhodesian and South African Bush Wars during the 1970s and 1980s? The South Africans clearly though they were fighting terrorists, and the SWAPO and the ANC thought they were fighting an illegal regime (see the article crime against humanity) and that they fighting under the Geneva Conventions where "armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting ... against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination," GC Protocol I general provision (Art 1.4). There are often shades of grey and political opinion involved in deciding who is or is not a terrorist which is why in Wikipedia articles it is desirable that "the description must be attributed in the article text to its source, preferably by direct quotation, and always with a verifiable citation." -- PBS (talk) 11:46, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree that attempting to dump "terrorist" and "terrorism" from wikipedia is self defeating. Can it be abused? Yes. Is its definition contested? Yes. But you know what? Wikipedia has an article on "Terrorist." There is a huge body of literature on the topic. Throwing out the word terrorist is absurd. If Wikipedia is supposed to be a hub of information, shouldn't we be using the correct technical terms and fight these battles on a case-by-case basis (both for adding and removing the label of terrorist)? People seem to be fundamentally confused about some things:
Terrorism vs Terror Tactic/Acts of Terror
  • Terrorism - An act performed by a non-governmental entity, intended to spread terror in a particular population.
  • Terror Tactic - Any strategy whose primary intent is to spread terror, rather than achieve logistical ends.
A government can use terror tactics, and plenty do. A government can also sponsor terrorism. But by definition terrorism must be conducted by an organization outside of the government. There is a major difference in accountability and scope. A government by definition has territories, physical and sovereign land mass. Because terrorism is non-governmental, it is frequently multi-national and you cannot interact with it as you would a government entity due to sovereignty issues. I don't understand how this is such an unclear concept to so many people, but clearly it is. There should only be confusion on this point in the case where a unified state effectively exists, in absence of other government, but is for some reason not recognized (such as if the Kurdish Autonomous Region started performing terror tactics). This is the modern definition, as Terrorism's core usage (and literature) has not included State Terrorism for decades.
Differences of Terror Tactics/Acts of Terror from Other Violence
  1. The target of the violence is primarily symbolic, rather than logistic. The physical destruction caused is not the main goal.
  2. Terror tactics must be part of an organized pattern (strategy) of violence.
  3. A primary goal of this strategy must be instilling fear in a targeted populace.
  4. This strategy of fear may be intended to achieve some goals.
  5. The targets of violence are not able to reduce their individual probability of being affected (indiscriminate).
The first criteria is a summation of what most of the definitions in the wiki article say. Basically, with terror tactics- you don't win by destroying your enemy's force, it's money, or anything tangible. Your goal is a psychological impact. The 2nd piece just excludes random acts of violence. The third is a given, I would think. The fourth piece means that terror does not have to be your only goal, but if it is not then it is your primary means-to-an-end. In fact, some authors contend that the most terroristic actions would be ones with no stated motive or goals. The last criteria is important, but not limited to acts of terror. It basically means that targets are chosen with deliberate randomness, as this achieves maximum fear (since anyone could be the next target). The less random your targets are, the less terroristic the action. The first 3 are pretty much hard and fast, and are implicit in just about every definition. The final two may be considered matters of degree. But if an strategy is in that spectrum, I would be hard pressed to not call it a terror tactic. However, as stated, it can only be terrorism if they are a separate entity from the government.
Also note, that while I don't have the citation for these points- it does have a scholarly source. It is also is consistent with the scholarly blurbs for Bockstette, Novotny, Gibbs, and the majority of other cited authors there (with the exception of Bassiouni, who apparently has not picked up a journal lately?). Terrorism is not some unclear fuzzy thing. It is just something that most people are poorly educated on. I don't think that is a good reason for avoiding using it. Hopefully by splitting this into two debates we can make this easier. People seem to be fighting a two front battle on "Who can do terrorism?" and "What is terrorism?" and it seems pointless when there are already workable, well studied definitions out there. Benjamid (talk) 03:05, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
As a note, I still can't find the paper with the original source but one from Schmid will work just as well: "Terrorism is a method of combat in which random or symbolic victims become targets of violence. Through the repeated use of violence or the credible threat of violence, members of another group are put in a state of chronic fear (terror). The victimization of the target is considered extranormal by most observers...which in turn creates an audience beyond the target of terror.... The purpose of terrorism is either to immobilize the target of terror in order to produce disorientation and/or compliance, or to mobilize secondary targets of demand or targets of attention (Schmid 1983)" If I run across the source I am thinking of in my papers, I'll post it. Benjamid (talk) 05:22, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Benjamid: Were the organisations that made up the French resistance terrorist organisations?
  • File:IRA Bishopsgate.JPG Destruction caused by the IRA Bishopsgate truck-bomb. Not a terrorist bombing? "1. The target of the violence is primarily symbolic, rather than logistic. The physical destruction caused is not the main goal." Benjamid.
Towards the end of the long war the IRA bombed the City of London to cause such economic harm to the British economy that it would have a two fold effect. The first was that the cost of such attacks would affect the British economy, and second that insurance companies would invoke the war clause forcing the British government to pay compensation on the main land for the first time and in doing so recognise publicly that they were in a state of armed conflict with he IRA (not a policing operation against criminals -- the political position held after the ending of internment). Most British people thought that the 1992 Baltic Exchange bombing (that one bomb cost more than 10,000 previous bombings in Belfast) and the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing were terrorist attacks, but according to your definition (1) and (3) they were not. This is why we do not claim in the passive narrative voice that the bombing was or was not a terrorist attack but instead attribute it to reliable sources.
Your point "5. The targets of violence are not able to reduce their individual probability of being affected (indiscriminate)." would rule many many of the attacks on many people who were targeted. For example the Brighton hotel bombing, and the assassinations of Airey Neave (Don't be active in the Conservative party) and the Milltown Cemetery attack (Don't go to IRA funerals). Yet may reliable sources consider all those attacks to be terrorist attacks. Which is why we have this section in this guideline. -- PBS (talk) 05:21, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
Re: Philip Baird Shearer: If the intent of the bombing was to only cause legitimate economic damage or destroy infrastructure, it's not a terrorist action. In fact, there's already a word for that and it's called sabotage. People who commit sabotage also already have a name: saboteurs. The fact that most British citizens view it as a terrorist action does not change that. I can in fact understand why there might be confusion, since the IRA did commit terrorist actions and thus one would be correct in saying that some or all of the bombers were terrorists. They just didn't happen to be committing terrorism with that particular crime. You could also argue it was terrorism because it was an attack that (maybe) was part of a campaign of terror acts at the time (though that's pretty tenuous). Or you could argue that by destroying property, it was intended to cause a financial terror (where people are worried about their financial safety rather than their physical safety). I would tend to err on the side of caution and not label that as a terror attack. I am not quite sure what your point is though. I wouldn't either way state "this was not a terror attack." I would not expect any article to tell me what is "not terrorism" anymore than I expect every biography to tell me if someone is "not a basketball player." What I am saying is that while a conservative usage should be applied, there are certain actions that most certainly fall under the category of terrorism. While great care should be taken to avoid over-application of the label, I don't see why that means we should jump through hoops to specifically avoid using it even when it is clearly the case.
Additionally, on point 5 I already noted that there is a matter of degree involved. The whole point of a terror tactic when attacking a population is the balance between how many people feel their safety is in jeopardy versus how much more likely a person is to actually be targeted. If I say "I will go through the Boston phone book and kill each John Smith, in order" then only one person is will feel unsafe and one person will have less safety. If instead, I declare "I will kill one person listed in the Boston phone book, randomly" then that affects more people and causes more fear. Saying you will kill someone who is an active conservative is terribly vague and means one of two things. If your plan is to actually eradicate all conservatives by killing them all, your strategy is policide- killing of your opposition. If your plan is to kill some to scare the others, it's terrorism. Since both the term 'active' and 'conservative' are not well defined, I could see that as being a terror tactic. Again, I would say that it makes sense to take a conservative stance in applying the label of terrorism (i.e. maybe we don't count something even that vague as being a terror tactic.
But there are definitely clearly defined incidents of terrorism. I think it is relatively clear that the Sept 11 attacks were committed with the intent to spread fear in the US (and perhaps beyond). Al-Qaeda didn't take credit for the attacks and pat themselves on the back for depleting Manhattan of businessmen and prime commercial real estate. They said directly that it was attack against America and a reprisal for US actions in the Middle East. Bin Laden issued a Fatwa indicating that Americans and Jews should be killed everywhere. If he had credible means to actually achieve this, I suppose you could call it intent to genocide- but I think it is pretty clear that the intended result is to hurt political will through terror actions. That seems like a pretty cut and dry terror attack to me, and since it was not a government and is part of a larger pattern of attacks- that indicates its a terroristic action. There is important information in that statement that is hard to succinctly express otherwise. It's like if we banned the use of the word torture, and were forced to always describe the specific injuries that had occurred. Saying "The government put screws in his thumbs" is vague. Sure, it might be torture but it could also be a medical procedure. It might also be an experiment. Saying "The government tortured him by putting screws in his thumbs" is unambiguous. It states, succinctly, that the intent was to cause pain. Similarly, terrorism states succinctly that the intent of the action was to spread fear. In the same way that torture is a specific type of pain, terrorism is a specific type of violence. If we're no longer going to refer to terrorism, does that mean we also need to no longer refer to torture? Do we say: "Pinochet's government subjected 29,000 to severe pain" as opposed to those 29,000 being tortured? I think it is similarly silly to speak about the Munich Massacre without reference to terrorism. By avoiding saying that, the motivations and strategic value of the incident is obscured for no apparent reason. And what is the benefit? We don't have to make hard choices in whether or not to use the word sometimes? Seems like a cop-out to me. If I am reading an article about a bombing that fits these criteria, I want to see it described as terrorism. I don't want to have to read through the whole article and 10 surrounding articles to get the motivations of the people involved, in order to figure out if money, ideology, or unconventional warfare tactics were the reason Benjamid (talk) 05:22, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Attacks against the Conservative party was because of their political opinion not an attempt by the IRA to commit genocide. The point is that it was targeted and by not being an active member of the Conservative party one reduced the chances of being a target. As it was targeted your definition makes that not terrorism. It is because people hold different views on what is or is not terrorism and the way it is used as a political polemic that we have this section. I put in a Google search for [Brighton bombing terrorist attack]. If we did not have this prohibition I could simply write "The 12 October 1984 Brighton bombing was an IRA terrorist attack.[4]" using the first source returned by Google. Or one could write it as "The Belfast Telegraph stated in an article written in October 2009 that "The Brighton bombing was the most audacious terrorist attack in the history of the IRA."[5]" Given your self defined restrictions on what is or is not a terrorist attack which handles the facts better? It is because terrorism is often a matter of opinion we have the restrictions that we do and even when many editors think there is a clear cut case of terrorism, using the same formula creates better articles. BTW This article by the BBC is far more enlightening than the Belfast Telegraph which I used as a source. It was returned as the third article returned by the Google search -- one after Wikipedia's Brighton hotel bombing which does not assert that it was a terrorist attack. -- PBS (talk) 07:08, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree with the definition of Benjamid. It is the one I keep sourcing with Hoffman and Schmidt except the point 5 that is correct but allows some word games like saying that bombing the Conservative convention was not terrorism "because the members of the party would have been able to resign".
There are two sets of problems with the definition of terrorism. One is what we can call the trivial set that is to diferenciate from others kinds of political violence. But then there is also a scientific problem that is that if the definition implies the state of mind of the terrorist, it becomes imposible to ascertain since this state of mind is unknown for the observer. My point is that we do not need to deal with this second set since the sources (Hoffman and Schmidt, not the Daily Telegraph, the BBC or the USA Today) do the work for us.
Philip normally uses the IRA for the problematic cases that he produces to shell the definitions of the sources. IRA it is problematic because was the group practising terrorims who dedicate more effort to appear as the army of a nation.
However most of the actions against the british were terrorism since were "to send messages using violence". As I always said, the word terrorism must be asigned to each incident and only in extreme cases (RAF, BR, etc...) must be given to the organization.
Anyway, I think this ban must finish and we must call things by its name.--Igor21 (talk) 22:22, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Re: PBS You seem to be having a reading comprehension issue about what I have said and not said. I specifically stated that the level of targeting is a continuum. Your point does not make any sense in that light. Firstly, while the IRA stated that they would kill all Conservative members- that was not a credible threat. Nor was it their goal anyways. Actually attempting to do so probably would have been suicide for them, literally and figuratively (see: Shining Path). Had they been actually attempting this, it would be policide (as I have already stated). As such, it is potentially terrorism. But again, it might not be. If they're attacking the leadership, you could easily see that as just being a way to get some terror impact out of what is primarily assassination. The fact that there are unclear situations does not indicate to me that we shouldn't use correct terminology in all instances, even when it clearly applies. Benjamid (talk) 04:07, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
Additionally, I do agree that while assigning the label of terrorism to actions is certainly suitable (and by association, those committing those actions as terrorists)- I definitely think that great care should be taken in labeling any group or association as terrorist, especially one with a distributed leadership structure. At this point, Hammas could easily be considered a political, terrorist, or humanitarian organization. They have branches that have participated in each of those activities. While I am fine with saying that committing one act of terrorism makes a person a terrorist (in the same way one murder makes a person a killer), that logic does not extend to organizations. Giving one loan doesn't make make a business a bank. Unless an organization regularly uses terrorism as one of its primary activities (or openly states it intends to), I would never want to apply that label. This is especially a major issue since organizations exist over potentially long periods of time. What might have once been a terrorist organization may no longer engage in those activities. But I am fine stating that an organization has participated in terrorism in a particular incident. Or has sponsored terrorism (again in a particular incident). Benjamid (talk) 04:07, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
Surly the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986, was "to send messages using violence", and most other retaliatory air raids are done for the same reason. The IRA always "claimed responsibility" and gave justifications for their bombings, even if they seemed weak to an impartial observer -- and nauseating to their victims -- see for example the Enniskillen Remembrance Day Bombing. Your opinions on whether the IRA was not a terrorist organisation or if the RAF was, is just that your opinion, and not justification for editorialising in articles. Instead it is better that "If a reliable source describes a person or group [as terrorist], then the word can be used but the description must be attributed in the article text to its source, preferably by direct quotation" (WP:TERRORIST).
Your arguments remind me of those who wish the word "hacker" had not gained the meaning "cracker" in the media, you can argue all you like that it has a precise meaning and that any other use is not correct but it ain't like that in the real world of reliable sources. Take this CNN report for example
CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. military has had all too much experience with deadly terrorist attacks; 1983, a truck bomb in Beirut killed 241 Marines; 1995, a car bomb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed five Americans; 1996, 19 U.S. airmen killed in another truck bomb attack at a complex in Saudi Arabia; and in 2000, 17 sailors killed in a suicide attack against the USS Cole in Yemen.
If attacks on a military are not terrorist attacks (because do not target "innocent civilians"), then the U.S. military does not have much experience with deadly terrorist attacks and Chris plante is wrong in his opinion. But we do not make such editorial judgements instead we employ a simple formula "Assert facts, including facts about opinions—but do not assert the opinions themselves": "On 22 August 2003 Chris Plante, the CCN's Pentagon correspondent, stated that the US military had a lot of experience in dealing with terrorist attacks which made them a harder target to attack than in the past." Using this formula we do not need to judge if he is correct (in his usage of the term terrorism) or not, and as the term is full of political nuances, with no clear definition, it allows us to report the facts without making judgements about the use of the word. -- PBS (talk) 04:53, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
Philip : You are the one who editorializes by denying evidence again and again with you quizes and quotes from newpapers and TV channels. Now you go even further coming out with "hacker" just to beat around the bush to avoid reality. Please, stop doing original research analizing cases and tell us why the opinion of academic sources must be less relevant that your guesses, opinions and doubts.--Igor21 (talk) 12:33, 7 February 2010 (UTC)
Philip : Firstly, are you really citing CNN as a reliable source on defining who is a terrorist? A beat writer banging out an article on a deadline is not an authority on terrorism. Nor is an army official, unless they are a noted authority on the matter. A guy like Scott Atran is an authority on terrorism. Regardless of my gut instinct, if someone like that says that someone is a terrorist- I am inclined to believe him. On the other hand, I am rather disinclined to believe Joseph Stalin's assessment of terrorists at this point in history. Which, by the way, was published as news at the time and was assigned by a high level official. An authority on terrorism needs to be someone who well versed on the subject in general, has a good understanding of the particular group in question, and has no obvious POV conflict to label them as a terrorist for their own benefit. The US government violates that last assumption. If you have guys you don't like, and you're in a "War on Terror" it is safe to assume you want to label people as terrorists. They are in fact saboteurs or insurgents, or maybe even asymmetric forces if you want to term them as that. If you attack a military complex with a bomb, that is a surprise attack- not a terror attack. Who's terrorized? The soldiers? Maybe, but I think it is assumed as normative that if you are in the army and deployed that someone might try to blow you up. If people want to quote the US Army/CIA official view on these things (etc.), that's fine too as long as they're attributed as one would an opinion, but we are talking about using definitive labeling terminology. I would think that reliable sources on this would be academic specialists, reputable cross-national NGO's, UN assessments, and things that that nature. Benjamid (talk) 04:07, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
I should state however that in certain government reports, but not necessarily press releases, the term "terrorist attack" may in fact mean an attack by a group that is considered a terrorist organization- differentiating them from a militia or insurgents, etc. In any event, I would avoid citing such a thing at all unless it indicated if they were trying to state that it was an attack by a terrorist group or if it was an act of terrorism. Benjamid (talk) 04:31, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
"Your arguments remind me of those who wish the word "hacker" had not gained the meaning "cracker" in the media" - Additionally, on a side note there was no way that the term 'cracker' was ever going to get a mainstream foothold in the media in the 70's. Unless you're Richard Pryor, I don't think you're allowed to go on TV and say that 'crackers' infiltrated your computer. This is a totally different discussion. There were two separate and obscure terms. They got mainstreamed into one term because there was so much overlap in meaning. There is no alternative word for terrorists or terrorism. It is a specific term that just happens to be overused because it's a convenient way to say that you think someone does very bad things. The media uses it to mean "Any non-governmental group of people who kill/threaten people using surprise/unprovoked attacks" which happens to be horribly vague. Vague enough to put almost any military commander in that set. I don't see that as a valid excuse to stop using it. It just means you need to actually use it where it applies. Which involves using reliable sources. Not reliable sources about EVENTS but reliable sources about TERRORISM. Which, no offense to CNN, happen to be vastly different specializations. Benjamid (talk) 04:31, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
Too many comments in this thread are addressing the editor, with things like "[Y]ou are the one who editorializes by denying evidence again and again," popping up from time to time. Please assume good faith. Please focus on the subject, not the editor. Wikipedia is trying to be an encyclopedia for all people, so use of a label like "terrorist" is extremely problematic. It must be used very sparingly, and never in "Wikipedia's voice". -- Scjessey (talk) 14:03, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
"It must be used very sparingly, and never in "Wikipedia's voice"." That is exactly the point we're debating right now. It's nice that you are adding your opinion, but that's still just an opinion. I would say that it should be used "when appropriate" and "conservatively." I have no trouble with Wikipedia stating that Al Quaeda is a terrorist organization. I don't see any published information stating they do much else (compared to Hammas, for example) To be conservative however, I would prefer to state that Al Quaeda are 'an organization is known for their acts of terrorism.' I think it is an extremely encyclopedic trait to state facts as they are, rather than to engage in some policy of beating around the bush. I just have no idea who that benefits. If a person's only notable activity is engaging in terror attacks, shouldn't they be referred to as a terrorist? That is a concise, effective transmission of information. It is my belief that this practice obscures a reasonable person's understanding of the relevance historical persons and groups. This is encyclopedic for all people. I think it is extremely encyclopedic to call a carpenter a carpenter, an teacher a teacher, a soldier a soldier, and a terrorist a terrorist. People can have plenty of different roles, but if they fit I think they should be noted. What is the counterpoint to this?
I am advocating lifting the ban on the use of the word terrorist and replacing it with a verifiable set of rules about its usage, plus a warning to use the term as conservatively as possible. From what I can see, there is significant support for that viewpoint, so who states that this prohibition is written in stone? Benjamid (talk) 23:40, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
Also, apologies if anyone has felt that I have approached them as an editor as having had some sort of bad intent. I have been attempting to argue specific points, not the character of anyone involved, which I don't see any issues with. Benjamid (talk) 23:42, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
It may just be my opinion that I am expressing, but Wikipedia is governed by the collective opinion of consensus. Referring to Al-Qaeda as a "terrorist organization", or even "an organization known for acts of terrorism", would be inappropriate. You simply cannot use Wikipedia's voice to attach such labels. Attributed statements like "described by the US State Department as a 'Foreign Terrorist Organization'" is about as far as you can go. You must understand that Al-Qaeda is regarded differently by different Wikipedia users, so Wikipedia itself must not use simplistic labels. I live in the United States, and a pretty large chunk of the world's population refer to some US overseas operations as "acts of terrorism". As a British citizen exposed to their atrocities, I regarded the IRA as terrorists, but the organization had no difficulty at all in getting US funding for weapons and their cause enjoyed significant support from many Americans. The point that I am making is that many users of Wikipedia may have a very different view of Al-Qaeda to yours, and the project tries to be as inclusive as possible. -- Scjessey (talk) 15:58, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
Scjessey is right. As the IRA bombings of Manchester and London are just in my living memory, I'm aware of cultural differences in labelling people as "terrorists" and "freedom fighters"; my father had a negative opinion of the IRA, but his Irish best friend/drinking partner had a positive opinion. This is part of the argument I made when trying to refocus the use of the word "terrorist" on the Osama bin Laden article. There really isn't an objective use of the word "terrorism", even for al-Qaeda: remember, Ronald Reagan (infamously, in hindsight) referred to the Afghan mujahideen as "freedom fighters" because they were fighting the Soviets. Likewise, Nelson Mandela was officially a terrorist according to the Thatcher administration, another point of contention between Thatcher and the Livingstone-led left-wing Greater London Council when Livingstone erected a statue of Mandela on the South Bank of the Thames, opposite Parliament. I know the US is outraged at al-Qaeda for September 11, but we're not all American. Sceptre (talk) 16:18, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
Re: Sceptre - The fact that some people have been labeled terrorists incorrectly is irrelevant. Moreover, at the time Reagan could easily have been correct in his assessment that the mujahideen were freedom fighters. In fact, you could even make the argument that Al-Qaeda is fighting for Muslim rights or Muslim privilege. These things are not mutually exclusive. You can be a terrorist fighting for freedom. There is no contradiction in that. In fact, it follows very logically when you consider that people are not free specifically because they do not have sufficient direct force to directly overcome their opponent. This isn't about opinion. We have definitions over what is a terror act and clear definitions of who is a terrorist if they commit terror acts, which I have already noted. There most certainly is an objective definition. Saying that Al-Quaeda is not a terrorist organization because at one point in time that was not its primary focus is like saying that Ted Bundy is not a serial killer because when he was a child he didn't kill anyone. Things change over time and organizations participate in many activities. With that said, if you are an NGO committing acts of terror then you are an NGO committing acts of terrorism. There's no two ways about it. If you can state: "they committed those actions with the strategic goal to create fear" according to what was previously stated, it's terrorism. This has nothing to do with being outraged at Al Quaeda. They did what they did, they had reasons for what they did, and it was and remains part of their strategy. From a humanistic standpoint it may be reprehensible, but from a strategic standpoint their attack on the twin towers was extremely successful. If they hadn't blown their cachette of support by their attacks in Indonesia, their level of recruitment would be formidable. And again, I do not see people in the Muslim world disagreeing with the fact that Al-Qaeda does its actions to cause terror in the western world. The disagreement is over whether that terror is a good thing, and the steps to produce it were justified. Wikipedia should certainly take no stance on that. It's not called terrorism because it's a bad thing done by bad people. That's just a particular moral attitude. I'm more than willing to believe that terrorism has been performed by well-intentioned people and sometimes has lead to beneficial outcomes. I mean, statistically over the course of history- that is almost inevitable. It's called terrorism because it's intended to cause terror. That's pretty objective. I don't see how an encyclopedia is responsible for people's opinions about terrorists. An encyclopedia is responsible for recording who has participated in terrorism, if that is notable. Benjamid (talk) 09:46, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
Additionally, Re: Scjessey, I am well aware that plenty of people refer to Bush and US actions as terrorism. They're clearly incorrect, due to the restriction on terrorism to NGO's but there are certainly reasonable arguments that the US has committed war crimes and may have committed acts of terror. If there was a particular military officer known for instilling fear in the population through acts of terror, I would want that noted as well. I have not heard of that being the case in the current wars, but certainly there are stories of Vietnam officers who committed pretty bad war crimes intended to create fear. This isn't about playing favorites. This is about recording history accurately. I see you are repeatedly referencing popular opinion as being in any way relevant, but it's not. Terrorism is a strategy, like a card counting at poker or a fouling in basketball. Just because many people think it's a dirty trick doesn't mean that we should shy away from stating that someone is a known card counter. This is not about protecting my viewpoints as to who I like or dislike. While I in general am opposed to killing and especially killing of non-combatants (though I may be biased, being a non-combatant), that is a heck of a lot broader than terrorism. I would recommend you check your assumption of bias at the door on this one, as you are assuming bad faith. I am not in this to label Al Qaeda a terrorist group. I simply use them because they're a recognizable slam dunk. They've committed acts of terror in the US, Kenya, and Indonesia. "Terrorism" is not a simplistic label. If you have been reading this thread, I think you should be quite aware of the definition I have noted. I went to great details to present an objective definition upon which a whole field of research is based. Saying that "terrorism" is simplistic is like saying that the word "redardation" is simplistic. Just because it is used improperly doesn't mean it lacks a definition. My issue with this matter is that avoiding the use of the term "terrorism" is an obfuscation of meaning. I am against the concept of avoiding the use of one word for what I consider to be extremely arbitrary reasons. By all the arguments you have presented, torture should also be an "avoided word" as should many others. I feel that if a word has the potential for misuse, there should be a consensus made as to its usage and that these guidelines should be posted so that the word can be used appropriately. I do not think that a word should just be "avoided" when it conveys unique and important meaning. As an academic who has done some work studying terrorism, I am well aware that the term "terrorist" is vastly overapplied but that does not justify making "terrorism" a 3rd rail topic. Benjamid (talk) 09:46, 23 February 2010 (UTC)


This guideline has an unhealthy obsession with just one of the words it discusses. It is fascinating that it bans the use of "terrorist" in the unqualified narrative voice (even in clear cut cases with multiple independent sources supporting the usage), but has nothing whatsoever to say about "torture". Yet, every time terrorism is mentioned on this talk page we get pages of discussion about the IRA, the US government, and borderline cases. How sad.

So lets focus on a less emotive word: "skyscraper". This is currently not among the words to avoid. But is there an objective definition of "skyscraper"? How tall is tall? Should we not say "According to the United Arab Emirates government, Burj Khalifa is a skyscraper in Dubai.[1]" instead of "Burj Khalifa is a skyscraper in Dubai.[1][2][3]"? After all, this could be United Arab Emirates propaganda. If there is no objective definition that covers all cases, then shouldn't we discuss changing this style guideline? Geometry guy 21:03, 20 February 2010 (UTC)

Apples and oranges. No one will get seriously offended if they see their favourite building described as a skyscraper or not. However, people will be offended if they see a national/regional hero seen as terrorist. And frankly, I have a problem with the "multiple independent sources" thing; it leads too often to cherry picking the sources you want to prove your point. If you need more than three or four sources to prove a fact, odds are it really isn't a fact. Sceptre (talk) 21:11, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
Wikipedia is not censored: we do not edit our articles according to what people might find offensive. Anyway, yet again the point is being missed... Geometry guy 22:17, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
It's got nothing to do with censorship. It's got everything to do with proper encyclopedic judgement; I don't think it's proper encyclopedic judgement to marginalise millions of people because of our systemic Anglosphere bias: amusingly, Bin Laden had a better approval in Pakistan five years ago than Dubya had in the USA. And re: your Skyscraper point: as the article says, it depends on the region. Bridgewater Place, to a Yorkshire resident, may be a skyscraper to us (as it's the tallest building in the North East) but to a London resident, it's dwarfed by developments like the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, the Shard, etc... Sceptre (talk) 22:36, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
You are getting close to the point, but are still not quite there: keep thinking. The intentions of all editors here are good, but unfortunately, there is no original research on Wikipedia. We cannot rewrite what the sources have to say in order to impose our editorial perceptions of what might cause offense elsewhere. It is, quite frankly, irresponsible and patronizing. (But that still wasn't the point :) Geometry guy 22:47, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
Funnily enough, it works both ways. Category:Terrorists got deleted for OR reasons: we were imposing one definition on a bunch of people who were not sourced to fit under the definition. To be honest, "terrorist" has too wide meanings—from the vernacular "anyone who's a Muslim" and "anyone we don't like" to the technical scholarly definitions, some of which seem to be deliberately manufactured to exclude the US' worst atrocities—to be used without clarification. Sceptre (talk) 22:52, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
And "skyscraper" does not have too wide meanings to be used without clarification? (That's a clue.) Anyway, I agree with you that applying editorial labels is something to discourage, and is one of the main themes of this guideline. Geometry guy 23:04, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
It's words to avoid, not words never to use. The guideline calls our attention to this word as often being problematic. As with other words on the list, it goes beyond a sourcing problem to one of encyclopedic tone and objectivity. We can find multiple independent sources that the weather in upstate New York is "frigid", that the Eiffel Tower is "astonishing", that coming of age is "awkward", or that Frank Sinatra was a "crooner". However, for the most part we avoid such terms because they voice opinion, are not well defined, and do not add anything beyond what a more objective word would other than a non-neutral narrative voice. Saying that Hamas is a terrorist organization does not add anything to the statement that Hamas was designated a terrorist organization by X, Y, and Z, other than an endorsement. The issue is fraught with politics. To chose a couple cases on the borderline, how come an American who steals dogs from a pet shop because they think the dogs are mistreated is a terrorist, yet one who pilots an airplane into an office building to kill government employees is not? The politics of the time are indeed an encyclopedic subject, and Wikipedia can and should cover just why that is. However, it should not take sides on the matter. - Wikidemon (talk) 23:59, 20 February 2010 (UTC)
Re your rhetorical question: because the perpetrator wasn't Muslim. Sceptre (talk) 00:21, 21 February 2010 (UTC)
Wikidemon : What you say is nonsense. I have thoroughly debunked this absurd mith in the talk page of "Definition of terrorism".
To say that a terrorist incident is a terrorist incident adds a lot because defines the methods of the perpetrators, gives a good guess about the structure of its organization, informs to people that such organization is using terrorist tactics, etc... .
Of course to use the word wrongly adds nothing ot wikipedia as use wrongly any word. It must be said that to no use a word can be easily qualified of using wrongly so all these people who come here to say that "the word must not be used because I do not like my friends to be insulted" should be impeded of doing so.
This "Words to avoid" page is a fake policy in which bad faith of some, is backed up by ignorance of most to cause a big harm to Wikipedia.--Igor21 (talk) 09:41, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Respectfully, I must disagree with you. First of all, WP:WTA is a guideline, not a policy. That means that on any given article, editors may reach a consensus to override this guideline. That being said, I can see no reasonable excuse for Wikipedia to label individuals or organizations with volatile, controversial terms like "terrorist". It is clear which of the following is preferable:
  • Mr. Angry Man is a terrorist.[1]
  • Mr. Angry Man has been described as a "terrorist" by the Federal States Department of Security.[1]
The former example uses Wikipedia's voice to label the individual, potentially alienating many Wikipedia users who may view the individual completely differently ("freedom fighter", "holy warrior", etc.) and also conceivably exposes Wikipedia to legal difficulties. The latter gives attribution to the organization responsible for applying the label, immunizes Wikipedia from legal consequences, and maintains a neutrality that appeals to the community without "diluting" the meaning or intent of the label. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:30, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Well said, Sir. Rumiton (talk) 12:41, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Scjessey : With the same respect, what you say is non-sense and can be applied to any given term. To propose only for "terrorism" is due to the utter ignorance about the subject that most Wikipedia editors show without any shame. Please read books about the subject and then we can continue the discussion.--Igor21 (talk) 17:19, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Not any given term - just the words to avoid, plus a few others that aren't explicitly covered but should be obvious with the employment of a little common sense. I apologize for shamefully failing to read enough books to address my "utter ignorance", but I thank you for showing me "the same respect". -- Scjessey (talk) 19:30, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Igor21, you're not going to convince anyone by berating them and accusing them of bad faith. It actually looks quite foolish to announce that people who don't share your opinion are ignorant and their opinions nonsense, particularly when what you're railing against reflects Wikipedia's consensus on the subject. You're arguing a simple logical fallacy, that because other words are capable of ambiguity or multiple definitions, we shouldn't discourage this word for being inherently ambiguous. Anyway, I don't see any reason to change the guideline at this time, nor do I see much point continuing this discussion if that means tolerating further incivility. - Wikidemon (talk) 19:51, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
  • The Very Tall Building in Chicago is a skyscraper.[1][2][3]
  • The Very Tall Building in Chicago has been described as a "skyscraper" by Chigago Architects' Weekly magazine.[1]

Not yet got it? Keep thinking :-) Geometry guy 20:45, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

The word terrorist and the word skyscraper are sufficiently different in meaning and usage that a close comparison isn't that fruitful. Both of these lack generally-accepted criteria for inclusion, which is about as far as the comparison goes. In the case of terrorist, a lot more is riding on the distinction than a simple matter of definition. Perhaps if by calling something a skyscraper one were implying that it is illegal, morally reprehensible, and worthy of destruction by any means at our disposal, if various countries were accusing each other of building skyscrapers, and if politicians and law enforcement groups kept trying to expand the definition to include new classes of buildings to rally support for their programs, and accused each other of palling around with skyscrapers in attempts to discredit their political opponents, we would discourage calling things that too. - Wikidemon (talk) 21:11, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Re: Wikidemon. 'calling something a skyscraper one were implying that it is illegal, morally reprehensible, and worthy of destruction by any means at our disposal.' Firstly, not everyone believes that terrorists should be eradicated. They may not like the label, but if you gave them a survey about the criteria- there are plenty of people who would advocate it under various circumstances. Generalized fear is a tool, and it has been quite popular long before Machiavelli endorsed it. Secondly, I think that's rather irrelevant that some people have strong opinions about people who are terrorists. People have strong opinions about people who perform abortions, but we don't beat around the bush on that. If someone is notable for the abortions they performed, I want that in the first few sentences, i.e. "Gunn was the first of four abortion doctors killed by anti-abortionists" (David Gunn). And by and large, that is what we get. We don't get some roundabout thing that says "Dr. X was reported by Y Organization for performing abortions on a regular basis." or "Dr. X is associated with Planned Parenthood, which has been called an organization that supports abortions." Yes, some people may find it offensive that their favorite doctor is known for giving abortions- but if that is the source of his notability, there is no sense in avoiding it. I'm sure Dr. Gunn did many other things in his practice, but that was the one he was known for and killed over. Likewise, if someone's notability is solely for their activities of a terrorist it should be noted as such. The current policy of "avoid this word" makes articles less clear. Moreover, when people DO use the word there are no guidelines for its usage. I am advocating removing the blanket "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on the word and replace it with an actual definition built by consensus. And I would advocate making sure that the consensus definition is pretty restrictive. All told, this would probably lead to a very small number of legitimate uses of the word but when it is used it would convey a great deal of information. Benjamid (talk) 08:43, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
As far as I can judge abortion is a neutral term which describes the action. Although I can source it, I doubt if the consensus would be to write in the passive narrative voice of the article that "Gunn was the first of four baby killing doctors killed by pro-lifers". There are dozens of sources that indicate that terrorist carries prerogative connotations and as such is a judgemental word. I was looking through the article 2004 Madrid train bombings it is riddled with the use of the word terrorist including this one more than once 11 September terrorist attack which is piped to September 11 attacks. Why the need to include the word terrorist in the name are there other well known September 11 attacks for which the term needs disambiguating? If it is not needed for disambiguation then it is there to make a point, I think "The lady doth protest too much". -- PBS (talk)
The only reason that the word terrorist needs no disambiguation is that for these events, you and I have a reasonable understanding of what has occurred and the general intention of the action. I am not here to quibble about specific usages, I am stating that the guideline as it stands provides very little "guidance." Imagine someone with very little information about a particular issue who happens across an article of a terror attack. Now imagine that instead of stating such information outright, we end up with articles stating "Well, there was this attack ... (paragraphs pass) This attack was intended to create fear and spread a symbolic message ... (more paragraphs pass) The US Pentagon denounced this action as a terrorist attack." Additionally, the term "baby killer" vs "abortion doctor" definitely is comparing a pejorative vs a standard term. Terrorist is not the pejorative term. It IS the standard term. There is no other term that describes a person that performs an attack caused to incite terror according to this pattern. A better analogy might be "serial killer." There is a particular pattern of behavior into which people can be classified for that label, but there is no other good term for it. It may be upsetting to hear someone called a serial killer, but if their behavior followed that pattern it is an appropriate label. Benjamid (talk) 07:57, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
See Birmingham pub bombings there is no need to specifically say it is a terrorist act to convey the information. This explanation used to be in the NPOV policy:
Karada offered the following advice in the context of the Saddam Hussein article:
You won't even need to say he was evil. That is why the article on Hitler does not start with "Hitler was a bad man"—we don't need to, his deeds convict him a thousand times over. We just list the facts of the Holocaust dispassionately, and the voices of the dead cry out afresh in a way that makes name-calling both pointless and unnecessary. Please do the same: list Saddam's crimes, and cite your sources.
Resist the temptation to apply labels or moralize—readers will probably not take kindly to being told what to think. Let the facts speak for themselves and let the reader decide.
-- PBS (talk) 08:51, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
Here's another example:
  • George W. Bush is a terrorist.[1]
  • George W. Bush has been described as a "terrorist" by Paul Rosenberg of OpenLeft.[1] (actual source)
Which one of these is appropriate? Would your answer change if the subject was Nelson Mandela? He was on the US terrorist watch list until 2008 because he led a bombing campaign in the early 1960s - in fact, it was a CIA tip-off that led to his arrest and imprisonment. -- Scjessey (talk) 21:41, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Very good. You are making progress, but this is still too emotive to draw easy conclusions. I was about to make a similar comment on my less emotive subject, when my internet connection crashed. Here it is below... Geometry guy 22:18, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

The analogy is not intended to be a broad one: it is only intended to make one point, but no one has yet quite got it, even though the edit history reveals it. Here's another clue:

  • The Quite Tall Building in Chicago is a skyscraper.[1]
  • The Quite Tall Building in Chicago has been described as a "skyscraper" by Chigago Architects' Weekly magazine.[1]

There is a tendancy on wikipedia to write more than to read and think. In terms of broader comments made by Sceptre, Wikidemon and Scjessey, I agree with you. Yet also I don't. How can that be? Geometry guy 22:18, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

You seem to be trying to make some sort of point (or score one). Yet you have chosen obfuscation rather than clarification. How can that be? Spit it out, man. -- Scjessey (talk) 23:18, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
Because I am not try to score a point or win an argument. I edit wikipedia for the purpose of improving the encyclopedia. There is no point in telling other editors what to think. We all have to think for ourselves. Geometry guy 11:08, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
That's awesome. I think you need to change your approach to make your own thoughts clearer to others, instead of trying to get them to simply guess what you are on about. Get back to "improving the encyclopedia" and we'll take care of creating our own neural pathways. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:25, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
Benjamid expresses his thoughts clearly below. In such cases, what typically happens here, I have found, is that other editors simply reassert their position without giving any indication that they have attempted to engage with the discussion.
You are under no obligation to attempt to understand my comments or reply to them, but others might be interested, so please do not personalize the issue or instruct me on how I might best contribute to the encyclopedia. Thanks, Geometry guy 20:26, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
You aren't contributing to anything at the moment. You've turned a meaningful discussion about this guideline into a guessing game in which you have the audacity to make comments like "[v]ery good. You are making progress" as if you're our school teacher or something. Now you have compounded the issue with a vague assertion that "other editors" aren't thinking. If you have something meaningful to contribute then for goodness sake contribute it, because this off-topic, vague, rhetorical condescension is inappropriate. -- Scjessey (talk) 20:44, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
My apologies. Condescension was not my intention. Geometry guy 21:54, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

Skyscrapers illustrate, in a less emotive context, that even when a word has a grey area, there are examples to which it applies without doubt. The examples of "Quite tall building" and "Very tall building" illustrate that a different approach is needed according to whether the application of the word is close to or within the grey area, or a long way away. Attributing to a partisan source in the latter case can be just as non-neutral as not attributing in the former case ("well they would say that wouldn't they?").

I am sympathetic to those who support the current blanket ban on unqualified use of "terrorist", because I share their political view. I am unsympathetic, because I leave my political views at the doorstep when I log in to Wikipedia. And it is a political view, which some would refer to as political correctness, that "terrorist" has no valid use as a descriptive word, and is always a pejorative label (as the current guideline seems to imply). While I sympathise with the desire to avoid offending demographics who revere groups that use terrorism to advance their cause, Wikipedia is not censored. It is also not Wikipedia's mission to make the world a better place. Our mission is to describe it as it is, according to reliable sources, not our own sensibilities. In most cases, this means qualifying and attributing emotive words like "terrorism", but not all.

I would not care about this if it were harmless, but it isn't for two reasons. First, this is a style guideline, and this issue is not merely a matter of style, yet dominates this talk page. Second, more importantly, this is an English language encyclopedia, and there is a significant English speaking demographic that we hope reads it: conservative America. Any tendency towards political correctness or other liberal political viewpoints is counterproductive. We undermine our own NPOV policy and shoot ourselves in the foot. We need to ensure that Conservapedia looks ridiculous, not us. Geometry guy 21:54, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm sorry I don't understand what you mean by "because I share their political view." what political point of view is that? What do you mean by "liberal political viewpoints", are you using the term as an American would use it, because "liberal political viewpoints" means different things in different places (as does the word conservative). Keeping the context just to America for a moment I am sure there are Republicans who object(ed) to the Nicaraguan contras being labelled terrorists in the "pinko press" and wasn't it Ronald Reagan who called the Afghanistan Mujahideen "Freedom Fighters"? To steal three lines from the The Commitments (film):
Ballymun tower 2007.jpg
  • "You're mad, Jimmy! He's a savage!" - "I know he is. But he's our savage."
  • And also for question what a skyscraper? Picture the kid holding a horse at at the doors to the elevator of one of the few highrise apartment buildings in Dublin (all but one now pulled down and at that time there were lots of ponies in that area of Dublin) is asked by Jimmy Rabbitte "You're not takin' that into the lift?" the boy replies "Yeah, I have to. The stairs would kill him." So there you have it a definition for skyscraper it is a building where horses are taken home in an elevator rather than the more traditional stairs. -- PBS (talk)

This is a bit of a tangent, but one of the things that bothers me about this perennial topic is the false assertion that nobody ever self-identifies themselves, their loved ones, or their co-conspirators as being terrorists. It's simply not true. Consider these sources:

On a related note, editors interested in this discussion might be interested in this news story about when and how journalists decide to call someone a terrorist. WhatamIdoing (talk) 04:15, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

You might be interested to read talk:Terrorism/Archive 13#Self labelling -- PBS (talk) 23:18, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

Changing the guideline

From what I can see, the arguments for supporting the WPA on Terrorism are the following:

  1. People are unclear on the meaning of the word "terrorism."
  2. Sometimes, people are wrongly or controversially labeled as terrorists.
  3. People tend to label people they don't like as terrorists.
  4. Using the word "terrorism" or "terrorist" upsets some people.
  5. Using the word "terrorism" will alienate some people and cause them to leave.

Am I missing anything here? That seems to be the general points. Here are the counterpoints:

  1. I just gave an academic definition into which almost anything labeled as a terrorist would be a terrorist under any other definition I have heard. If there is for some reason a case that it does not sufficiently cover, I am fine with looking at a few extra references to figure out response work on this topic which defines the definition with less ambiguity.
  2. By using an events/strategy based definition, we move away from mislabels. Nelson Mandela is not a terrorist because he never ordered killings to instill terror in the population. In the case of uncertainty about the facts, we err on being conservative.
  3. By citing a NEW guideline that actually has a definition, we avoid this and avoid having to fight it out as a free-for-all on a per article basis. If people have arguments with the definition, they can come and argue over here. This splits a large number of effectively intractable arguments into arguments here about usage and arguments in other articles about if the subject warrants such usage.
  4. Tough. Seriously. If you're upset that Manson or Ted Bundy are labeled serial killers, that is unfortunate. With that said, their pattern of behavior is termed as such and no amount of upset makes this categorization untrue. The same is true of a terrorist. There are specific patterns and strategy to terrorism. Using the correct word for such actions make them no more or less true. They simply present information succinctly.
  5. I do not think this is in any way certain. Maybe I don't lurk around enough, but allowing the use of such a label could just as easily lead to an increased interest by parties who support said individuals and seek to add their own edits. I don't think that is bad at all, so long as it is constructive. I would be happy to see additional information about the ideology of terrorists and groups engaging in terrorism. I think it would be useful information for all readers to be presented with beliefs and justifications held by people engaging in terror acts (i.e. Beliefs_and_ideology_of_Osama_bin_Laden). Again, I usually have not seen denial of the actions or the intent to cause fear- but that such actions are justified.

Right now, the current guideline is effectively unclear. It basically says "You can refer to this and get the word terrorism removed because it is against guidelines, but we have no guidelines for when it can be used." That seems like a pretty significant cop-out. If we're supposed to build consensus on things, isn't that one of those things? Instead, we now have an inconsistent definition that lends itself to a popularity contest. Bin Laden is listed as the founder of a terrorist organization because he's unpopular enough to maintain that label. There's no guideline to state why he should get the label but a guy like the Unabomber should not. So what is the point of a guideline that says "Use this less" but with no insight into how it should actually be used? I agree there should be a guideline. What I disagree with is the current state of the guideline. Benjamid (talk) 11:03, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

Wikipedia shouldn't label anyone a "terrorist" at all, regardless of their actions. Personally, I think that should be a cast-iron policy instead of just a guideline, because (in the case of living people) using the term surely violates Wikipedia's policy on biographies of living persons anyway. The word (and its variants) should be confined to cases where it can be properly attributed. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:33, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
To respond further to those points: (1) whether people are clear or not on it, there is no single definition of terrorism. It is not our place as an encyclopedia to create our own local definition or choose among multiple competing definitions from the outside world. With respect to (2), the problem is that sources that qualify as reliable per our general rules of WP:RS differ on calling people terrorist, according to their own customs and politics. We can only use RS, though. Doing our own analysis to see whether a person fits a definition is WP:SYNTH or wP:OR, against policy for good reason. (3) the problem is that the label is often a value judgment or a political statement, not a statement as to the facts. In the United States saboteurs who vandalize construction and logging machinery, animal research labs, abortion clinics, and other things they dislike are called terrorists and are often reported as such in the press - they would not fit the academic definition, but it's a lot easier to mobilize people politically and get funding for law enforcement efforts if the enemy is a terrorist. The point with (4) is not that Wikipedians are upset but that people who are called terrorists often do not wished to be, so we have a WP:BLP problem - you cannot tell me that labeling a college professor like Rashid Khalidi a terrorist[6][7] is good for his reputation. One reason you don't mention is that having a general guideline here against using the term (except to report that a person has been labeled a terrorist by a given official body) does a lot to quell the endless edit wars over the subject in article space. In any given regional political battle, when one side accuses the other of being terrorists you can bet that editors here will have heated editing disputes over how to cover the accusations. It is very useful to be able to point here in order to say that we can add, if reliably sourced, a comment that someone was put on an official list of terrorists, but that we cannot engage in the kind of fresh analysis proposed above to make our own decision on whether or not to call someone a terrorist. - Wikidemon (talk) 21:40, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
I would argue that while there may not be one single agreed definition of terrorism, there are a number of well defined ones and I would not call it original research to take the most constraining definition. That is, the intersection of commonly used definitions. It is not original research. It is not drawing a conclusion beyond the published sources. I support the guideline continue to insist on multiple sourcing. In fact, I can think of probably a dozen more terms that merit multiple-sourcing. I am stating that either there are some guidelines as to the nature of what is a "reliable source" for defining a terrorist or that there is an additional set of specific restrictions on the usage of the term rather than just a blanket discouragement. I can see the issue of WP:BLP, however. I could see the utility of avoiding stating that someone was involved in "terrorism" until their death. It is likely more likely to be able to get unbiased sources long after the fact anyways. Additionally, for living people there is a greater likelihood of misinformation problems compounded by biased and unreliable "reliable sources."
The primary issue that I can see is that there is a claim in the guidelines that the term "terrorist" or "terrorism" is "inherently non-neutral." My general feeling is that the first paragraph of the guideline is misleading and states a guideline based itself upon an opinion of the meanings of these words. There is no reason to state that "terrorist" is a pejorative any more than "serial killer" is. I think I would rather be called a terrorist than a serial killer, at the very least. The assumption that the term "terrorist" is inherently non-neutral actually makes quite a big claim. The article on terrorism doesn't state "this value always is non-neutral" so why would the guideline? Additionally, the guideline itself provides zero guidance into any recommendations about actual usage- instead saying "fight it out on a case by case basis." Again, this essentially degenerates into a popularity contest in my opinion. It does little to improve consistency of usage when it is used. Benjamid (talk) 08:47, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
"The article on terrorism doesn't state "this value always is non-neutral"" see: Terrorism#Pejorative use -- PBS (talk) 11:02, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
See the article definitions of terrorism. There is a lot of literature that says that it is in its modern usage pejorative. Unlike serial killer, definitions of terrorism usually includes a political dimension, and that coupled to its pejorative usage means that it frequently used as a polemic. Let me give you an example in the article Regicide. In the article there is a list of acts of regicide, See this edit by user:TodorBozhinov on 11 February 2010, followed one edit later by this one by So using this guideline I've replaced it with this. Which of the three has the most neutral point of view? -- PBS (talk) 10:52, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
This guideline is OR since the academic scholars agree on a definition. PBS is emotionally involved and wants to avoid the incidents of a certain organization to be qualified as terrorism. This is the truth of all this and in the talk page of Defintion of terrorism you can find the whole story.
Many terms include a political dimension and this does not mean that do not have definition. All the terms have diferent wordings for the same definition. PBS use minor diferences in wording and misquoting of authors to support his OR and to hide the sources.
At some point someone should finish with this shame of wikipedia using euphemisms because some people do not like a certain word that is used in universities and academic simposia with all normality. --Igor21 (talk) 15:28, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Comments like that are not helpful. Please do not make personal attacks and cease your tendentiousness. -- Scjessey (talk) 17:12, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
I apologize to PBS and everybody who could have felt offended but I think I have offered clear sourcing for academic use of the word "terrorism". However, PBS et al. continue ignoring the sources. Moreover, it is said again and again that "Hoffman says..." when what it is stated as said by Hoffman (and Schmidt) is the oposite to what they actually say!!!. I wonder what should be the reaction of an editor who see the sources misused in this way.--Igor21 (talk) 19:03, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
I do agree that the personalness needs to be toned down a bit. I do think though that this: "This guideline is OR since the academic scholars agree on a definition" is a very good point. Examples:
"The terms "extremist", "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" are often particularly contentious labels that carry an implicit viewpoint." - I don't know where to begin. Firstly, it uses "often" as a weasel word. Secondly, it makes a blanket statement about the meaning of the word "terrorist" (etc) when the whole reason this section survives solely because there is such a vast difference between the definition of terrorism (as given by legal and scholarly sources) and the public usage via media and political sources. This statement carries an implicit viewpoint about the usage of terrorism.
""Extremist" and "terrorist" are pejorative labels" - Original research, all the way. There clearly isn't a consensus on this, except in a very non-notable way. Sure, they can be used perjoratively. As can the words "homosexual" or "communist," among many others. Unless someone can find a source that says that terrorist has no useful operational definition other than a perjorative label, this sentence should be struck.
"These words are inherently non-neutral" - Again, the fact that there is an even voice to both sides of this debate on this page states that this is NOT a consensus viewpoint. While there may be a variety of definitions for terrorism, I have yet to see a SINGLE source that states that the word is inherently non-neutral. So why are we saying it here?
The remainder of the paragraphs make sense, in general. While I think that having a section so specific to terrorism is a bit of overkill, the following paragraphs have some valuable strategies that could be stated more generally (be careful, multiple-source, consider if other words are equally accurate and better-supported, conceptual use is okay). I'm going to edit and show an alternative format of this section. Looking at the history, there has been a long line of controversy over the WP:Terrorism section and the current form seems to suffer from many of the same problems. Hopefully we can end up with a useful guideline that isn't more controversial than the use of the word? Benjamid (talk) 23:23, 16 March 2010 (UTC)

Revised the section. Removed what seemed to be original research and replaced it with claims that are not as strong, but maintain the same theme of attempting to replace controversial words with ones that are more specific if possible. Clarified the guidelines for usage when such a word cannot be avoided without losing important information. Added a requirement of multiple sourcing, rather than just a suggestion. If that is too strong, we could tone it down to a "strong recommendation." Hopefully this can bring the sides closer together on this. I'm not opposed to trying to sidestep labels that might be seen as subjective (if possible without losing notable info), but I am against how it was expressed previously. Benjamid (talk) 00:17, 17 March 2010 (UTC)

Before editing the page perhaps you should have read Terrorism#Pejorative useand definition of terrorism#In international law. Both of those contain sources which make the point. Others can easily be found with a Google search. Secondly this is a guideline not an article, so we can use weasel words and not attribute them to a source. Thirdly when I revert your bold changes I assume you will discuss it further on the talk page. -- PBS (talk) 01:07, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
Point of order: OR is allowed in metaspace. Sceptre (talk) 04:18, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
Firstly, I have read Terrorism#Pejorative use, extensively- thanks though. Secondly, of course I will discuss it further but you have not yet expressed any reason why you actually reverted anything. That doesn't give much of a point to start discussion. I mean, aren't you supposed to sort of do that? Otherwise this is just looking a bit like a WP:OWNERSHIP thing. I'm fine with having a talk about this, but I am a bit taken aback that you have reverted without actually listing a reason. And a commit comment like "Reverted edits by Benjamid (talk) to last version by Philip Baird Shearer" certainly doesn't help. At the very least, this appears to be WP:DRNC. No offense PBS, but as an admin I would think you should be holding to a higher standard? So what specific reasons make the original version better than the bold revision that replaced it? The revised version made the same warnings about pejorative use without having to make overreaching statements about word meaning (in an article about writing style, no less!).
Additionally, even if OR is allowed in metaspace- I certainly don't think we should be using it on a contentious matter like this. Saying that we CAN use weasel words and OR in metaspace is like saying that we can smash things in our own home. Sure, you can, it's legal, but why do you want to do it if you have alternatives? (minor edits made a few hours later, see log for changes, they are semantic) Benjamid (talk) 15:39, 19 March 2010 (UTC)
Also, BTW: Sceptre and Wikidemon clearly have different views about what is allowed in metaspace. Wikidemon specifically rejected my prior request to make a useful guideline for usage on the grounds that "Doing our own analysis to see whether a person fits a definition is WP:SYNTH or wP:OR". While I have made some clear rebuttal as to why it is not original research (it would be multiply cited for people making clear statements of meaning), the point stands that Sceptre and Wikidemon have a difference of opinion on what is allowed. I have been going into this latest attempt at revision assuming that nothing close to OR should be allowed. Should I be changing that stance? Benjamid (talk) 15:53, 19 March 2010 (UTC)
On the issue of 'what is allowed', you might like to read the relevant policy section. WhatamIdoing (talk) 00:20, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
Benjamid you wrote "you have not yet expressed any reason why you actually reverted anything.", but changes to guidelines work on the assumption of what is in the box at the top of a guideline: "Any substantive edit to this page should reflect consensus. When in doubt, discuss first on the talk page." and by pointing you the links I have explained everything. However if that is not enough please read this talk page and the archives where I and other editors have discussed this section phrase by phrase. I also agree with WhatamIdoing wrote immediately before me in this section.-- PBS (talk) 01:52, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
Thank you, WhatamIdoing, that is indeed a useful tidbit to know. So basically this is the wild west of conensus. Fair enough. It is still at least my personal belief that we should be somewhat consistent with article guidelines for dealing with metaspace, as otherwise that makes us personally pretty inconsistent. Secondly, while this guideline may have been looked over line by line- it is clearly still a contentious topic. Moreover, looking at the revision history, I am not entirely convinced that a pure consensus was ever truly reached with the original content. Instead, it seems to have been a game of inches punctuated by editors being shouted down and eventually getting discouraged and losing interest. Am I close to the mark here? The phrase "slow boil" seemed to be stated about a year ago, and this seems like more of the same. Forgive me if I am a bit new to this rather complicated and convoluted rule set (different rules for articles and metaspace? Splendid!) but the point stands that after performing a revert I would like to see at least a token statement of what was specifically disagreed with. I genuinely get the feeling that you do not seem at all interested in consensus, talk, because you have yet to acknowledge the validity of a single alternative viewpoint. For my part, I acknowledge that a guideline should exist and that people should be advised to be wary of using loaded words. In fact, my revision was hardly a sweeping one. It maintained much of what previously existed, without the need for sweeping and controversial definitions for already controversial words. Benjamid (talk) 08:33, 20 March 2010 (UTC)

Attempting to Reach Consensus

So then, I proposed a revision and it was summarily reverted. Let's look at it sentence by sentence and see what is controversial and non-consensus. First paragraph:

  • Certain terms carry positive or negative connotations within popular usage that are equally strong as their dictionary, legal, or scholarly definitions.
  • For example, "Extremist" and "terrorist" are frequently applied pejoratively to opposition groups.
  • Similarly, the term "freedom fighter" is often applied to those whose cause is being supported.
  • While these terms may have objective definitions, the prevalent non-neutral usage of such terms could suggest that the article is presenting a non-neutral viewpoint.
  • For this reason, these words should be replaced with alternatives where possible.

Any disagreement with any of these statements so far? The first statement rehashes the debate we've been having for months now, that a word with both legal and scholarly definitions may have alternate nasty usage that is prevalent. Rather than continue this debate, why not just say that such words exist? By doing this, we avoid having to say that terrorist is some "dirty-third-rail-word" and instead state that it has legitimate and pejorative uses, but the pejorative uses are too salient to just throw the word around. The remainder of the changes are mainly clean-up to fit the new paragraph structure. This paragraph has the same basic meaning of the previous one, but takes out the broad and unsupported statement that somehow any use of the word terrorist is somehow NPOV and could never, ever possibly be applied in a useful context. I fail to see how this paragraph could possibly be more controversial than what was there before (unless one can find me a dictionary of "inherently non-neutral" words). Second paragraph:

  • (2nd paragraph is the previous version's 3rd paragraph, taken verbatim. No changes here, just changed the order to connect thoughts logically. It did not make sense to first tell people how to cite something, then how to substitute it. We should be telling how to substitute, then how to use it, if we want to cut down on usage).

Third paragraph was based upon the previous version's 2nd paragraph, with some changes: Third paragraph:

  • When a word with a prevalent positive or negative meaning cannot be avoided without losing notable information, this usage should always be supported by multiple independent sources.
  • If the term is used with a clear meaning by multiple reliable independent sources, then the word can be used but the description must be attributed in the article text to its source, preferably by direct quotation, and always with verifiable citations.
  • Citations to all such sources should be provided for the sentence where it appears.

There were a few important changes in this paragraph. Firstly, the prior version said basically "if you can find some citations, it's fine to cite and use the word." This version states "if you find that the word is necessary to convey notable information AND you can find multiple citations, it's fine to cite and use the word." Also changed was that the suggestion for multiple citing was changed to a requirement. If someone is notable for terrorist activities, there should be multiple sources stating such. This is more restrictive and at the same time gives some extra guidance as to usage (i.e. notability). Fourth paragraph:

  • (final paragraph was unchanged)

I genuinely felt that this expressed some pretty common-ground viewpoints, while removing areas that seem to have been controversial to a number of editors on this talk page- including myself. I fail to see how Wikipedia can be a reliable reference, while at the same time burying controversial opinions in its meta-space about certain words. Benjamid (talk) 08:33, 20 March 2010 (UTC)

The major problem is that there is no one definition for freedom fighter or terrorist. You imply with what you have written above and on this page that "While these terms may have objective definitions" do you mean that or do you mean "While these terms may have many objective definitions"? The current wording explains that an editor can not write "on the 25 December 2009 Taliban freedom fighters attacked a UN compound in Kabul", they have to attribute the use of the term to a source, such as "John Smith reporting for Fox News said that on December 2009 Taliban freedom fighters attacked a UN compound in Kabul". We need it phrased like this because many people (systemic bias) really do not appreciate it that when someone is attacking their nation that they may be freedom fighters to their enemies, and not seen as terrorists by nations who are usually friendly to them. The British had huge problems with this during the Troubles when many Americans in government (legislative and judicial arms) the American media and Boston would not label the PIRA terrorists. This is not just popular usage but includes things like the usage in international treaties and in legal concepts like "political offence exception" -- PBS (talk) 09:25, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
Uhm... "While these terms may have objective definitions" - That is a plural sentence, chief. The word many is redundant. You can add it if you want, but it's still redundant. The wording that I proposed also explains the same concepts that you are stating, but without over-reaching statements. Taking things phrase by phrase:
"The current wording explains that an editor can not write "on the 25 December 2009 Taliban freedom fighters attacked a UN compound in Kabul", they have to attribute the use of the term to a source, such as "John Smith reporting for Fox News said that on December 2009 Taliban freedom fighters attacked a UN compound in Kabul"." - The new version also states this. If you would like a single sentence about this added to say it more explicitly, we could state "While these terms may have objective definitions, the prevalent non-neutral usage of such terms could suggest that the article is presenting a non-neutral viewpoint. Avoid using these terms in the article voice to avoid appearing WP:NPOV." I would think, in fact, you could have just added such a statement yourself rather than reverting, but whatever.
"We need it phrased like this because many people (systemic bias)..." - What it it exactly that "we need"? You seem to be saying "We need the old version" doggedly, but you seem completely against actually improving it. I am unclear what "like this" means. Explain.
"The British had huge problems ..." - Obligatory statement about the IRA? I have zero idea how this correlates with improving this section at all.
"This is not just popular usage but includes things like the usage in international treaties" - "Certain terms carry positive or negative connotations within popular usage that are equally strong as their dictionary, legal, or scholarly definitions" I believe this states this same fact. However, we don't generally care if there are different LEGAL definitions of murder or skyscrapers. We care about the use of the word terrorist because it is often used as a pejorative and a label. The many-definitions thing is ultimately a red herring. There are tons of words with ambiguous definitions. Check out the articles on music genres on the wiki for a great example of that. But we hardly have a guideline for "avoid using the term synthpop to describe a band." What you are talking about is a general question about the semantics and semiotics of words. Every word has a different definition to everyone. It happens. It has been well established earlier in this discussion that why we care is not due to the a lack of objective meanings, nor due to too many of them. The issue is that one of them is a pejorative, and that is one of the primary interpretations. If suddenly being called a "terrorist" was as neutral as being called a "healer", we wouldn't have this section- regardless of scholarly or legal differences in definition.
You seem to be arguing that the potential for multiple standards is the key part of this section. I disagree, since that could be applied to tons of words. Skyscraper, hacker, etc- bunches of them in this discourse have been stated. The issue is the subjective usage. The issue is multiple-standards + dominant subjective pejorative. That is why the very first sentence states both these factors: definitions AND subjective +/- meaning. If the dominant definitions were objective ones that translated well across cultures, I don't think this section would be needed at all.
It appears to me that you seem to be stating that you do not have many issues with the revised version, but that you would like to have a more explicit warning about using the word in the article voice and that you would like to have the subject heading focus entirely on terrorists and the like. The first thing makes perfect sense, the second does not. If we're going to have a section about being aware of words, does it really make sense to single out 3 words for the whole subject heading? What if we wanted to add or remove words to this? I personally don't think so, but I'm not tied to making the section heading more general. While it seems grossly out of place in a style explanation, I can live with a heading that reflects the specific words we're warning about at this time. So here is my suggestions for compromise on the proposed revision, starting with my attempt at revision as a base:
  1. Make sure that the warning about using the term in article voice is stated explicitly as its own point. - I am fine with that. I listed an example. If you like "Avoid using these terms in the article voice to avoid appearing non-neutral." then I am fine with that.
  2. Keep the section heading the same as the previous version ("Extremist, terrorist, or freedom fighter?"), stating specific words that are dangerous at this time - I can live with it, though I think it's still weird and would be unwieldy if we ever thought more words should be added or should be avoided.
  3. You seem to want the word "many" added to emphasize an already plural word. I am especially confused why you think that word is needed since I explicitly list three types of definitions, which already implies that at least 3 objective definitions are likely. - It's just one word, but saying is a weird phrasing. I think people can figure out what an 's' at the end of a word means?
Was there anything else specifically that was an issue? Benjamid (talk) 23:19, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
I think your new wording is just not as good as the current wording, I was trying to exlain why I think that by pointing out problems with the wording that you want to introduce in place of the current wording. -- PBS (talk) 03:47, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
So... "I don't like this version" is your current stance? Clearly, from a multitude of extensively stated points- at least 4 or 5 people on this talk page don't like the version currently in place either. I have proposed a version that maintains the same theme as the original, but avoids making the controversial statements of the previous version. Last I checked we're supposed to be working towards consensus, not having a popularity contest. If you have no specific objections to the revisions, then I'm going to feel justified in reintroducing them (along with the changes that we have discussed above). Benjamid (talk) 05:19, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Let's turn it on its head (which is in line with the template at the top of the guideline) and let's salami slice it: which is the first sentence you object to and why? -- PBS (talk) 22:55, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Is this honestly still unclear? Here are the main issues that I see with the current setup:
"Extremist, terrorist, or freedom fighter?" (title) is out of place in a manual on style. This should be a generic expression of the problem, not a random list of words. With that said, I'm not pushing for it to be changed at this time as there have not been extensive debate about it.
"The terms "extremist", "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" are often particularly contentious labels that carry an implicit viewpoint." - Firstly, "are ... labels that carry an implicit viewpoint" is contentious. We have a whole talk page with multiple viewpoints stating that these labels may be used subjectively or objectively. This statement is OR and it is contentious. Also, "often particularly contentious" is a painful list of adjectives that distract from the general point.
"Extremist" and "terrorist" are pejorative labels, frequently applied to those whose cause is being opposed." - The first clause in this sentence is an opinion. "Extremist and terrorist are pejorative labels" is one interpretation out of many expressed here. It does not represent consensus. Not at all. "frequently applied to those whose cause is being opposed" is not controversial and was retained in the revision.
"Similarly, the term "freedom fighter" is typically applied to those whose cause is being supported." - No problem with this either. It was retained.
"These words are inherently non-neutral, so they should not be used as unqualified labels in the voice of the article." - I disagree VERY strongly with the first clause: "These words are inherently non-neutral." This is the most ridiculous claim. Who is anyone to say that any word is inherently non-neutral? What does that even mean? Words are collections of inherently meaningless letters. Though there may be disagreements as to defining these words, it is at best a small minority of people who view them as "inherently non-neutral." We should not be saying this. Period. The second clause: "they should not be used as unqualified labels in the voice of the article" is a bit vague. It does not readily say what "unqualified" means, nor precisely why we shouldn't be unqualified. I tried to correct this by saying why it should not be unqualified (because it could be mistaken for the article's opinion) and that people should attempt rewording where possible (a good lead in for the following paragraphs).
"If a reliable source describes a person or group using one of these words, then the word can be used but the description must be attributed in the article text to its source, preferably by direct quotation, and always with a verifiable citation." - I am fine with the theme of this, but think that it should be extended to require multiple citations. Additionally, it does not state any criterion for usage of the word. I think a good criterion is notability. If 3 sources call you a terrorist randomly, for no notable reason, I don't think it should be in the article even if you have citations. If you're going to start adding comments calling people terrorists or freedom fighters, this should be notable information about them. Which is in general a guideline for articles anyways, but I think is useful to restate here specifically.
"If the term is used with a clear meaning by multiple reliable independent sources, then citations to several such sources should be provided for the sentence where it appears." - I'm fine with this sentence. It seems like a clean up of what I was saying actually, rather than an actual revert. Multiple sources should be explicitly recommended.
The third paragraph is fine. I just think it should be the 2nd paragraph, because substitution is generally preferred to citation. So first tell people how to substitute, then tell them how to cite. Would seem to make sense, no?
Final paragraph was left unchanged.
This does not have very major semantic changes to the core message. It is primarily removing some quite controversial statements about the usage and meaning of words. And honestly, these controversial statements are not needed to get the point across. Right now it reads authoritarianly like "Don't use these words because they're bad and mean and NPOV." The revisions are intended to change it to authoritative tone that explains why they can be taken as NPOV and should be avoided. The first one comes off as an opinion. The second is something that can be backed up. Benjamid (talk) 19:07, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
"The terms "extremist", "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" are often particularly contentious labels that carry an implicit viewpoint." You do not seem to disagree with this phrase. Your objection seems to be the second phrase, which you treat as a standalone statement. But it is not, and so the word often also applies to the second phrase as well so it could read "The terms "extremist", "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" are often carry an implicit viewpoint". -- PBS (talk) 19:43, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
I do disagree with that initial statement. "that carry an implicit viewpoint" indicates that these words always carry an implicit viewpoint. Your interpretation of grammar is incorrect in this case. The word "often" applies to the more immediate "contentious labels." There is an entirely second clause started with "that." The statement is ambiguous as to if it means that the words are "often contentious" or "often contentious and carry an implicit viewpoint." Generally, if you apply both an adjective and a descriptive clause to a single noun these are taken separately. For example, "Mops are often filthy tools that clean floors." Does this imply that mops are only "often" tools? Or that they only "often" clean floors? The scope of the application of the adjective is unspecified and determined by context. In both the original case, and the example I gave- "often" is most logically taken as an adverb. It states that the label is only sometimes contentious, or the mop is only sometimes filthy. There are other ways to take it (as it is grammatically ambiguous) but is that a great statement of support?
Additionally, I am beginning to tire of this whack-a-mole discussion. This would go a lot faster, PBS, if you could just state all your issues with the proposed changes in a single post. Or alternatively if you don't have any problems with the revisions I am suggesting, then why don't I just put them in and see if people find the new version more clear and less controversial than the old one? Benjamid (talk) 19:26, 29 March 2010 (UTC)
I'll review the proposed changes in detail within the next few days and may comment. I agree with many of Benjamid's observations above and think that much to most of the change will be an uncontroversial improvement to the guideline. However, as a bottom line issue I do not support changes that would encourage more frequent use of terrorism-related labels or that would create more discussion and disagreement on the points out in article / article talk space. There is a pretty clear consensus to discourage overuse of the terrorist label, but not 100% of course - anything that had 100% consensus wouldn't need to have a guideline because nobody would ever do that in an article. The frequency with which some editors strongly believe that a person, organization, or event should be called terrorist, and edit war and argue over it, is precisely why we ought to summarize things in a central place. A quick observation - there is nothing wrong with original research or opinion in guidelines or when discussing things. That's an article content policy, and we all do have opinions on how to write an encyclopedia - Wikipedia policies are not created according to reliable sources, articles are. A word can be inherently (or implicitly, take your pick) value-laden (something we call a POV on Wikipedia), but that takes us quickly into matters of metaphysics and epistemology. If you want to be a nihilist about it, nothing is inherently anything. Saying that a word has inherent values means that many people reading it will make judgments based on what the word means to them, beyond the precise usage in context. Something like that. If we want to be more precise or if calling the word inherently biased seems weird we could phrase it differently. - Wikidemon (talk) 00:26, 30 March 2010 (UTC)
Well said Wikidemon. Benjamid addressing you criticism of the sentence would "The terms "extremist", "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" are particularly contentious labels because they often carry an implicit viewpoint." be acceptable? -- PBS (talk) 01:54, 30 March 2010 (UTC)
Re Wikidemon:I agree with your general themes. I was thinking the same thing about meaning, that if you start stating that words are inherently value-laded, you end up in a huge philosophical/semiotic debate that will likely never be resolved. I also agree that there should be a central place to give a guideline on using words that are prone to being misapplied or can give the impression that Wikipedia is taking sides on something. When those words have legitimate uses, you run into an issue of balancing the information content provided by certain words against their potential for harm. Harm not only to persons or groups in an article, but also to Wikipedia's reputation as an unbiased source. Ideally, I would think this guideline would be best posed as an extension of a more general guideline along those lines. Since there hasn't been a major thrust to enumerate other problematic words however, it's probably not needed at this time. In any event, I don't think that using the word terrorist should be encouraged. I think it should be used very conservatively. The issue at hand here is more of an authoritarian vs authoritative approach. The current guideline posits things as essentially authoritarian: "Don't use this word, because it's bad." My general goal is to keep the same basic warning, but to state specifically: "People will be prone to taking this the wrong way." Hence the connection to popular usage as being a key factor. Feel free to take some time thinking it over, I'll be around.
Re PBS: While I think the proposed revision you're stating is an improvement, I don't see it as changing the tone. The implication is still that the author or (somehow) the word itself is expressing an implicit viewpoint. This may be true or false. If it was true, it would fall under the more general terms of POV articles because it would probably be part of a larger POV pattern. The unique issue here is that even an NPOV article using the word can run into issues, as per Wikidemon's comment of: "many people reading it will make judgments based on what the word means to them, beyond the precise usage in context." So there's a balance between article context and cultural context. In my opinion, article context is of primary importance. You can't dodge or misrepresent facts simply because they are unpopular, and there is an inherent need in an encyclopedia to state things accurately and concisely. Precise language matters. On the other hand, the cultural context still matters. If a contentious word can be replaced with a less contentious one, while being as descriptive and informative- that should be demanded. Which is what I think this guideline should ultimately be about. So, I don't think that proposed change still quite rephrases things well enough. It doesn't give a good, specific concept as to why the word should be avoided. It basically says "This has an inherent viewpoint" which is an opinion. Anybody reading the guideline who disagrees can just say "Nuh uh" and be able to posit 100 arguments as to why its usage in context is correct. As we have been doing for about 5 pages now, describing conditions where the word may or may not be able to be supported. The much bigger issue is that even when the word is supported and conveys key information, it should still be used extremely conservatively. And I think the solution to this is not to demonize the words themselves, but to place them in their cultural context. Anybody can deny that a word means something. Who is going to deny that tons of people (and news networks) throw around the word terrorist at the drop of a hat? This means that these words would be reserved for when they are needed, due to relevance, importance, strong verifiability, and an inability to adequately substitute another word. Benjamid (talk) 03:42, 8 April 2010 (UTC)
The guidance does not say no usage it says "then the word can be used but the description must be attributed in the article text to its source, preferably by direct quotation" which clear up most ambiguity over the use of the terms (They are terrorists, our boys are fighting for freedom). This follows the guidance in WP:NPOV: A simple formulation. I'll make the changes to the first sentence. As I said lets salami slice it. What is the next specific part of the paragraph to which you object? -- PBS (talk) 08:07, 8 April 2010 (UTC)