Some words get asterisked. For example, it's not uncommon to see "f***" or "sh*t".

But is it because of the vulgar word being used, or is it because of the concept being referred to? For example, would the word "dick" be equally, or more likely, to be asterisked than "penis"?

  • 1
    This probably started with George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" in 1972. See Seven dirty words. I suppose if you can't say it, you shouldn't print it. Words that are technically correct (penis) or words children normally use (pee pee or dick) generally don't get this treatment.
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 5:01

3 Answers 3


The asterisks are usually due to the word itself being considered offensive, not the concept since you will see synonyms for the concept which are not asterisked out.

  • Yes. I would be very surprised to see "defecation" or "sexual intercourse" asterisked out. "The patient passd slids"? Not likely. But vulgar words for the same idea sometimes are.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 4:03
  • 4
    @Jay Were you trying to say "The patient pass*d s*lids"? Use a \ before the asterisks or else it'll be f**** by bl**dy m*rkd*wn.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 4:26
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm Blast, I forget about some of the magic markup when I'm not intentionally using it. Thanks.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 18:23

I think the answer is both. Vulgar words do get censored because of the concepts they refer to, but the concepts they refer to are not limited to their literal meaning. Other words with the same literal meaning are considered acceptable.

Indeed, sometimes the same word will be considered acceptable or unacceptable depending on whether it is being used merely for it's literal meaning - such as the word 'bastard' meaning a child born out of wedlock, or whether it is being used with an additional meaning, that of a person who is considered despicable in some way.

Such words are generally considered wrong because of their usage more than their actual meaning - and some words are considered wrong altogether because they are usually used without their literal meaning. To see why, consider that society finds it appropriate to have a discussion about the existence of paedophilia. But most would find it inappropriate to enthusiastically discuss that subject in every conversation. If you were having a casual conversation about football and felt it necessary to work the word 'paedophilia' into every sentence, people would find it disturbing because although they don't mind considering that subject in the proper context, they don't want it constantly brought to their attention. For years, most people felt the same way about faeces, reasonably enough, or sex. So naturally a lot of people find it unpleasant that words with those meanings are, by some people, used constantly and in public, when they aren't even talking about those subjects and have no reason to be mentioning them.


Mostly because they are vulgar (the concept can be talked in much more subtle (Parliamentary) language).

Also because in some public forums when you use slang/vulgar words in a statement; if caught by the spell checker (read slang checker), it would not let you post.

Some years back, in the early 2000s, Orkut had come up with such a technology. Obviously there were other before them as well (but I particularly remember Orkut).

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    There is a very big difference between slang and vulgar language. i would use slang in front of my mother (though she might not understand), but I would not use vulgar language in front of my mother: she would understand and would disapprove.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 7:27

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