Jordan Moore
UX Design & Interaction

A picture of my poorly bearded face

1st February 2014

Ixnay on the uckfay

Being a dad to 3 young kids under the age of 4 has taught me plenty of valuable lessons in such a short space of time. It has affected my everyday behaviour too. Just over a year ago, my son started going through the developmental phase in his life where he was repeating every single word he heard. Every. Damn. Word.

As a result, I have cleaned up my language when I’m home and in their company. A stubbed toe off the fireplace is no longer accompanied by a loud f-word, it’s usually followed by an animated "Ouch!" or a "Fff-ouch!" in some particularly painful instances.

Having kids has made me more aware of when I turn the air blue. Now when I swear it’s followed by a reflex reaction of guilt “Did the kids hear that?” and then I usually think “That was unnecessary.” During some stressful occasions when the kids aren’t present there are times where I feel “That f-bomb was entirely necessary and justified. I feel better after that.”

If you’ve read my writing before, you’ll notice that I rarely swear. This is a conscious decision for two reasons:

  1. I treat my writing as if it’s a talk. Most of the time I don’t think it’s appropriate to swear on front of my audience - particularly on the web where my audience could be young aspiring designers — it could be anybody
  2. Picking up on that point, I don’t mean that in a patronising way at all. In fact, I’d bet a lot of young designers aren’t offended by a few swear words here and there. However web filters in educational institutions as well as parental controls in family homes take great offence to swearing.

I wanted to title this post “Watch your fucking mouth”. It’s an ironic quote from Nicholas Cage in the ridiculously fun action-thriller Face Off. It’s my favourite line from the movie and it would have been an edgy, ironic title and it might have made a few people laugh along the way.

The problem is a URL like http://www.jordanm.co.uk/post/01234567/watch-your-fucking-mouth wouldn’t stand a chance against a web filter. Some web filters might even block my domain from future browsing sessions. I’d hate to think that my content was being blocked because of something completely within my control and preventable. For me accessibility comes first and if some users can’t even access my domain then that’s an accessibility fail at the first hurdle.

Most web filters look for blacklisted words, search terms and URLs. Some offer real-time content filtering which means they probably have the capability to scrape your page for profanity and block it from the reader if they are accessing your page from a filtered network.

My good friend Chris Armstrong suggested the potential for new semantics that might allow the user to hide profanity and still enjoy the content.

To me this underlines the superfluous nature of foul language in web writing. If the content reads fluently with inline elements removed then is there any need for it in the first place? I also doubt the willingness of content authors to go back over their content and take that extra step of wrapping their swear words in a tag. On the other hand if it was to prove a success then encouraging people to proofread and question the value around such words then I think that’s a good thing.

At it’s worst foul language is used to give weight to a weak point that requires extra leverage. For example:

"In a lot of cases it isn’t necessary to support IE7."

A pretty weak and obvious statement, right? How about:

"Fuck IE7, we need to stop supporting it."

All of a sudden, a weak statement has a certain air of gravitas about it. It’s the same concept, just delivered differently. It’s an easy way of making something sound more compelling than it actually is.

Now let me make this clear: I am not anti-swearing, nor am I telling people not to swear. You are your own person and you should feel to write whatever you like. I’m not even anti-swearing on the web because one of my favourite posts, Fuck You by Brad Frost, contains a fair amount of it, but it forms the crux of the issue he is pointing out and hey, it works really well. It strikes a chord instead of feeling forced.

My point is to think about your audience. Web and parental filters are barriers that we don’t talk about very much. When they scour the web like sniffer dogs seeking to censor parts of the web I’d rather not draw their attention to the scent.

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