I have objected to the use of the term "cretin" at rpg.stackechange.com and my objections have been arbitrarily dismissed. Two site moderators (mxyzplk and AceCalhoun) have endorsed the use of the term. Mxyzplk claimed that "there is no Official StackExchange Policy" and added a derogatory Comment stating that my objection is 'just playing definition games'. AceCalhoun has further commented (with much less hostility) to the effect that it's a 'majority rules' situation, pointing to the voting system on the site.

People once used epithets about race, creed, color, disability, and more. These epithets were all perfectly acceptable to the norms of the past. They are not acceptable today.

Should insulting terminology, illegal in some venues, be freely used on this site? Should that decision be a matter of popular vote?

Related data:

From the EEOC (United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission):

Workplace harassment is any unwelcome or unwanted conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or an aversion toward another person on the basis of any characteristic protected by law, which includes an individual's race, color, gender, ethnic or national origin, age, religion, DISABILITY, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other personal characteristic protected by law.

("Disability" capitalized for emphasis.)

Examples of Offensive words for people who have specific medical conditions:

  • cripple: an offensive word for someone who is physically disabled, especially someone who is unable to walk
  • imbecile: an offensive word for someone who has a mental disability
  • retard: an offensive word for someone who has not developed mentally as much as most other people of the same age
  • spastic: affected by cerebral palsy. This word is now considered offensive.

Cretinism / Cretin:

  • "cretin (often offensive): one afflicted with cretinism" (Merriam-Webster online Dictionary)
  • "cretin (offensive): a person considered to be extremely stupid" (Collins English Dictionary)
  • "The disused term cretin was a medical term which described a person so affected with the condition, but, as with words such as spastic and lunatic, it can also have a vulgar connotation and can be used disparagingly." (Wikipedia)
I did not mean to imply that a majority was needed for me to take action. But at the moment, there is evidence of only one (perhaps two) people having an issue with it. That's not enough to override my judgement, 50 upvotes, and 1k views. –  AceCalhoon Oct 27 '11 at 17:21
Heh... So after finding this question, I suspect you're trying to illustrate your point via absurdity - kudos. –  Shog9 Oct 28 '11 at 0:12
What's the purpose of the snippet about workplace harrassment? If you work for StackExchange, you should probably take this issue up with your boss. If you don't, then it's not about workplace harrassment. –  Joe Nov 16 '11 at 20:01
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7 Answers

Come off it. No one uses cretin that way, because no one talks about cretinism anymore. And if you do, you're doing so out of ignorance: it's an obsolete term.

I've been told that "spaz" is actually quite offensive in the UK. So if you're from the UK, and someone on the site calls you a spaz, then you have a legitimate complaint. I suppose since "spastic" is still in common use in some places as a name for cerebral palsy, you could make the argument that it's worth being sensitive toward those who might recognize the word as a medical term...

But frankly, your confrontational attitude is far more overtly offensive than either word. I highly doubt you saw the title in question and thought to yourself, "He's talking about homicidal people with thyroid problems!" Especially since your own answer has been sitting under the very same title for the past five months.

In short, you're trolling. You found a list of "offensive" words somewhere, and you're throwing out accusations because... You have an axe to grind? You're bored? You get off on provoking shocked reactions from good people who didn't realize the words they use have a dark past?

Who cares. Cut it out.

Even if you do care that much, "Cretin" is an old term approximating "Christian" and was used as a reminder of the humanity of those afflicted by the thyroid disorder - it was never even used in a derogatory manner in the language that spawned it. Also, the part of your "spaz" example where you hit the nail on the head is "if someone calls you a spaz" - the question never referred to anyone specific or identifiable on or off the site. –  David Perry Oct 28 '11 at 0:12
Shog9, thank you for taking the time to address this. Per your orders I will make no more objections to derogatory language on this site. –  ExTSR Oct 28 '11 at 15:51
@ExTSR, you are welcome like anyone else to flag anything you think is offensive as offensive, and to provide edits or suggested edits. However, if the poster reverts your edits, or the mods/community don't agree with your flag, it would be good to not go all drama queen about it. You don't have to "never do that any more" or stop participating in the site. Everyone, even the mods, are part of the democratic process on the site and we have the good grace to accept it when overruled. –  mxyzplk Oct 30 '11 at 0:06
Your 'depths of depravity' bit is a divisive rant within a small hobby in dire need of greater tolerance. In saying "my game is cool" one need NOT conclude with "...and your game sucks". Popular vote is your rationale for intolerance, negativity, and derogation. This is reinforced from above; your uberMod believes me to be an illiterate troll (despite 25 million of my works sold and a 3k rep here). Emulating the Queen of Hearts, that verdict came first and the facts can come later (if at all). I have learned the lesson: unfairness and incivility are promoted by the SE operational methodology. –  ExTSR Oct 30 '11 at 15:06
@ExTSR: I said you were "trolling", not "a troll". Frankly, your motivation doesn't really matter here - you're acting like the drunk who leaves the revival meeting and starts smashing up all the booze that up until then was his best friend in life. You didn't have a problem with the question when it was posted, so coming in months later and acting all shocked and horrified is... kinda hard to buy into. So unless you've actually gone to meetin', maybe it's time for you to be straight on what you're actually after here. Or... sit & have a nice cup of tea. –  Shog9 Oct 30 '11 at 15:26
What SE promotes is being specific. This question is about me using the word "cretin" and you insisting it's a slur, and the rest of the community doesn't agree that is the case. Your other issues aren't included in this question, so aren't relevant here. But this one comes across as greatly overreaching, trying to find any other angle to cause trouble because you don't like the content of my post otherwise - which is pretty much the wikipedia definition of "concern trolling." –  mxyzplk Oct 31 '11 at 4:29
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I was not aware that the term "cretin" was offensive. Having done a little research, I am convinced that it is an ableist term and have edited the title in question.

Your first sentence of your question does not appear to be correct though. As far as I can determine, this question was the first specific mention of "cretin" being offensive. Your previous meta question seems more directed at the general tone of the question, and not the term itself.

That said, the original question has been open for months now. You have the rep and could have gone in at any time to edit it to something less offensive. If an edit war had erupted, then a meta question would definitely be warranted. I'm not sure it was needed yet in this case but I glad to finally understand the root of your issue with that question.

Thanks, Pat. But it's one of several issues, not the root. Note that Aramis already pointed out the falshood in the anti-D&D rant (MOST RPGs encourage this behavior), and there's more. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 17:58
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No, of course not, that would be wrong.

However, I am not sure whose individual characteristics were derogated here. Besides that it was not directed at anyone except hypothetical fictional people in my game, the word "cretin" has long passed offensive usage.

If you are looking for an "official" ruling, the only written rule on Stack Exchange is "Be nice." There is an offensive flag which reads: "This question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech." I don't believe "cretin" falls into that category, though perhaps you could seek a referendum on English Usage Stack Exchange.

I brought your concerns to the SE mod community, and I fear their reaction was harsher than mine; Shog9's answer is quite representative of the "higher ranking" mods' view on things.

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May I go ahead and point out that a user "using" and site "condoning" behavior or terminology are two completely different things. I understand in this case it was a moderator, but moderators, while they manage the site aren't the site, they are merely a small group of users who have been chosen by SE to take out the trash and wash the dishes. They don't speak for SE and they don't speak for the site in general.

As far as site policy and what this site condones and doesn't condone that is up to us in Meta as far as our voices and powers go and ultimately up to SE as a corporation and what they want to see on their sites.

Is the term Cretin as used in common vernacular offensive? not at all. Is the true meaning of Cretin offensive? apparently. Honestly I'm not sure why this is causing quite the waves that it is..If you have a problem with the language used that's one thing, but this seems rather personal.

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I do think that language targeting (even in ignorance) marginalised groups is inappropriate. Moreso than many here, likely. I'd say any current slurs should be edited out of RPG.SE's posts as a matter of course. However, I don't think that "cretin" has had currency as a group-targeting slur for a long time. (I would similarly not support editing out "beyond the pale" used for its modern meaning from a post, despite its original meaning.)

If someone corrects me on that, though, I'd say it should be treated as any other slur with such currency.

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Personally, of those terms, I think Cretin is acceptable. Many of them are not. Cretin is a disused medical term, which many people probably more strongly associate with its colloquial meaning (if they know the medical term at all), which in this case was neither applied in description to the medical condition, nor directed at anyone in particular.

If this word truly offends you, I will gladly edit the title of the post to something less offensive myself ("idiots" is the likely candidate) if you ask me to. This being Stack Exchange, I can't guarantee that it'll stay that way, of course.

I will, however, be giving you a very quizzical look while I'm doing it :)

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I liked the idea of calling a PC party a bunch of murderous cretins, and I now feel hesitant about having so liked it and enthusiastically reused the term in my answer.

Either it's OK after all, or I can console myself that the bad company I keep includes Stephen Fry:

Only dullards crippled into cretinism by a fear of being thought pretentious could be so dumb as to believe that there is a distinction between design and use, between form and function, between style and substance.

Dumb is, in fact, a much worse ableist epithet, one I really am bothered about the carelessness with which I use it.

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