Wikipedia’s 10,000-word war over the word ‘f*ck’

That's a tough one.


Miles Klee

Internet Culture

Published Feb 3, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 7:30 pm CDT

The fight has raged for nearly 10,000 words at this point, and still Wikipedia’s editors aren’t sure whether to put an article about a 2005 sociopolitical documentary on its main page. Why such indecisiveness? Because the film in question is titled Fuck.

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In the Steve Anderson documentary, “fuck” is a jumping-off point for a wider discussion of censorship, art, comedy, and free speech. That’s surely helped fuel the flurry of prolix yea-or-nay votes on whether the entry for Fuck should be the featured article on the English Wikipedia’s homepage for an entire day. It would surely be a special day in “fuck” history: Wikipedia is the sixth-most visted website in the world.

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Supporters see educational value in the film. One simply wrote, “Why not?” Even those who fretted about blowback saw featuring the film as a worthwhile move for a reference tool devoted to the free flow and dissemination of data, whether it offends or not. 

“[I]t’s about fucking time,” one declared.

Then, the counterpoint: “Free speech is a valuable right, but having the right to do something isn’t an obligation to do it,” reasoned iridescent 2, the first to register an objection. “Wikipedia doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and for better or worse running this at TFA will trigger automated filters and get Wikipedia blacklisted on a lot of corporate networks, get Wikipedia blocked from schools worldwide, and get the site banned as a whole in large swathes of Africa and Asia.”

Image and integrity were also concerns: “[D]o we really want this to be the first thing a parent sees when opening up the ‘pedia to help their child with their homework?” one editor asked. 

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The pro-Fuck camp offered some compromises, including styling the title as F*ck, an idea borrowed from the movie’s own marketing, or running the article on September 25, the 225th anniversary of the First Amendment. They also wryly noted that children who have already read about the Human Centipede are unlikely to be scarred by a four-letter word. Some dissenters, meanwhile, began to suggest that Cirt’s initial request amounted to trolling.

“It is incredible that it is even being contemplated,” read one comment. “Extremely poor judgement by all concerned.” 

Editors admitted that, whatever their curiosity as to the Web’s reaction, it would be difficult to anticipate. Many were enthusiastic about sparking a larger version of the dialogue they found themselves embroiled in, while the opposite side fretted that the page’s implicit shock value would make it look like they were trying too hard to make a point that would be lost in the subsequent furor anyway.

In any event, it’s nice that the administrators of our favorite crowd-sourced reference tool finally have something other than Star Trek to argue about

H/T @Wikipedia_Forum | Photo by Jakub Hlavaty/Flickr

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*First Published: Feb 3, 2014, 3:17 pm CST