Overzealous Profanity Filter.

This is pretty silly, but hey, we can all use a chuckle these days — Overzealous profanity filter bans paleontologists from talking about bones:

Participants in a virtual paleontology session found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place last week, when a profanity filter prevented them from using certain words – such as bone, pubic, stream and, er, beaver – during an online conference.

The US-based Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) held its annual meeting virtually this year due to the pandemic, but soon found its audience stifled when they tried to use particular words. Convey Services, which was was handling the conference, used a “naughty-word filter,” for the conference, outlawing a pre-selected list of words.

“Words like ‘bone’, ‘pubic’, and ‘stream’ are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams,” said Brigid Christison, a master’s student in biology attending the event, in an interview with Vice.

You’ll be pleased to know all ended well:

“After getting a good belly laugh out of the way on the first day and some creative wording (my personal favorite was Heck Creek for Hell Creek), some of us reached out to the business office, and they’ve been un-banning words as we stumble across them,” an SVP member explained to Reddit users.

Reminds me with my struggles with spammers back in the day (I’d ban the string “cialis” only to discover no one could talk about socialism). Thanks, Lars!


  1. David Eddyshaw says:


    There’s great potential for a political slogan there.

    (Bernie Sanders puts the “cialis” in “Socialism”!)

  2. Owlmirror says:

    How is “stream” even vaguely dirty?

    [Checks urban dictionary]

    Nothing particularly profane. Someone did put in, “A stream could be considered a long line of piss while you urinate”, as a second definition, way down there, but that seems like a stretch to be so bad as to ban.

  3. Owlmirror says:

    Huh. There’s a link to the spreadsheet of dirty words posted by Thomas Holtz, and it seems to have included . . . dinosaur?!?!?

    And enterococcus as well??

    And the all-too-common-words lie and lies?

    “The site lies 20 km north of…. ”
    “What the perdition?”

  4. D******r, e********s to you.

  5. Owlmirror says:

    I noticed “flange” on the list. Looking at the #2020SVP twitter stream, that does seem to be an actual osteological term-of-art.

    Breakout star of the #2020SVP, humble Lystrosaurus! This 3/4 view of a specimen from Bethulie (Free State, South Africa) shows off the often-overlooked flange-like prefrontal bosses of this genus, argued to be sexually dimorphic in at least some species.

    Urban dictionary does define “flange” as meaning “female genitalia”. Huh.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Urban dictionary does define “flange” as meaning “female genitalia”

    Flange has potential as a cuss-word.
    And, of course, there is always Nigel Flange, the UK statesman and patriot.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    I literally just logged out of the conference and can confirm a lot of this. And yes, there’s a colleague named Gareth J. Dyke, and people were trying to cite his papers.

  8. Known since 1996 as “The Scunthorpe Problem”

  9. The Scunthorpe problem has a similar effect, but its cause is different, viz banning text which includes any of certain strings of letters, regardless of word-boundaries.

    I once worked for a firm where office hours were Mon-Fri but workers would occasionally have to work weekends. In one weekend session people found that they couldn’t send certain text files; this turned out to be due to a profanity-filter preventing the sending of any text containing a word which was coming up in datestamps: “Saturday”.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I once had an email blocked by the mail server of the Universidad de Chile. It was difficult to figure out why, but it turned out that it didn’t like the string “hi” in “Chile” in the subject line of the message.

  11. Lars Mathiesen says:

    You would think that the filters would/should be sensitive to word boundaries, but then you immediately get ads for xXcialisXx (or just strategically omitted spaces) that people will read right across. Also, porn streams seem to be a huge business, that might explain that (but not the enterococcus).

  12. Would they filter “Biggus Dickus”?

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Just 46 miles west of Scunthorpe is Penistone. I imagine that one sometimes gives problems as well.

    If ever you have occasion to write something about Peñíscola you need to write it like that and not as Peniscola (though that may not save you from the filter). Note that although “cola” is a perfectly ordinary word it can be a rude word in some contexts.

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    @Owlmirror: Someone did put in, “A stream could be considered a long line of piss while you urinate”, as a second definition, way down there, but that seems like a stretch to be so bad as to ban. … that does seem to be an actual osteological term-of-art.

    “Stream” is also a urological term of art, in the combination “midstream” (MSU = midstream specimen of urine). A urologist explained this to me once (for reasons over which I now draw a veil) – since the proœmial part of a urine stream may contain adventitious stuff from the skin etc (from the previous night’s carousings, say), you need to look upstream for lurking pathogens.

  15. I’m now wondering if a flange has something to do with a flist.

  16. That flucking flange has got a flist on it!

  17. @Owlmirror: I seem to recall that on an episode of Coupling, “flange” was specifically identified as an unsexy word. (However, it is possible that I entirely missed the joke there, which I thought was just about Patrick, who brings up that example, being obsessed with cars and mechanical things.)

    @Stu Clayton: Decades ago, when I was a preteen computer whiz, my father asked me to makes some graphics for him, for a conference presentation he was going to be making about misdiagnosis in pediatric urinary tract infections. One of the images showed, schematically, an ideal “clean catch” of urine from entirely in the middle of a stream, since both the beginning and end are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria from the surrounding urogenital region.

    A few years later, this issue arose in my own medical treatment. I came down with a sudden high fever (it got up to 105° at one point*) and lower abdominal pain, and (as I’m sure languagehat knows) that frequently means appendicitis. So for about half a day, until they could rule that out, I was forbidden to eat or drink anything, because I might need to go into surgery. Between my general weakness and severe dehydration, I could barely produce a urine sample after I was admitted to the hospital. I just dribbled a little out, and it turned out to be heavily contaminated with bacteria. So they started me on a strong course of antibiotics, which did not help how I was feeling. My father, who was one of eight doctors who were involved in my treatment, made sure that, once I was hydrated again, they took another urine sample to demonstrate that it was clear, so I could be taken off the antibiotics. But, in spite of all those physicians, nobody did ever figure out what virus I had had.

    * Knowing that a fever of 105° was intrinsically life threatening, I asked my father for an honest estimate of the chance that I would die. He told me that it was basically negligible, and that otherwise extremely healthy people in their teens and twenties simply did not die from unexplained fevers; absent the detection of some specific underlying problem, I was eventually going to be fine.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    a fever of 105° was intrinsically life threatening

    Is it? 105 °F ‘s just 40.5 °C – definitely enough to contact a doctor, but it doesn’t start to get really scary until 42 °C, I thought.

  19. @David Marjanović: At about 108 °F (or roughly 315 °K), the fever itself (regardless of its underlying cause) starts to kill you. At those temperatures, you start to experience organ (including brain) damage just from the fever. What I meant was that just about anything that can cause a consistent 105 °F fever is potentially life threatening, even if the fever on its own is not.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Yep, that’s just over 42 °C.

    just about anything that can cause a consistent 105 °F fever is potentially life threatening


  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Yes, but if you have cancer and get a high fever that lasts a few days then the cancer will be gone, permanently, when (if) you get over the fever.

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

    H –> (E –> H & E)

  23. David Marjanović says:

    …I bet that depends on what kind of cancer it is.

  24. Stu Clayton says:

    If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs – depending on what kind of eggs.

    H –> (E –> (K –> H & E))

  25. The Mathematical Cafe, where you order “I’ll have E(F[OE]) + H + 2T.”

  26. January First-of-May says:

    …I bet that depends on what kind of cancer it is.

    I’d be surprised if that’s true for any kind of cancer – if nothing else then because if it was true I’d expect it to have been marketed as an alternative therapy. But maybe it is true (for some kinds of cancers) and the circumstances are just so exotic (e.g. a consistent 41°C fever) that it’s not very relevant in practice.

    EDIT: some googling tells me that it had been marketed as an alternative therapy… in the 19th century – and had apparently been mostly forgotten since.

  27. Stu Clayton says:

    The OE value of that parameter is pretty much unknown in these parts. Strange but true.

  28. John Cowan says:

    The U.S. National Cancer Institute (part of the NIH) says that hyperthermia in combination with radiation for cancer is currently an experimental protocol. “Many of these studies [4 out of 6], but not all, have shown a significant reduction in tumor size when hyperthermia is combined with other treatments. However, not all of these studies have shown increased survival in patients receiving the combined treatments.”

  29. I have a colleague who works on magnetic nanoparticles—specifically, on controlling where they go. At the moment, they are being used to make cheap but very fine diffraction gratings. However, in the longer term one of the major applications for this could be hyperthermic cancer treatment. If you can inject a bunch of magnetic nanoparticles into the body and get them to cluster around a tumor, you can then use them to deliver a localized dose of heat via the particles. It would work like a microwave, except instead of exciting the stretching of hydrogen-oxygen bonds in water, the microwave beam would excite magnetic oscillations in the nanoparticles, which would be dissipated as heat in the local tissue.

  30. John Cowan says:

    We actually know many of the parameters of OE, such as V2 and AN.

  31. Stu Clayton says:

    Very well done (or flip twice?), and add nothing ? I’ve never been partial to OE so I know nothing about its arcana.

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