Dirty Words At Work


A friend was talking about some Spider-Man video game he’d played as a kid. There was a screen where you could enter cheat codes. If you entered something that wasn’t a cheat code, mostly, the game just ignored it. But if you entered a cuss word or something else dirty or sexual or racist or something Spider-Man would come out and whap your entry. So the game turned into one of testing out every possible word to see what would be objectionable. It’s possible there was no actual Spider-Man game and kids were just entertained trying to figure out what wasn’t allowed as a cheat-code word.

It’s got me realizing that someone had the job of making a list of all the words deserving of a Spider-whapping. Maybe not at the game maker’s, maybe they grabbed the list from some industry-standard list. But that just moves the list-making. Somebody had the job of compiling a list of all the words kids might reasonably enter into a game and that they shouldn’t be doing. And I bet it wasn’t just one person either, because who knows every sexist or homophobic or racist term out there? You need to pool experiences to get something close to full coverage. There had to be meetings of people working out this list of offensive terms. And somebody deciding whether a word really was a common and offensive enough term to include in the list.

And then they had to do all this without breaking the rules about appropriate office discussion or creating a hostile work environment. And that’s got me boggled. It almost seems easier to just not let people cheat on their Spider-Man games.

(I’m kidding. I know tech companies don’t have any rules about appropriate office discussions and require the work environments to be hostile. But imagine if it were another way! How would they get things done?)

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