The World Cup’s over now, but there’s a little point that’s keeps gnawing at me. I followed the World Cup primarily through Yahoo!’s sports site (previously mentioned for its poor choices in headline truncation), and I have to admit that despite my general disdain for comments on sports sites, I found myself actually following theirs. Not, of course, because the comments offered any insights, but rather out of a worrisome inability to stop looking at them. They were mini-Medusas, turning my brain to stone each time I looked upon their inane blabberings and tried to figure out why the commenter thought I needed to hear their thoughts. And worse, they had a siren’s song, a cer—n undeniable beauty in their weird blend of nationalism, chauvinism, mockery, pop culture references, and insanity that kept me unable to turn away.

Curious about the dashes in cer—n? Well, so am I. Yahoo!’s commenting software has an apparently very strange censorship module in it. Like a standard censorship module, it replaces words it finds offensive with dashes. In order to deter the more clever vulgarians, it also replaces dirty words hidden within other words. This is why glasses is censored into gl— in the following comment:

The Refs need gl---.

That’s a little out of the ordinary; in my experience, most automatic-censoring software checks against a dictionary, and lets words whose only fault is containing an obscene word go through untouched. This isn’t a hard feature to program in, so I am led to believe that Yahoo! consciously decided to omit it. Maybe they were having trouble with commenters using minced oaths like “We’re going to kick your glasses!” and they decided to remove even within-word obscenities to foil them. That would also explain this comment:

kudos in major quan---ies

I’m going to go out on a limb and suppose that the commenter wished to offer major quantities of kudos, which would of course be censored by a censor that seeks out vulgarities lurking within words. Nothing too weird there. But then I found these comments:

technolo---

Apparently FIFA president Sepp Blatter isn’t the only one against technology; Yahoo!’s censor is adamant that the word not be reproduced in full. For some reason, the string gy is marked as obscene. The only explanation I can come up with for that is that the censor wanted to prevent brainiacs slipping gay by the censor by omitting its vowel. That’s an implausible explanation, though, especially since I’ve seen gay come through uncensored in other comments.

Now what about the censorship I engaged in in the opening paragraph, cer—n? Why would I do something so silly? Well, check out these comments:

Based on context, surely the censored words in the comments above are meant to be Captain, certain, and entertaining, which suggests that the Yahoo! censor believes tai to be a vulgarity.*

I was worried that my lexicon of vulgarities had fallen out of date, which would ruin the street cred that I have so precisely cultivated, so I rushed onto Urban Dictionary to find out what made tai censorable. Strangely, there was only one obscene definition for tai on Urban Dictionary. But I don’t think that it has anywhere near the general appeal to need censoring; it was the eighth definition listed on Urban Dictionary, buried under references to the band The Academy Is… and a claims that folks with the name Tai are “unusually fly”, “elite, perfect, cool guy in planet”, and “a total badass”. I tried looking on Google, but struck out there as well, with searches for “tai obscene” and “tai vulgarity” not returning anything useful.**

Does anyone have any idea what’s going on here? Have I offended you by saying gy and tai all willy-nilly? If so, please accept my heartfelt apolo—.


*: Perhaps, you’re thinking, it’s not tai that’s obscene but rather ta or tain, which are also in all three words. Judging from the gl— and quan—ies examples, though, it appears that all and only the obscene letters are dashed out.

**: I was shocked to find out you could search for any phrase with “obscene” in it and not get a single porn site. I found that especially surprising with “Tai” given that Kobe Tai was a famous pornographic actress in the late 90s.

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