Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Words to watch

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There are no forbidden words or expressions on Wikipedia, but certain expressions should be used with care, because they may introduce bias. Strive to eliminate expressions that are flattering, disparaging, vague, or clichéd, or that endorse a particular point of view.

The advice in this guideline is not limited to the examples provided and should not be applied rigidly.1 What matters is that articles should be well-written and consistent with the core content policies—Neutral point of view, No original research, and Verifiability. The guideline does not apply to quotations, which should be faithfully reproduced from the original sources; see the section on quotations in the main Manual of Style.

Words that may introduce bias

Puffery

Shortcuts:
... legendary, great, acclaimed, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, award-winning, landmark, cutting-edge, extraordinary, brilliant, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso, honorable ...
Peacock terms.png

Words such as these are often used without attribution to promote the subject of an article, while neither imparting nor plainly summarizing verifiable information. They are known as "peacock terms" by Wikipedia contributors. Instead of making unprovable proclamations about a subject's importance, use facts and attribution to demonstrate that importance.2

  • Peacock example:
  • Bob Dylan is the defining figure of the 1960s counterculture and a brilliant songwriter.
  • Just the facts:

Articles suffering from such language should be rewritten to correct the problem or may be tagged with the {{Peacock}} or {{Peacock inline}} templates.

Contentious labels

Shortcuts:
... cult, racist, perverted, sect, fundamentalist, heretic, extremist, denialist, terrorist, freedom fighter, bigot, myth, -gate, pseudo-, controversial ...

Value-laden labels—such as calling an organization a cult, an individual a racist, terrorist, or freedom fighter, or a sexual practice a perversion—may express contentious opinion and are best avoided unless widely used by reliable sources to describe the subject, in which case use in-text attribution. Avoid myth in its informal sense, and establish the scholarly context for any formal use of the term.

The prefix pseudo‑ indicates that something is false or spurious, which may be debatable. The suffix ‑gate suggests the existence of a scandal. Use these in articles only when they are in wide use externally (e.g. Watergate), with in-text attribution if in doubt. Rather than describing an individual using the subjective and vague term controversial, instead give readers information about relevant controversies. Make sure, as well, that reliable sources establish the existence of a controversy and that the term is not used to grant a fringe viewpoint undue weight.3

With regard to the term, "pseudoscience": per the policy Neutral point of view, pseudoscientific views "should be clearly described as such." Per the content guideline, Fringe theories, the term "pseudoscience" may be used to distinguish fringe theories from mainstream science, supported by reliable sources.

Unsupported attributions

Shortcut:
... some people say, many scholars state, it is believed/regarded, many are of the opinion, most feel, experts declare, it is often reported, it is widely thought, research has shown, science says ...
Weasel words.svg

Weasel words are words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. A common form of weasel wording is through vague attribution, where a statement is dressed with authority, yet has no substantial basis. Phrases such as those above present the appearance of support for statements but can deny the reader the opportunity to assess the source of the viewpoint. They may disguise a biased view. Claims about what people say, think, feel, or believe, and what has been shown, demonstrated, or proved should be clearly attributed.4

However, the examples given above are not automatically weasel words, as they may also be used in the lead section of an article or in a topic sentence of a paragraph, where the article body or the rest of the paragraph supplies attribution. Likewise, views which are properly attributed to a reliable source may use similar expressions if they accurately represent the opinions of the source. Reliable sources may analyze and interpret, but we, as editors, cannot do so ourselves, since that would be original research or would violate the neutral point of view. Equally, editorial irony and damning with faint praise have no place in Wikipedia articles.

Articles including weasel words should ideally be rewritten such that they are supported by reliable sources, or they may be tagged with the {{weasel}} or {{by whom}} or similar templates so as to identify the problem to future readers (who may elect to fix the issue).

Expressions of doubt

Shortcuts:
... supposed, apparent, purported, alleged, accused, so-called ...

Words such as supposed, apparent, alleged and purported can imply that a given point is inaccurate, although alleged and accused are appropriate when wrongdoing is asserted but undetermined, such as with people awaiting or undergoing a criminal trial; when these are used, ensure the source of the accusation is clear. So-called can mean commonly named, falsely named, or contentiously named, and it can be difficult to tell these apart. Simply called is preferable for the first meaning; detailed and attributed explanations are preferable for the others.

Punctuation can also be used for similar effects: quotation marks, when not marking an actual quote, may indicate the writer is distancing themselves from the otherwise common interpretation of the quoted expression; the use of emphasis may turn an innocuous word into a loaded expression. Such occurrences should also be avoided.

Editorializing

Shortcuts:
... notably, interestingly, it should be noted, essentially, actually, clearly, without a doubt, of course, fortunately, happily, unfortunately, tragically, untimely ...

The use of adverbs such as notably and interestingly, and phrases such as it should be noted, to highlight something as particularly significant or certain without attributing that opinion should usually be avoided to maintain an impartial tone. Words such as fundamentally, essentially, and basically can indicate particular interpretative viewpoints, and thus should also be attributed in controversial cases. Care should be used with actually, which implies a fact is contrary to expectations; make sure this is verifiable and not just assumed. Clearly, obviously, naturally, and of course all presume too much about the reader's knowledge and perspective and are often excess verbiage. Wikipedia should not take a view as to whether an event was fortunate or not.

More subtly, editorializing can produce implications not supported by the sources. Words such as but, however, and although may imply a relationship between two statements where none exists, perhaps inappropriately undermining the first or giving undue precedence to the credibility of the second.

Synonyms for said

Shortcuts:
... reveal, point out, expose, explain, find, note, observe, insist, speculate, surmise, claim, assert, admit, confess, deny, clarify ...

Said, stated, described, wrote, and according to are almost always neutral and accurate. Extra care is needed with more loaded terms. For example, to write that a person clarified, explained, exposed, found, pointed out, or revealed something can imply that it is true, where a neutral account might preclude such an endorsement. To write that someone insisted, noted, observed, speculated, or surmised can suggest the degree of the speaker's carefulness, resoluteness, or access to evidence when that is unverifiable.

To write that someone asserted or claimed something can call their statement's credibility into question, by emphasizing any potential contradiction or implying a disregard for evidence. Similarly, be judicious in the use of admit, confess, and deny, particularly of living people, because these verbs can convey guilt when that is not a settled matter.

Expressions that lack precision

Euphemisms

Shortcut:
... passed away, gave his life, make love, an issue with, collateral damage, ethnic cleansing, living with cancer, sightless, people with blindness ...

The word died is neutral and accurate; avoid euphemisms such as passed away. Likewise, have sex is neutral; the euphemism make love is presumptuous. Some words that are proper in many contexts also have euphemistic senses that should be avoided: do not use issue for problem or dispute, nor ethnic cleansing for mass murder or genocide; civilian casualties should not be masked as collateral damage.

If a person has an affliction, or is afflicted, say just that; living with is a verbose softener. Norms vary for expressions concerning disabilities and disabled persons. The goal is clear and direct expression without causing unnecessary offense. Do not assume plain language is inappropriate.5

Clichés and idioms

Shortcuts:
... lion's share, tip of the iceberg, gild the lily, take the plunge, ace up the sleeve, bird in the hand, twist of fate, at the end of the day ...

Clichés and idioms are generally to be avoided in favor of direct, literal expressions. Lion's share is often misunderstood; instead use a term such as all, most, or two-thirds. The tip of the iceberg should be reserved for descriptions of icebergs; the small portion evident conveys the substance without gilding the lily. People in Wikipedia articles do not take the plunge, they simply do things. If a literal interpretation of a phrase makes no sense in the context of a sentence, it should be reworded. For more examples, Wiktionary includes a lengthy list of English idioms.

Relative time references

Shortcuts:
... recently, lately, currently, presently, to date, 15 years ago, formerly, in the past, traditionally, this/last/next year, winter, spring, summer, fall, autumn, yesterday, tomorrow, in the future, now, soon, ...

Prefer specific statements of time to general ones. Do not write in mid-2011 "Recently, public opinion has turned against Senator Smith"; this sort of statement often remains in place for years. "By May 2011 public opinion had turned against Senator Smith" means exactly the same when written, but will not go out of date. (It is often better to be more specific: "A Gallup poll in May 2011 showed Senator Smith's approval rating had dropped 7 percent since January.") When material in an article may become out of date, follow the Wikipedia:As of guideline. Because seasons occur at various times around the world, consider instead using months, quarters, or other more widely applicable terms such as mid-year unless the season itself is pertinent (spring blossoms, autumn harvest).

Expressions like "former(ly)", "in the past", and "traditional(ly)" lump together unspecified periods in the past. "Traditional" is particularly pernicious because it implies immemorial established usage. It is better to use explicit dates supported by sources. Instead of "hamburgers are a traditional American food", say "the hamburger was invented in about 1900 and became widely popular in the US in the 1930s".6

Several templates exist that may be useful to alert readers to time-sensitive wording issues. For example, the template {{When}} is available for editors to indicate when a sentence, or part of one, should be worded more precisely. The {{out of date}} template may be used when an article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information.

Information can be written in a less time-dependent way by using the as of technique, implemented in the {{as of}} template; it additionally tags information that will become dated. {{as of|2014|07}} produces the text As of July 2014 and categorises the article appropriately. "A new widget is currently being developed" can usefully become something like "a new widget was under development as of 2008" or, if supported by a source, "it was announced in November 2007 that a new widget was being developed" (no need for {{as of}} template).

Unspecified places or events

Shortcut:
... this country, here, there, somewhere, sometimes, often, occasionally, somehow ...

As in the previous section, prefer specific statements to general ones. It is better to use explicit descriptions, based on reliable sources, of when, where, or how an event occurred. Instead of saying "In April 2012, Senator Smith somehow managed to increase his approval rating by 10%," say "In April 2012, Senator Smith's approval rating increased by 10%, which has been attributed to his new position on foreign policy." Instead of saying "Senator Smith often discusses foreign policy in his speeches," say "Senator Smith discussed foreign policy during his election campaign, and subsequently during his victory speech at the State Convention Center."

Remember that Wikipedia is a global encyclopedia, and does not assume that particular places or times are the "default." We emphasize facts and viewpoints to the same degree that they are emphasized by the reliable sources. A phrase like "this country" should only be used when it is clear from context which country is being discussed.

Person or office?

It is necessary for a reference work to distinguish carefully between an office (such as president) and an incumbent (such as Barack Obama); a newspaper does not usually need to make this distinction, for a newspaper "President Obama" and "the President" are one and the same from 2009 to 2017.

  • "President Obama nominates new justices of the US Supreme Court" – no, whoever is president at the time does.
  • "President George W Bush nominated John Roberts as Chief Justice" – yes, always true.
  • "The President nominated John Roberts as Chief Justice in 2005" – yes, the year makes this clear.
  • "The guest list included Charles, Prince of Wales" – usually OK, unlikely to be confused with Charles I of England, Prince of Wales until 1625.
  • "The guest list included Prince Charles" – usually, but not always, clear it's not Prince Charles, Count of Flanders (1903–1983).
  • "The guest list included the Prince of Wales" – no, will go out of date, the present incumbent will be succeeded in the foreseeable future by another (and, later, others). (If you want to quibble, "from 1066 to 1625 at these banquets the guest list included the Prince of Wales" would be acceptable if it were true.)

Neologisms and new compounds

Neologisms are expressions coined recently or in isolated circumstances to which they have remained restricted. In most cases, they do not appear in general-interest dictionaries, though they may be used routinely within certain communities or professions. They should generally be avoided because their definitions tend to be unstable and many do not last. Where the use of a neologism is necessary to describe recent developments in a certain field, its meaning must be supported by reliable sources.

Adding common prefixes or suffixes such as pre-, post-, non-, anti-, or -like to existing words to create new compounds can aid brevity, but make sure the resulting terms are not misleading or offensive, and that they do not lend undue weight to a point of view. Adding -ism to a word, for instance, may suggest a tenuous belief system is well established.

Vulgarities, obscenities, and profanities

Wikipedia is not censored and its encyclopedic mission encompasses the inclusion of material that might offend. Quoted words should appear exactly as in the original source. But language that is vulgar, obscene, or profane should be used only if its omission would make the article less accurate or relevant and there is no suitable alternative. Such words should not be used outside quotations and names except where they are themselves the topic.

See also

References

  1. ^ Cocks, Jay (June 14, 1999). "The Time 100: Bob Dylan". Time. Retrieved October 5, 2008. 
  2. ^ Grossman, Loyd. A Social History of Rock Music: From the Greasers to Glitter Rock (McKay: 1976), p. 66.

Notes

  1. ^ If a word can be replaced by one with less potential for misunderstanding, it should be. As Ernest Gowers advised in The Complete Plain Words, "Be short, be simple, be human."
  2. ^ The template {{Peacock term}} is available for inline notation of such language where used inappropriately.
  3. ^ The template {{POV-statement}} is available for inline notation of such language where used inappropriately.
  4. ^ The templates {{Who}}, {{Which?}}, {{By whom}}, or {{Attribution needed}} are available for editors to request an individual statement be more clearly attributed.
  5. ^ The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, opposes terms such as sightless in favor of the straightforward blind. Similarly, the group argues that there is no need to substitute awkward circumlocutions such as people with blindness for the plain phrase blind people; see Resolution 93-01, National Federation of the Blind, July 9, 1993, accessed April 26, 2010.
  6. ^ "Original", "traditional", "authentic", and other distracting terminology

External links