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Just had a question about a recent update to one of my answers. It's not a huge deal, but:

would be seen as niggling and holding back the company's bottom line

was changed to:

would be seen as frivolous and holding back the company's bottom line

and the change (niggling to frivolous) was marked as 'Remove offensive language'.

I mean, I can kinda understand that it shares the first four letters with an offensive word. But... it's a completely different word, from a completely different root, with a completely different meaning.

I guess I just want to know: is this an offensive word on SE? While this was just a post edit, I could easily imagine someone flagging the answer or deleting it instead.

--

Update: I went ahead and rolled back the change. The main reasons were that nobody here saw the word as offensive and the comments from one of the reviewers approving the edit - which indicated their approval was mostly due to a negative connotation of the word and an unfamiliarity with the word. But honestly, the negative connotation was intended by me, and in the context of the answer was a 'this action is not niggling' - aka, 'this is not something with a negative connotation'.

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31

I find the edit unnecessary.

To me, it was a stretch to take the word you wrote as offensive. This also shows that the user(s) editing/reviewing didn't take the time to search the meaning of the word, and immediately assumed ill intentions of it (when we should assume good intentions first).

If you want, you can consider doing a Rollback on the revisions page of the post you mention.

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  • Hold on, I did spend attention and looked up the words in several dictionaries (I'm not a native speaker). Niggling was used more often in a negative context, so I thought if somebody claims to be offended by it and it doesn't change the meaning of the post, why not approve it? It most certainly does not mean I assumed the OP had bad intentions with it, just like many of my old posts across the network use 'he/she' instead of the new default singular they. – Glorfindel Jul 16 at 4:41
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    @Glorfindel Where 'new' is arguable (see Shakespeare), hence a lot of people defaulting to "leave it be". – Mast Jul 16 at 9:19
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    @Glorfindel. Imagine 'frivolous' was a paint color. 'Niggling' is basically that shade with a heavy undertone of 'irritation/annoyance'. In the context of my answer, I was basically saying to the OP, "You enforcing the standards won't be seen as a pointless irritation." You're right - the word itself does have a negative context due to that undertone... but I don't think that means it's automatically offensive. Don't get me wrong: Frivolous works relatively well in its place - it's not like missing the additional 'irritation' subtone makes the meaning unclear. – Kevin Jul 16 at 13:14
  • @Kevin thanks for the English lesson! – Glorfindel Jul 16 at 13:35
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    @Glorfindel neither am I a native speaker, and the results I found googling didn't sound negative; it's just a word that denotes annoyance or discomfort, it's very likely it won't be used in a happy and merry sentence or context. As OP mentioned, it seems to convey a slightly different, but nonetheless distinctive and relevant, meaning... Anyways, it's not a life or death situation, I just find the edit a bit of a stretch. Sorry if I implied you didn't take the time. I am sure you did, as you frequently contribute very helpful content throughout the SE network :) cheers – DarkCygnus Jul 16 at 15:16
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    Agreed, the edit is not necessary. Perhaps not the best word, but we are dangerously close to a slippery slope. – Neo Jul 16 at 15:16
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    English is a very precise and subtle language. I usually have to tone down my vocabulary for this site. I think enderland once had to put a link to a definition of a word I used because it's not to common in usage. The use of the word niggling is usually to say that something is petty, frivolous and annoying. English is also rife with homophones, and homonyms, just to make things more confusing. Such as "bass" the fish, and "bass" as in "bass guitar". I've always said that English is a cruel joke played upon non native speakers. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 20 at 20:38
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    @Glorfindel "if somebody claims to be offended by it and it doesn't change the meaning of the post, why not approve it" Because we shouldn't change our language just because one person claims to be offended by it. That's called a slippery slope. No other reason is necessary. I'm honestly shocked you're framing it this way. It's OK for a person to be offended. Really, it is. Life will go on. Being offended is their prerogative. Changing words others use is not. – user91988 Jul 29 at 14:19
  • The one danger you get in to with similar sounding words is that they can easily become code for derogatory statements towards people. This is especially true when you put the wrong emPHAsis on a certain SYLlaBLE. I think we all consider ourselves to be reasonable mature people, but let's be honest, we're unlikely to be the median. So, I wouldn't change it, and I wouldn't apologize for it, but I would be more careful moving forward. Social conditions change the words we should use, and right now those conditions aren't friendly to similar sounding words. – Malisbad Aug 25 at 1:53
29

Have we REALLY reached the point where we are now censoring words that are SIMILAR to offending words? Roll back the edit, it's unnecessary.

The word niggardly means miserly. Can we mention the nation of Niger? What about the words "masticate", the "penal" system, "beaver" (dam them!), slag, knob, Aktashite, Assapanick, cock-bell (a wild flower) et cet ad nauseum.

Push back on this, let's end this nonsense.

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    Some people enjoy being offended to the point that they wake up and are offended nobody offended them. – Anonymoot Jul 22 at 14:10
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    @You'rebadandshouldfeelbad I grew up in a time where the rule was still "sticks and stones", and I grew up with multiple disabilities and other problems that made me a target for all sorts of insults. These "first world problems" are so far beneath my radar, they don't even register. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 22 at 15:09
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    "The word niggardly means miserly." Do you remember the incident in the late 90s that added that word to everyone's vocabulary? – Mason Wheeler Jul 24 at 19:51
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    @MasonWheeler that's what made me think of that word, yes I remember that vividly. . It's also an old saying "The devil is a niggard", which in turn is the inspiration for the phrase, "when you shake hand with the devil, count your fingers" – Old_Lamplighter Jul 24 at 20:25
  • @MasonWheeler I don't, I've just read it in books. Not all of us are so reactive to pop culture. – user91988 Jul 29 at 14:26
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    @user91988 a councelman was fired for saying "we must be niggardly with the public funds". It was back in the 1990s. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 29 at 14:29
  • @Old_Lamplighter Ah, I'm not familiar with the incident, but that one I can at least understand. Politicians should know better—the general public doesn't know that word and (obviously) heard it as the n-word. He shouldn't have been fired, but that's the world we live in unfortunately. – user91988 Jul 29 at 14:32
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    @user91988 that was over 20 years ago, and it was his fellow council members who did it. We weren't nearly as hypersensitive back then. I still refuse to be. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 29 at 15:54
11

I can't speak for other people/cultures, but I never would have even made the connection before reading this post. So as far as I'm aware, no, it's not.

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    It's not an offensive word. I suspect the perception that it's a problematic word is from someone using Urban Dictionary as if it was a real dictionary. UD is full of entries people put in as jokes. Unfortunately, some people don't seem to realize it's a humor site, not an information resource. – Booga Roo Jul 16 at 8:30
  • No, it is not now, nor has it ever been. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 20 at 20:39
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I think the OP is wrong. OP does not want to let boys or girls who do not know the gist of the word be here. This is the kind of thing that a man or not man who has had a good school would want. The men or not men who had a good school do not know what it is like to be a boy or girl who did not have a good school. It is hard and it is not good when it is hard so it should not be hard it should be easy. The only way for it to be easy is to ban the words with equal to or more than two word sounds.

All words equal to or more than two word-sounds are bad as it is hard for a man or a not man who did not get a good school time to know what the word means. We need to ban the long words as they are hurt words that hurt the boy or girl who did not get the good school. Can we remove all the words with more than one word-sound?

To be clear, as the word the OP used is a more than one word-sound word then i want that word to be not part of this site.

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    Skilled use of words to pull off that post. – Old_Lamplighter Sep 4 at 13:56
-10

Some writers enjoy using arcane words in the mistaken belief that it makes their writing more interesting, but it does not. These words sound awkward and they're prone to misinterpretation and may be perceived as pretentious. These words are why editors can make a good living yanking them out like the weeds that they are.

If you've read articles (especially early ones) by George Will, you can see an example of why these words are not a good look. Rarely an arcane two-dollar word just works because it perfectly fits the intent like a glove, the perfection of the fit makes it worthwhile to look up the word. But if you try to do this too often, like George Will, you end up with awkwardness. The prose equivalent of a guy in an ill-fitting suit trying to be suave.

That said, I don't expect folks who think "burninate" is a useful word to understand this line of thought, but some of you out there do.

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    Wow, this is a bit harsh! But.... 'niggling' isn't an arcane word to me. I don't know if it's because I'm in the midwest or because a lot of my family tree is scandanavian, but it's not an obscure/arcane word. Pretty much everyone in my extended family would know what that word means and wouldn't bat an eye at it. – Kevin Jul 18 at 16:31
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    Yeah, rereading this, it's less than productive and more of just a flat-out rant. Not sure how someone reading this (workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/160542/…) comes out with "Gee, that writer is a pretentious, awkward, uninteresting, uncool-but-trying-to-be-cool idiot that can't understand the concept of communicating clearly." – Kevin Jul 18 at 16:54
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    I didn't know what "niggling" means. I had to look it up. And to be fair it looks like the editor didn't bother to look it up because he replaced it with the wrong word, "frivolous". Given that we're not all holding degrees in English Literature and many even have English as a second language, I think its best to err on the side of simpler vocabulary. – teego1967 Jul 19 at 17:19
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    English is my second language and "to niggle" is in my vocabulary, while "frivolous" is something I can piece the meaning together from other languages that use very similar words, but I have never used in English. It's also not the same. – nvoigt Jul 20 at 10:31
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    this answer would make a solid sense if it was about revision intended to simplify wording and attempted to preserve original meaning. What we discuss here looks different though. It is more of a clbuttic kind, with editor openly stating (misguided) purpose to remove offensive language and proceeding without even attempt to look up the dictionary and try to figure more accurate rewording – gnat Jul 20 at 15:02
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    What you're advocating is the further numbing down of the lexicon. It is not archaic to engage in erudite language, pedantic, perhaps, but not archaic. These are but pernicious attempts to influence language by the bellicose for purely malevolent motives. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 20 at 15:53
  • I'm not directly defending the editor, he was wrong to replace "niggling" with an incorrect word. @Old_Lamplighter, if you're going for irony at least put more effort into it. "numbing down"--- really? – teego1967 Jul 21 at 2:33
  • @gnat, "clbuttic" is a fine used in, for example, a title to generate interest because virtually no one will know what it means. It's such an astonishingly ugly word, it's like an accident and it attracts rubberneckers. – teego1967 Jul 21 at 2:36
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    @teego1967 Yes, numbing down, as in eliminating all connotation in the language until we are fully in Orwellian newspeak where the language is so sanitized and purged of anything that might convey an original thought or emotion. Eliminating all feeling entirely, with nothing left but a soulless, emotionless, numbness. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 21 at 12:29
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    "Some people use big words. They think it's good but I don't like it. People might not know what they mean. I read that this is bad. It's very bad if you do it too often." Would you mind if I replaced your post with this? If not, you're doing the very thing you're condemning others for. – Anonymoot Jul 22 at 14:14
  • @You'rebadandshouldfeelbad, Word choice is very much a matter of taste. There's a lot space between overusing arcane 2-dollar words and dumbed-down newspeak. Good taste lies somewhere in between those extremes. It's not one or the other and I wanted to bring that up, admittedly this particular incident isn't the best choice for that battle. – teego1967 Jul 22 at 16:13
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    the traits of precise and subtle language (which does not mean too subtle to be understood full well) that you're mentioning (but negating) in your post, refute your very point. Entirely. This question is obviously not dealing with any of the truly bad examples or exaggerations that you're mistaking as being the same. And yes, word choice is also a matter of taste. So it would be better to stop advocating censoring other people's taste, even more so where it clearly is neither out of bounds nor over the top. – somebody_other Jul 25 at 16:33
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    @teego1967 If words are too complicated for you buy a dictionary or thesaurus. Personally, I'm not going to limit my vocabulary to appease the pusillanimous, obstreperous, obsequious little toadies out there and their crybullying ways. Words are there for a reason, and there to express nuance and concepts, which is why we borrow words from other languages to become MORE expressive (schadenfreude and gestalt, for example), not less expressive. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 18 at 13:14
  • @Old_Lamplighter, it's a matter of taste whether using a word like "pusillanimous" and "obstreperous" IN THE SAME SENTENCE is of any value whatsoever other than trying to brow-beat the person you're talking to. I have a pretty decent vocabulary and I look up words all the time. I had to look up those. I don't think your comment was particularly nuanced either. I am not impressed. One is not "more expressive" simply because they use two-dollar words, in fact the opposite is more often true. – teego1967 Aug 18 at 20:51
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    @teego1967 Now you are mistaking erudite for adroit. Instead of being so concerned with two dollar words, you should focus instead on the high price of ignorance. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 19 at 15:04

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