Today we had someone ask a question regarding a discussion they had had with their manager. For all we know they may want to show their manager the answers they got here. Unfortunately the text below appears in a comment.

Your boss doesn't know his ass from an SMTP relay. So, uh, good luck with that. May as well let him implement his stupid plan, though, get some experience with Cisco ASAs and use that experience to find a boss who's less stupid

I don't think that the above needs to be said on SF where, after all we're all meant to be professionals. Name calling like this is rude, isn't the act of a professional and makes me sad.

That I flagged the comment and my flag was declined makes me sadder.

Should we really be promoting this kind of language on Server Fault?

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    I've worked with engineers for years. The clearest thing I've noticed is that they swear like troopers. This doesn't make them any less professional. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 11:27
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    @TomO'Connor: I've worked with engineers and scientists (people) for years too and yes they swear like troopers (some of them actually where) but one thing is for sure, they don't put it in writing. If they did that would be entirely unprofessional.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 11:42
  • I've relented and edited the comment. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 11:55
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    @TomO'Connor: I can't see that even the reworded comment adds any value especially when put alongside your an Falcon's excellent answers.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 12:53
  • It doesn't. But it's certainly not as 'rude' Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 13:09
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    What if the boss actually IS stupid? Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 3:22
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    @VasiliSyrakis: There is no evidence of stupidity; it's not our place to say or care, we should just focus on on the Q&A.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:32
  • Besides the name calling, which is unprofessional in any language, I am an adult and swear often. While I don't use offensive words on and stack exchange sites, I at the same time don't see a reason to downgrade or close questions / answers for it unless it is extremely offensive IE racism, f's, etc.
    – Jeff
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 2:03
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    @Iain Agreed. Regardless how "dumb" the boss is, it's: 1) None of our business, and 2) The attitude of that answer is unacceptable in any profession, and certainly not the standards of Stack Exchange site. I really hope we don't condone this behavior, because that's not the quality of an answer I am looking for when I consult the Stack Exchange sites. If I did, I'd go on 4chan or Reddit. Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 16:42

4 Answers 4


Absolutely not! It would have had greater effect if it read:

Your boss hasn't given you any substantive reason, in saying this. You should definitely ask for more details (we can't possibly give an answer with just this), and if it is a consistent and serious problem it might be better for you professionally to seek employment elsewhere. You could also just let it go.

The cumulative effect of the comment as quoted by Iain is such that it has no redeeming merit and the flag should have been accepted; it is not a constructive or professional comment even in our profession.

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    Yes, this. All of this.
    – Scott Pack
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 13:32
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    +1. Very eloquently put Sir. BTW, the original text just shows juvenile and frustrated nature of the commenter, which is not adding any.
    – Watt
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:19
  • Agreed. I've also seen this attitude leak into commentary about people in the thread (not as explicitly). I've flagged more comments as rude/unconstructive on ServerFault than on all of the other SE sites put together. I'm glad to see suggestions for ways to improve that trend.
    – Nick
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 2:48
  • @Nick: This topic comes up with unfortunate regularity.
    – Scott Pack
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:12
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    +1 from me too. If necessary, it is perfectly possibly to politely imply the boss in question has the IQ of a small gherkin without having to resort to profanity or playground language. And, it is often more effective when done politely... Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 3:47

Freenode have some good thoughts about this issue in general:

In particular, the last one notes:

Slang pertaining to sex and sexual orientation, excretion and religious oaths is rarely used to discuss the applicability of those topics to your group's activities. In general, language with strong emotional content and only light meaning should be considered "emotive speech". It doesn't matter whether the language is socially acceptable or unacceptable. ... Emotive speech raises the channel temperature.

I think this is a really important consideration. We're IT professionals/engineers/scientists (or however we prefer to perceive ourselves); resorting to emotive language (and its corresponding reduction to the signal-to-noise level) is an admission that we can't make a strong logical argument for our position.

The Freenode guidelines have convinced me that there is almost never a place for this sort of language in technical discussions. If you're a presenter at a conference and you want to emphasise your point with an emotive punch, that's one thing, but at SF there should never be a call for it.


I actually had a "test" come up in the review queue where the answer was an upvoted answer that compared users to puppies piddling on the carpet and ranted about how stupid they were. When I clicked the flag button, intending to fill in the "other" blank with, "This is a really good answer, but is the language really necessary?" I was forced to look at the text about how I was wrong and not paying attention and to sit there and think about the bad thing I had done for five seconds. ;)

So even your review queue implies that strong language is okay.

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    The review audits are automagically generated and are a waste of good reviewer's time. If you can find it again and flag it that would be a goof thing to do.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 21:44
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    It looks like @voretaq7 has located the offending post and has cleaned it up. Unsurprisingly ...
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 22:30
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    I did flag it. It was memorable. :) Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 22:40
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    ...and now it's been sanitized, and is less memorable. Oh well. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 9:59
  • :( It's a good answer, @HopelessN00b, with or without the language. That was never in question. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 12:53

To offer the other point of view (surprise, surprise), what is the Server Fault community supposed to be? I was under the impression that it was "by sysadmins, for sysadmins" (or some approximation thereof).

I can't help but be reminded of grade school when I see people getting into a tizzy about the "language" in Your boss doesn't know his ass from an SMTP relay. (Oh noes, he said the "ass" word!!) Or the redaction of "damn well," "#$&^ing," or "unreasonably dumb users". Seriously, I've not seen so much made of mildly sharp/blue/coarse language or "name calling" since I was 8 or so, and I can't help but wonder how it's "professional" to make a big deal out of language that's commonplace amongst just about everyone who's hit puberty.

Furthermore, this being a Q&A site for sysadmin colleagues to help each other out, there's absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out that the problem is a stupid boss who doesn't understand the concept of a firewall, unreasonably stupid users who reboot a machine every time they get a pop-under dialogue, or an idiot auditor who wants a list of plaintext passwords. In fact, especially when the problem is a wetware fault/layer 8 problem/luser, rather than a technical problem, dancing around the root of the problem (stupidity) will only exacerbate the issue, and there's no reason colleagues shouldn't be able to express that to each other without mincing words.

Yes, it's unprofessional to tell a user or manger that he/she is stupid, but that's not what's happening here. An online Q&A for sysadmins to help each other out is not the same thing as a written report you file for the suits, or a customer service conversation with a user, or a meeting with the boss. It's akin to a discussion amongst technical peers... technical peers, who, let's not forget, have a well-earned reputation for being insensitive and using sharp language. So, who are we worried about offending here, and for what reason should we have our internal filters set to maximum? After all, it's not like we're seeing f-bombs flying all over the place, or vulgar sexual references - we're discussing a relatively common idiosyncratic phrase used to describe someone's ignorance.

It's one thing to apply the filter and worry about offending other groups of people at work, when you're A) paid for it and B) actually around others who don't share the mindset and priorities of techies, but it's entirely another thing to do it absent those factors. (Again, why, and for whom?) I also can't help but wonder how ServerFault expects to attract sysadmins if they're expected to do the things that generally drive techies nuts (prioritize politics and tact over factual statements, filter/censor their thoughts, and mince words).

And finally, if there's really no place for mild expletives (as seems to be the prevailing point of view, based on the votes and comments), implement a simple word filter and be done with the drama. As I said earlier, having a discussion over whether or not "ass" is ever appropriate strikes me as far more unprofessional and juvenile than actually seeing the word "ass" used.

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    Precisely. Unless someone's actually posting explicit hate speech (racial slurs, sexuality slurs etc) I'm pretty much not going to edit it. Mostly because I don't see the F-bomb as being rude, at all. Because like HN, I've been exposed to it since puberty. I also really don't want to go down this road of censorship, because it's starting to feel like Mary Whitehouse is lurking in the shadows. Again. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:38
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    This doesn't answer the question posed.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:45
  • @TomO'Connor: In the vast majority of my life comments life that wouldn't really bother me, I just don't see the need for them or that kind of language here on Server Fault.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:49
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    @Iain Sure it does. In much the same way that "don't set up an open email relay" is considered a valid answer to a question asking how to setup an open email relay [on SF], this is a valid answer to a discussion-tagged question on what type of language is appropriate for SF. Obviously, it's also an answer you don't like and disagree with, so downvote it (again) if you want, but I can't even parse the logical gymnastics you have to do to claim that an answer explaining why mild language is appropriate for SF isn't an answer to a question about what kind of language is appropriate for SF. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:53
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    I really don't see why SE should waste money implementing a 'filter' when all it really takes is for a small number of players to implement some personal moderation. You've unsurprisingly missed (or chosen not to see) the point entirely. Ass in and of itself isn't overtly offensive but when put in context the whole comment is rude. It adds no value to the question and was ( I would suggest) only written to grandstand and play to the stereotypical sysadmin audience.
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 9:54
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    @Iain I do implement some personal moderation, thank you very much. Furthermore, the only "context" in which Your boss doesn't know his ass from an SMTP relay could reasonably be considered "rude" is when said in the presence of the dumb boss being spoken of, or perhaps when said in the company of small children or nuns. To my knowledge, none of those typically browse ServerFault, so I don't see the problem here. Evidently, I'm not tactful or sensitive or family-friendly (or w/e) enough for your taste, and you're overly sensitive for mine. This really requires a meta thread? :/ Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 10:10
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    "technical peers, who, let's not forget, have a well-earned reputation for being insensitive and using sharp language." I personally grew up on military bases and am comfortable with profanity. Not everyone is. For example, I had a mentee/employee who was a Christian and very uncomfortable with that kind of language. He never said anything, but the few times I slipped his wince always made me sorry I had. Similarly, many women are less comfortable with that language than I am. Do we want all new colleagues to look and sound exactly like us, or do we want to welcome everyone who's skilled? Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 12:47
  • @KatherineVillyard That would be precisely why I don't make a habit of turning the filter off around people whom I don't know well. I'm not dropping f-bombs, sexual references, or vulgar language. Your boss doesn't know his ass from an SMTP relay. [...] find a boss who's less stupid, is perfectly acceptable language for adult discourse, doubly so for an audience of techies who are generally more comfortable with sharp language than most. I'm not looking to make anyone uncomfortable, but at the same time, if that quoted text makes someone uncomfortable, that's their issue, not mine. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 13:08
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    I really do understand the point you're trying to make, @HopelessN00b. You're making an argument to culture and community standards, while I'm making an argument to inclusiveness and standards of public discourse. I think the point where we're diverging is partially the nature of SF itself: public or private. Are we assuming everyone reading us is one of us? and what does the phrase "one of us" entail? Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 13:22
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    I don't think anyone wants to hold us to preschool standards. :) Honestly, I came into this meta thread because I felt I was getting mixed signals about what type of language was appropriate. I don't really feel enlightened beyond "use your best judgment and the community will decide." Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 13:59
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    @HopelessN00b The point that it seems that you are not ACK'ing is that the site community does not appreciate the tone of your answers. We're all adults; nobody's going to be damaged or scarred because they saw curse words. If you were to take the emotion and inflammation out of your answers and comments, tact them up just a tad, you would have some of the best answers on the site. As it is, you're rubbing people the wrong way needlessly. Look, I want you on the site answering questions. I really do. But this site - a place for SysAdmins - has asked or told you multiple times to tone it down.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:10
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    Again, @HopelessN00b, it's less the language than it is the tone. Consistently your tone indicates that you have an awful attitude.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 3:24
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    You can better express that the asker's boss is an incompetent idiot interfering in things he does not understand by being polite and addressing specifics. I don't disagree with your sentiment at all. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 8:22
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    One other thing you are seeing wrong. Serverfault is "by sysadmins, for sysadmins" and not e.g. "by sysadmins from the USA, for sysadmins in the USA". Yes it might be that the sys admins you know do swear a lot. But this doesn't imply that all sys admins all over the world do swear often. In my opinion we do have to use here a language where everyone is comfortable with. This means as well to not use proverbs. expressions etc. which are not understood everywhere or which can be misunderstood. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:10
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    That's an interesting perspective that I hadn't considered, @RaffaelLuthiger. Thank you.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 2:15

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