Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Profanity Filter

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about email catastrophes. You can read it here.

I want to draw your attention to the profanity filter I mentioned in that post. The profanity filter is the procedure embedded in the email software that removes any messages that contain swear words.

I sometimes swear. I can’t help it. I find myself punctuating sentences occasionally with words that may offend people but have the effect of totally emphasising the point, adding humour or expressing my distaste for the subject at hand.

I started writing a post about the upcoming election in the UK (YES -  ANOTHER BLOODY ELECTION!!!!) but I had already promised myself that I wouldn’t upset anybody (including me!) with politics and threw it into the cyber bin.

However, the post was full of expletives and insults that would probably have offended people. Ditching it was a good thing. Nevertheless, if I had decided to keep it and send it to my work email address, the message would never have made it into my inbox thanks to the profanity filter.

And this got me thinking – always a dangerous thing!

I have a fantastic idea for a change of career. I want to be the person responsible for programming the profanity filter.

When I think of work emails, the message must run through a chunk of software that analyses every word looking for expletives. In order to identify an expletive, it must check each word against a list of known expletives.

I want to write that list, research that list and add new words whenever they come out.

Can you imagine how much fun that would be? 

It would probably only be a part time job, one day a year – but what a day that would be. New swear words pop into existence every now again, so I would have to hunt them down with the help of Mr Google.

Furthermore, I would also extend it. 

And - just for fun - I could add stupid words just to confuse people!

My job involves a lot of foreign customers, and we send out and receive emails in a variety of different languages. I would love to research the expletives that the Spanish use, for example. I would love to hunt down Polish profanities and add them to the list of disallowed words.

The job satisfaction would be immense – and testing it would be a scream.

All of this leads me onto another little story.

Many years ago at work, before the profanity filter existed on emails, a certain employee noticed that quite a few people were swearing at work on a regular basis. She wasn’t very happy. We had to listen to her because she was our project manager.

I tried to explain that sometimes people swear to diffuse or express their frustration but she wouldn’t listen. I didn’t like to offend her – she is a very nice person – so I suggested that we have an office swear box.

“I will personally look after it,” I said, “and we will have a scale of swear words, charging a small amount for the “safe” ones, rising to more painful fines for the more offensive words.”

She loved that idea, particularly when I suggested that the money would be given to charity at the end of the month.

Even my work colleagues embraced the idea. And I was targetted as potentially the worst offender, because at the time (as I am now in fact) I was a grumpy old git, frustrated by work and life and prone to rants full of expletives.

To get the ball rolling, I had to create a scale of offense.

Without thinking things through, I wrote an email to the entire team with a list of swear words and the cost of using each, ranging from 10p for something inoffensive like bloody rising up to £2 for the worst word of all (you know what word that is). In the interests of good taste, I will not reproduce the email here.

I sent the email to my team.

And promptly got a bunch of replies back, stating that without any shadow of a doubt, the mail I had sent was THE MOST OFFENSIVE email they had ever seen.

The profanity filter we have governing our mails today would have overloaded and melted the email server software had it encountered such a disgraceful message.

Consequently, I was the first contributor to the swear box. I was outvoted. I was forced to pay the fine for each word that I had used and that contribution actually hurt my wallet. But, in the spirit of comradery, I submitted and transferred the cash from my wallet to the swear box to get things going.

I was well and truly hoisted by my own petard!

Worse, one joker decided to print the email off and put it on his desk so that he could police us all. He was fined the equivalent amount because, we argued, that somebody could have intercepted it at the printer. He paid up, but I was thankful that nobody had picked it up at the printer because I’m sure it would have found its way to HR – and it had my name plastered all over it.

However, over the next few weeks, people did contribute to the swear box when they forgot themselves and the project manager was happy. In fact, she was caught out a few times when people heard her swearing under her breath.

It lasted for a couple of months and my contributions were in fact few and far between. The main contributor was a young lad who swore that he would not swear (if you’ll pardon the pun).

We finally got rid of it, when a manager from another area of the building walked in.

“I’m so fucking pissed off with those bastards!” he said.

This caused lots of merriment.

“Put your money in the swear box,” I said. “We don’t allow swearing here.”

“I’m not putting any fucking money in a fucking swear box!” he said before marching out again.

At that point we gave up on the idea but it actually worked – the amount of swearing was significantly reduced.

Looking back at this post, it would have cost me £5.10 had I read it aloud in the office at that time.

I’ll put some money in my own personal swear box here on my desk. Fear not – the money will go to my favourite charity – ME!

I will enjoy the beer I can purchase with it and I promise not to swear in the pub.


River said...

I'm not sure a personal swear box would work very well. Since you'll be the happy recipient of the takings, it's unlikely to stop you swearing.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

D'OH! You've spotted my little plan!




Big D said...

I don't think I could do a swear box, even a personal one. I'd end up having to sell a kidney to pay off the fines.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Big D,

It can be painful on your wallet - that's for sure.