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 caution, because they may introduce bias. Strive to eliminate expressions that are flattering, disparaging, vague, clichéd, or endorsing of a particular viewpoint.

The advice in this guideline is not limited to the examples provided and should not be applied rigidly.[1] For example, some words have specific technical meanings in some contexts and are acceptable in those contexts (e.g. "claim" in law). 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


Words to watch: ... legendary, great, acclaimed, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, award-winning, landmark, cutting-edge, innovative, extraordinary, brilliant, hit, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso, honorable, awesome, unique ...

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.[2] Instead of making unprovable proclamations about a subject's importance, use facts and attribution to demonstrate that importance.

  • 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 an appropriate template[2] if an editor is unsure how best to correct them.

Puffery is an example of positively loaded language; negatively loaded language should be avoided just as much. People responsible for "public spending" (the neutral term) can be loaded both ways, as "the tax-and-spend politicians borrowing off the backs of our grandchildren" or "the public servants ensuring crucial investment in our essential infrastructure for the public good".

Contentious labels

Words to watch: ... 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

Words to watch: ... 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, scientists claim, it is often said ...

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]

The examples given above are not automatically weasel words. They may also be used in the lead section of an article or in a topic sentence of a paragraph, and the article body or the rest of the paragraph can supply 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 for we, as editors, to do so would violate the No Original Research or Neutral Point of View policies. 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; alternatively, they may be tagged with the {{weasel}}, {{by whom}}, or similar templates to identify the problem to future readers (who may elect to fix the issue).

Expressions of doubt

Words to watch: ... 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 that 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 that the writer is distancing herself or himself 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.


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

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 so as 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 that a fact is contrary to expectations; make sure that 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 often amount to excess verbiage. Wikipedia should not take a view as to whether an event was fortunate or not.

Words to watch: ... but, despite, however, though, although ...

More subtly, editorializing can produce implications that are not supported by the sources. Words used to link two statements such as but, despite, however, and although may imply a relationship where none exists, possibly unduly calling the validity of the first statement into question while giving undue weight to the credibility of the second.

Synonyms for said

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

Said, stated, described, wrote, commented, 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, instead of simply conveying the fact that it was said. To write that someone insisted, noted, observed, speculated, or surmised can suggest the degree of the person's carefulness, resoluteness, or access to evidence, even when such things are 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 for living people, because these verbs can inappropriately imply culpability.

Expressions that lack precision


Words to watch: ... passed away, gave his life, eternal rest, make love, an issue with, collateral damage, living with cancer, ...

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; 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 that plain language is inappropriate.[5]

Clichés and idioms

Words to watch: ... 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. If something is seen as wasteful excess, say that, not gilding the lily. It's presumptuous to describe someone as taking the plunge; just state their actions matter-of-factly. If a literal interpretation of a phrase makes no sense in the context of a sentence, then the sentence should be reworded. Wiktionary has a lengthy list of English idioms, some of which should be avoided.

Relative time references

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

Absolute specifications of time are preferred to relative constructions using recently, currently, and so on, because the latter may go out of date. "By May 2011 contributions had dropped" has the same meaning as "Recently, contributions have dropped" (when written in mid-2011) but the first example retains its meaning as time passes. And recently–type constructions may be ambiguous even at the time of writing: was it in the last week? – month? – year?[6] The information that "The current president, Cristina Fernández, took office in 2007", or "Cristina Fernández has been president since 2007", is better rendered "Cristina Fernández became president in 2007". Wordings such as "17 years ago" or "Jones is 65 years old" should be rewritten as "in 2000", "Jones was 65 years old at the time of the incident", or "Jones was born in 1952".

When material in an article may become out of date, follow the Wikipedia:As of guideline, which allows information to be written in a less time-dependent way.[7] There are also several templates for alerting readers to time-sensitive wording issues.[8]

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 United States in the 1930s."[9] Because seasons differ between the northern and southern hemisphere, try to use months, quarters, or other non-seasonal terms such as mid-year unless the season itself is pertinent (spring blossoms, autumn harvest); see WP:SEASON.

Unspecified places or events

Words to watch: ... 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."[1] 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."[2]

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. Terms like "this country" should not be used.


Words to watch: ... survived by ...

Typical of obituaries, "Smith died on such-and-such date, survived by her husband Jack and two sons" is neither useful nor complete. It is appropriate for newspaper obituaries, not encyclopedia articles, and should generally not be copied in verbatim from such obituaries.

Valid vital information can include spouses or the total number of children a subject had or both; which happen to have been alive when she died is an arbitrary and sometimes misleading piece of information. Instead, "Smith was married to Jack Smith and had two sons. She died on such-and-such date" is preferable to "Smith died on such-and-such date, survived by her husband Jack and two sons"

"Smith died on such-and-such date, survived by two sons; a daughter had died earlier in a boating accident" is acceptable (although not necessarily recommended) since it does delineate the total number of children. If your source says "survived by two sons" and you don't know for a fact (and have a source showing) that the subject didn't have any children who didn't survive her, you should avoid altogether giving her total number of children.

Person or office?

It is necessary for a reference work to distinguish carefully between an office (such as President of the United States) and an incumbent (such as Donald Trump); a newspaper does not usually need to make this distinction, for a newspaper "President Trump" and "the President" are one and the same during his tenure.

  • President Trump 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, as this will always be true.
  • The President nominated John Roberts as Chief Justice in 2005 – Yes, as the year makes this clear.
  • The guest list included Charles, Prince of Wales – This is usually acceptable, as a confusion with Charles I of England, Prince of Wales until 1625, is highly unlikely.
  • Former President Nixon met with Mao in 1972 – This is technically incorrect, as Nixon was not the former president at the time; he was actually in office. Write President Nixon met with Mao in 1972. The construction then-President Nixon is usually superfluous, unless the context calls for distinctions between different periods of Nixon's career.

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


  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.


  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. ^ a b 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 same group argues that there is no need to substitute awkward circumlocutions such as people with blindness for the simpler phrase blind people; see Resolution 93-01, National Federation of the Blind, July 9, 1993, accessed April 26, 2010.
  6. ^ In long-view sciences such as palaeontology, "recent" may have meanings such as "within the last 11,700 years"—the Holocene—and will not go out of date.
  7. ^ The "as of" technique is implemented in the {{as of}} template; it additionally tags information that will become dated. {{as of|2017|02}} produces the text As of February 2017 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). The {{age}} template will always display current age when the text is displayed in Wikipedia, but will not be correct for printouts and non-live text: a person born on 25 December 2000 will be 16 [entered as {{Age|2000|12|25}}] years old now.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Original", "traditional", "authentic", and other distracting terminology

External links