Racial slurs in crossword puzzle - accident?

From a Philadelphia Inquirer article:

So whatdyathink? Nefarious online scheme to subliminally insult everyone, or a real random computer gaffe? Keep in mind a crossword publisher said the “three big dirty words” (not sure which ones they would be) have shown up randomly once in over 20 years.


Semi-OT: Unless it’s a verb, how is “Jew” a racial slur?

Ah, I’ve found worse stuff in word searches… like “France”, “Britney Spears”, and “Democrat” :smiley:

Since half of their examples were spelled backwards, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I’m getting images of the bible code, where people are seeing what they want to see.
Of course…

I think there is also a real possibility that someone was screwing around.

And I’m not sure that “goy” is really a racial slur, either. And who would use both “yid” and “goy” as racial slurs?

That’s probably because compilers are very careful to keep an eye out for them, whereas a combination like “spaj” (“japs” spelled backwards, apparently) is more likely to pass unnoticed.

Also, by my reckoning, a given four-letter word is 26 times less likely to appear randomly than any given three-letter word. So if you get a random “fuck” once every 20 years,* you’re likely to see a “jap” or a “yid” appearing by chance more often than once a year (not allowing for variations in the frequency of different letter).

[sub]*Story of my life[/sub]

Hmmm…your thread title is misleading. It wasn’t a crossword puzzle, it was a word search puzzle. That means a solid matrix of letters in which you have the opportunity to find words forwards, backwards, upside-down, rightside-up, and diagonally in all directions.

Also, several of the instances given are three-letter combinations, although involving a few uncommon letters (“j”, for example, normally occurs only twice per thousand letters). I can’t currently find a searchable index of frequencies for di- and trigraphs, so I can’t say how often some of those occur. But I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that a random-generation program could stumble across a few of these three-letter combos accidentally.

THe article doesn’t mention whether any of the offensive words found were part of larger words. I’m looking at today’s Wonderword puzzle, for example, and the word “symphony” contains the words “phony.” I also see, reading backwards from the last letter of the second row, the letters “n-i-p,” which is another derogatory word for the Japanese. And near the end of the 13th row is the combination “b-u-n-s,” a slang term for one’s derriere.

I used to write word search puzzles professionally, and I can tell you this: it is VERY easy to write obscene or vulgar words by accident! Luckily, the software I used had built-in monitors that flagged me whenever I inadvertantly put in a taboo word. The “S” word happened pretty often, since S, I and T are such common letters. And words like “TITS” and “ASS” are almost unavoidable (the software just ignored those, figuring anybody who got angry about “TIT” in a word-search was just a crank anyway).

Now, in THIS case, I’m suspicious, just because of the NUMBER of ethnic slurs/references. If “JAP” pops up, I readily ascribe that to coincidence. If “NIGGAH” pops up, I call it happenstance. If “JEW” pops up, no big deal. But if ALL of them pop up in a standard 15 X 15 or 21 X 21 puzzle, I suspect the author was being a bigot (or, at best, a wiseass).

I just thought I’d add a few real-life examples of how tricky building word search games can be, even when you have software designed to flag naughty words.

All kinds of harmless words contain potentially objectionable words. A simple entry like “PAJAMAS” contains “JAP,” a simple entry like “JEWELRY” contains “JEW,” a harmless entry like “MISSISSIPPI” contains “PISS,” “CONSTITUTION” contains “TITS,” etc. Sometimes, then, prudish software will prevent a constructor from using such words.

There were times when my software would flag a seemingly inoffensive line, and I’d have to try to figure out what it didn’t like. Once, in a puzzle devoted to watercraft, “TUGBOAT” intersected with “RAFT,” leading to the word “FART” spelled out, diagonally! The software considered this vulgar, and wouldn’t let me do it (it took me quite a while to spot the “problem”!).

On the other hand, the software occasionally let highly inappropriate words go by without a peep! By sheer coincidence (honest!) I once would up with the letters “SCROTUM” in the top row, and my software never saw anything wrong with that! (Luckily, I spotted the flaw on my own, and didn’t submit that puzzle for publication.)

As I said earlier, the sheer NUMBER of objectionable words (and the fact that they were all related to ethnicity) makes me suspicious of the writer’s motives. But it’s certainly POSSIBLE that sheer coincidence and dumb luck were to blame.

A concurring opinion that “Jew” “Yid” and “Goy” are not racial slurs. Though it’s not inconceivable that the guy who wrote the puzzle might have thought they are.

My impression is that “Niggah” is spelled that way when used by Blacks - racists use “Nigger”. (I seem to recall a thread title of this nature a while back, but I never read it and don’t know if it addressed this issue).

My inclination would be to think it was random.

Only on the Straight Dope Message Boards would one find someone who wrote word searches professionally. :smiley:

I’m leaning towards not an accident - as astorian pointed out, it’s not that it’s just one, but, as the article lists, there are six of them in one puzzle.

I, for one, would love to see the actual puzzle.


I heard this on the news too and I heard it was a ** crossword puzzle** not a word search puzzle. It looks like the media is trying to manufacture a story where there is none.
As IzzyR pointed out the N word is spelled wrong - it doesn’t even come up in the dictionary (dictionary.com) while the real N word does.
Also 3 or 4 letter combos spelling out unintended words must happen all the time in such puzzles

So who discovered the terrible, terrible truth about this word game? The kids who played it, or some adult on a desperate mission to be offended?

Somehow I’m reminded of a flap just before D-Day in England, when military intelligence people discovered that a London Times crossword puzzle included multiple clues to words that were actually code words for the invasion of Normandy (such as Overlord). The puzzle creator was questioned and the whole affair was ultimately ruled an accident.

The misspellings and backward spellings suggest to me that a coincidence is involved.

Don’t the Anti-Defamation League and other folks involved in the “investigation” have anything better to do? (“Mama! I just found the word ‘goy’ spelled backward in my word puzzle! I’m scarred for life!!”)

Does anybody actually read links, or do we just put them there for fun? I know exactly as much about this situation as the article I linked to, since that’s what I read.


Just a few seconds searching with Google netted me this gem: The Word Search Construction Kit. With it you can generate your own word searches with hidden offensive words!

Having played with it for just 5 minutes and generated one puzzle, I have already found the word yid buried in it. I’m sure if I stared at it long enough I could find others.

This particular software does not seem to have any censorship function other than a spell checker for the target words. In fact, I would not be surprised if this is the exact same software used to generate the offending puzzle.

From the article cited by the OP:

If it is in fact the same software, it seems quite possible that this is simply a case of beginners using very simple software without the safeguards that astorian described.

I’m going to mess around with it for a while and see how frequently such unintended words do in fact appear.

In fact, you can do it yourselves, here’s the first puzzle I made along with a list of the words I used to generate it.

 T W H Y W P N N W N P L Y R L B S H J S     America
 W O P B O Z R O O O E G A J E Y E P S F     Independence
 D L U C L D G M I I U Q I A X L T A U O     July
 H E W A S H I N G T O N I R H K A Q V A     Washington
 N I F M T L H J F A U I H H D K I B V T     celebration
 J Q Y H D P U U A R C L O R H E C S A B     constitution
 A P I C E L E B R A T I O N Y T O W O K     declaration
 A N A L Y N Y C Y L N U R V B E N T A X     fireworks
 M A X O X R N C N C Z R Q E E N S G T O     fourth
 K N L Q L J T L E E X A N P M R T N U M     revolution
 L G U L C U V Z A D D V P Z P A I Q W A
 W J W J R K R I I T K N F O M G T N K N
 R E N E I M M K U K Z W E E P L U S U S
 X H I J O Y X U A I E L X P G V T Y G Z
 F Z F N E Y F T N S K R O W E R I F Z M
 I Y I U F C Q T Z V W P A P B D O E T C
 T T G W F V R A I M U N N Q M U N S A A
 M V F P A R W L C K P U P Y R V K I A A
 A O G P B I A U W X S E Y T H L T C O D
 D U D O H S N V L O S L H X D O N K H Y

As I said, a cursory examination has already truned up the word YID (starting in row 14 third letter from the end of the row, running diagonally down to the left).

I choose the seed words by using those listed in the original article and adding related words randomly.

And yes, I do have too much time on my hands.

gEEk (crossing my fingers that the puzzle looks right, it did in preview…)

Huh huh huh huh, I see “anal”.

(8th row down)

2nd row, I found WOP.

Also WOG, running diagonally left from the top row.

I certainly did read it.

I can’t figure what’s meant by the three words appearing once. Did they occur only once each in separate puzzles or only once together in the same puzzle? If it is the latter then it happens more often than they want us to know. I find it strange that all three appear an equal number of times. I am not a math whiz and I know that combo is just as likely as any other, but I still question it.

I’ve found Nig, tits and ass bringing our list of accidental offensive words to 7 which is actually one more than those found in the ‘racist’ wordsearch. I definately agree with gEEk, t’was a mere accident.

However, what does strike me as more disturbing is that from a seeming controversy stemming from one childs fun puzzle, a controversy for which the correct and innocent explanation could have been found with just a few seconds thought, has brought in luminaries from the Anti Defamation League and the chairman of the Weightman group. Have we as a society become so damn touchy that anything which could perhaps maybe just possibly be construed as offensive results in an internal investigation and profuse public apologies?

Now, before someone leaps on me I KNOW the words found were offensive but for the love of God couldn’t they have considered where they were found for just a quintillionth of a nanosecond (after which time they would, if they had half a brain, realised that the words could have easily gotten in there by accident as was demonstrated excellently by gEEk’s sample puzzle) before rushing to the red telephone hotline to the ADL? It doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Originally posted by Jackmanii

Well, I had never heard of the word goy (I’m assuming it’s an anti semetic slur) and had it not been for this OTT reaction and the gentle, compassionate guiding hand of big bro-…umm, I meant the ADL, I would have continued to live happily ever after without knowing it. As it is I just kinda feel a little depressed.

It’s a Yiddish/Hebrew word meaning “gentile” or “nation”. AFAIK, it’s not really offensive. That’s why I think it is highly unlikely that the programmer would deliberately have included both “yid” (meaning a jew) and “goy” (meaning a non-Jew) if he or she were trying to make some racist point.