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I'm an administrator of an English-language online community, and a user has a username punning on the word "merde:" "merdehappens."

We accept mild profanity: "crap" would be fine, but "shit" probably wouldn't. The general rule is that we want people to feel welcome and feel like the community is a safe space.

How vulgar is "merde" when used outside of a longer phrase?

Some web searches suggest that "kids don't get in trouble for using it" but I'm not sure how reliable those are. What would French-speaking people think of the appropriateness of "merde" in a mixed-ages (13+) community?

  • It may depends on the context. Can you provide the nickname ? In most of the case, it will be rude. – Random Oct 1 '15 at 14:58
  • @Random, I added the username ("merdehappens"). – Gregory Avery-Weir Oct 1 '15 at 15:13
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    Just define if shit happens would be a suitable username. – MrUpsidown Oct 1 '15 at 19:54
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    It is impossible to compare "level of obscenity" from language alone, since it also depends on culture. For instance, "shit" is usually censored from American broadcast media whereas you'll certainly hear plenty of "merde" on French reality shows. But one could deduce from this either that "merde" is less vulgar than "shit" or that the words are equally "bad" and it's a difference in how the society reacts to them. – hunter Oct 4 '15 at 22:27
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    but if your standard is "how many people will this seem unacceptable to" I think English "crap" is the better translation. – hunter Oct 4 '15 at 22:32
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Since it is a french & english compound nickname, it looks like he didn't manage to create "shithappens" so he made "merdehappens", so you should consider it as if it were "shit", since, I guess, people will read it as if it was "shithappens"...
Nevertheless, in french, the closer idiom to "shit happens" is "ça arrive d'avoir des merdes dans la vie", which is, in my opinion, not very rude...
So it's up to you.

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    Although it's not very rude, that's the kind of word you wouldn't use in a situation where you want to watch your language – Laurent S. Oct 2 '15 at 12:20
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I don't know if it's really bad anymore. It is vulgar for sure, we don't want kids to say it, we don't use it in a meeting (usually), or on TV news, but it is really mild IMHO by today's standards.

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... in a mixed-ages (13+) community

I think it's fine within your peer group: I guess that almost anyone except the most polite could use it occasionally when speaking informally with their peers. I consider it "colourful" language rather than "offensive".

It's less OK across/between social groups: for example I expect a teacher would avoid saying it in front of or to their children, and vice versa.

As such I feel it's slightly exclusionary: use of that name signals to me that either I must be part of their social group, or that they don't care about (are ignoring) my presence, are talking as if I weren't there.

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About the same level as "damn it" (or is it "dammit?" whatever)

Side comment: In English "shit" is relatively higher on the vulgarity scale than "merde" is in French.

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    "asshole" is waaay more vulgar than "merde" in French. – Teleporting Goat Feb 16 '17 at 12:12
  • I don't think "merde" is about the same level as "asshole", by a long shot. It is way milder, IMHO (and it's not directed at anybody, so inherently less offensive too - a better comparison would be to "shit" - those 2 might be more or less at the same level). – Frank Feb 16 '17 at 18:19
  • TeleportingGoat & Frank: you're right. I'm changing my answer. Hope you like this one better. – ssimm Feb 16 '17 at 18:52

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