The Scunthorpe Problem

by | Sep 24, 2018


The steel producing capital of England is a town in North Lincolnshire named Scunthorpe and pronounced ‘scun – thorpe.’ The residents of Scunthorpe have a problem: their town name often gets blocked by profanity filters designed to weed out obscene words .This problem was first discovered back in 1996 when the internet was in its infancy when AOL wouldn’t let Scunthorpe residents sign up for accounts due to the string of letters within the town’s name that are a dirty word. 

From Wikipedia: “The problem arises since computers can easily identify strings of text within a document, but interpreting words of this kind requires considerable ability to interpret a wide range of contexts, possibly across many cultures, which is an extremely difficult task for computers at present.”

Here are examples. Some are easy to spot the offending word, others are more difficult:

  • Penistone, in South Yorkshire, England has a Scunthrope problem, as do the people in Clitheroe, Lancashire, Lightwater, Surrey and the county of Sussex.
  • Super Bowl XXX (obviously) created issues for profanity filters
  • The word “basement” has been known to be filtered
  • Horniman Museum in London has run afoul of advanced algorithms that read the museum’s name as “horny-man”
  • wasn’t allowed initially as a domain name
  • From Sporacle:  In 2008, a filter on a news site run by the American Family Association changed all instances of ‘gay’ to ‘homosexual’ in an article originally written by the Associated Press. This was unfortunate for sprinter Tyson Gay, whose name was rendered to ‘Tyson Homosexual’ in the article. This also happened to basketball player Rudy Gay on the same website.
  • Various people who have been reported in various news outlets to have this problem: Craig Cockburn, Linda Callahan (note the Allah), Douglas Kuntz, Dr. Herman Libshitz, Natalie Weiner, Philip Sporn, Ben Schmuck, Kyle Medick, Mike Dickman, Arun Dikshit, James Butts, Matt Cummings and the Russian ice dancer Irina Slutskaya
  • The ED drug Cialis creates problems where it is on a naughty list; words like specialist and socialism are caught in the filter.

The Scunthorpe Problem is closely related to the “Clbuttic Mistake” as well as the “Cupertino Effect“. Also, tofu lovers across the country have had applications for personalized plates such as “ILVTOFU” rejected for being too vulgar.


1 Comment

  1. Unintended consequences – – always fascinating. Thanks for another great post.


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