Why do you include vulgar and offensive language in your dictionaries?

Our goal at Oxford Dictionaries is to research and provide information about the language and how it is used. Oxford’s dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive: our editors research the way that words are used by analysing vast databases of language such as the Oxford English Corpus, and craft entries to summarize as clearly and accurately as possible how words are really used, rather than how we may think they should be used. The editorial approach to every item is the same: to thoroughly research each word’s origin, accurately define its meaning, and precisely describe its usage.

Our general adult-level dictionaries cover informal and offensive terms and meanings as well as standard, formal, and technical vocabulary. They are not deliberately excluded because they are as much a part of the language as any other words. Our policy is to include informal or offensive words on the basis of their currency of use, as reflected in the Oxford English Corpus and other databases, but always to alert the user by marking them clearly and appropriately using labels such as ‘derogatory’ or ‘vulgar’, and also by specific usage notes. We mark as ‘offensive’ any words or meanings which are likely to cause offence, even if a user may intend no offence by using them. We are constantly re-evaluating and improving our dictionary texts and this includes ongoing assessment of the way in which these labels are applied.

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