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A town in north Lincolnshire, England, close to the Humber estuary. Almost non-existent until the discovery of iron ore in 1859, Scunthorpe and neighbouring towns grew rapidly to become one of the world's major steel-producing towns. With the decline of the British steel industry Scunthorpe has become less important to the British economy and now relies on tourism as much as anything else.

The town occasionally hits internet notoriety when its websites and citizens get blocked by various censorship programs:

echo "Scunthorpe" | cut -b 2-5

Hamlet. Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia. No, my lord.
Hamlet. I mean, my head in your lap.
Ophelia. Ay, my lord.
Hamlet. Did you think I meant country matters?
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Scunthorpe is a town in North Lincolnshire, England. According to my map, that's quite far north of London, just east of Yorkshire, close to the Humber estuary (the east coast).

The town is host to a football team, Scunthorpe United.

The word "thorpe", an archaic and largely obsolete word in English, and means small village or hamlet. The equivalent word in many European languages is dorp or dorf.

The Origin of the "scun" in Scunthorpe may be from either the Middle English "skunner", meaning to shrink back in disgust, or "scun", meaning to skip, skim, to pass quickly by. "either of which is, I fear, rather apt" says Oolong.

Spiregrain informs us that the term "skunner" is still in wide usage in the leafy suburbs of Belfast, and perhaps elsewhere. Example "I was skunnered lookin at him" - meaning "I was disgusted/exasperated at the sight of him"

Jay Digital however says the word is "scundered", and has a meaning closer to "embarrassed".

The problem with Scunthorpe

Scunthorpe's claim to fame on the internet is that it is often blocked by obscenity filters. It's, um, got the same sequence of letters as a rude word in it. This inability of software to tell innocuous uses of certain letter sequences from obscene ones is sometimes referred to as "the Scunthorpe problem".

Scunthorpe is the canonical example of the need in this kind of software for context-sensitive reading and comprehension, not just text-matching. Software excels at text-matching, but this can blind us to the possibility that we're excellently solving the wrong problem.

Other examples of the Scunthorpe problem include:

  • A colleage at work told me of an associate of his who told him of a company that installed a new firewall, and found that it bounced all outgoing email. Every last message sent was deemed obscene. Why? The mail server appended a standard footer to all those emails, giving the company address. In Scunthorpe.
  • People with the surnames "Hancock" and "Cummings" were not able to register for .NET passports under their own names. In some countries this counts as discrimination on an arbitrary basis, and is illegal under anti-racism laws, even for free services.
  • The Horniman Museum in south London found that much of the email that they send out is mistakenly eaten by spam filters and firewalls. Their website, http://www.horniman.ac.uk, is also sometimes blocked.
  • Content filters blocking Latin text containing the latin word for "with", that is "cum".
  • Mistakenly bowdlerising the name of actor "Dick van Dyke" (who appeared in the squeaky-clean movie of Mary Poppins) to "Jerk van Gay".
  • In January 2006, a Linda Callahan was prevented from using her own name in an email address for Yahoo! since it contained the letters "Allah", and email names including the Lord's name had been used to offend. After some publicity on blogs, the register and Slashdot, the decision was reversed in the 22nd of January 2006.
  • Apparently similar problems have occurred with Penistone, South Yorkshire and Lightwater, Surrey.
  • In 2008, Mr Richard Gaywood from somewhere in the UK had his Microsoft Xbox Live account suspended. What was more surprising was that even when it was verified that this was his real name, the account was not reinstated. Because it might offend someone else that someone has this name.

Children may find themselves blocked from reading http://www.thisisscunthorpe.co.uk/ and thus will thankfully be protected from the depraving effects of reading about recent Agricultural safety courses, and will be shielded from the lurid details of a stage production of Wuthering Heights.1 The world is a safer place.

1) These details were correct at time of writing. This content has since been replaced with other, equally disturbing, content.

Thanks to Cindy for dorfing and Oolong for scuning

worsethanfailure supplies, at http://worsethanfailure.com/Articles/Poor-Mr-Gookin.aspx, more examples of the Scunthorpe problem in the article and user comments:

Chad Ross works at a Certain State Agency and is unable to send any emails to his client, Mr. Gookin.

I ran into a similar problem a couple of years ago. A content filter wouldn't let me use the phrase "one group" because the last 2 letters of the first word and the first 3 letters of the next word combine to spell "negro". I not sure which is worse. Using a stupid content filter or being the person who decided that "negro" is somehow offensive.

This is like the lady who's emails were being bounced from her ISP because her first name was "Gay".

There is an IRC channel out there with an auto-kick bot that kicks on "offensive words". However, since it uses a pretty naive regex like this mail filter, it kicks more-or-less randomly on various typoes and perfectly innocent words like "snigger".

With a last name of Bass, I'm constantly running into problems with filtering problems.

The word filter wouldn't let him create an account because of profanity in his last name. He also couldn't get support unless he logged in using his real name. His last name? Ball.

My last name is Homolka. ... i've been kicked out a few things, including using rhomolka as my login for DSL

I once sent a resume to an insurance company which bounced. I got an email insisting that I stop sending them porn. The reason? My last name is Sexton.

A pest control request kept getting kicked back. I looked at it for around a minute before answering "Oh, cockroach is one word". I guess everyone has at least one story like that.

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