Requests to the lazyweb

by Henry Farrell on November 17, 2004

A request aimed at those out there with halfway decent coding skills – somebody, somewhere, should write an MT-Disemvowel plugin for Movable Type. For those not familiar with the concept, disemvowelling, pioneered by “Teresa Nielsen Hayden”:, is the most effective troll-repellent yet invented. You leave the troll’s comment up, but remove all the vowels from it. It can still be read by anyone who has a bit of patience, but makes the troll look rather ridiculous. So far, on the very few occasions I’ve had to use it, it’s worked absolutely perfectly. The only problem is that it’s a bit of a nuisance – it takes a couple of minutes to remove the vowels manually from the longer harangues. Seems like something that a not-very-complicated .cgi script could accomplish in a flash – anyone out there up to the task?

Update: gratitude and kudos to Novalis, who within eight minutes of the request reheated some previously existing code to create the “Dsmvwllr”:



novalis 11.17.04 at 1:56 am


It’s not a MT plug-in, because I don’t do proprietary software, but it’s a web form. Note: it only handles the case of y at the end of a word, because I was in a hurry.


fyreflye 11.17.04 at 2:01 am

Removing all the consonants would take longer but be much more effective.


Trllby 11.17.04 at 2:02 am

Wh dn’t y g fck yrslf y lbrl wssbg! F y r t stpd t wrt smpl scpt thn myb y dn’t blng n th ntrnts!!!


Henry 11.17.04 at 2:38 am

Jaysus, that was fast – eight minutes from request to delivery!


novalis 11.17.04 at 2:45 am

Now we just need a re-vowel script. Unfortunately, this requires a word frequency table (so ths becomes this rather than thus) *and* a grammar checker, because the version I just made with just a word-frequency table doesn’t work very well at all. I have a hard time puzzling out the small words on a document I know the substance of quite well.


novalis 11.17.04 at 2:47 am

I had the skeleton sitting around, actually. The previous version inserted “lesbian” every fifth word in an attempt to raise lesbian visibility (a meme started by the famous livejournal user ginmar). So, I just did s/lesbian/vowel/ and changed the regular expression, and it worked on the first try.


Ks 11.17.04 at 2:50 am

Mcky Ks s hck.


ogmb 11.17.04 at 3:25 am

Hyw ubiot eno thut rundimle swetchys vuwuls iriand? (How about one that randomly switches vowels around?)


ben wolfson 11.17.04 at 3:25 am

[coelacanth wolfson 09:24:05]$ echo this is a bunch of text and it includes vowels | sed -e ‘s/[aeiou]//g’ -e ‘s/  */ /g’
ths s bnch f txt nd t nclds vwls
[coelacanth wolfson 09:24:23]$


felixrayman 11.17.04 at 3:26 am

Wouldn’t the Dialectizer also work for the same purpose as the dsmvlwr?

For example, were novalis deemed to be a troll (for demonstration purposes only), his post

It’s not a MT plug-in, because I don’t do proprietary software, but it’s a web form. Note: it only handles the case of y at the end of a word, because I was in a hurry.

could be dialectized to:

It’s not a MT plug-in, on account o’ ah don’t does proprietary sof’ware, but it’s a web fo’m, dawgone it. Note: it only han’les th’ case of y at th’ end of a wo’d, on account o’ ah was in a helter-skelter

using the “moron” dialect or, using the “fudd” dialect:

It’s not a MT pwug-in, because I don’t do pwopwietawy softwawe, but it’s a web fowm. Note: it onwy handwes the case of y at the end of a wowd, because I was in a huwwy

The possibilities are endless.


novalis 11.17.04 at 3:34 am

Ben Wolfson’s solution doesn’t remove trailing ys, which are always AFAIK vowels. Also, it fails on capital letters.


ben wolfson 11.17.04 at 3:41 am

Whatever, novalis. It’s also not an MT plugin.

[coelacanth wolfson 09:39:19]$ echo alybums -p usaisamONsteruy -p ‘black elf’ | sed -e ‘s/[aeiouAUEIO]//g’ -e ‘s/y / /g’ -e ‘s/ */ /g’
lybms -p ssmNstr -p blck lf
[coelacanth wolfson 09:39:30]$


paul 11.17.04 at 3:59 am

Users of WordPress already have this (though not all of us knew it).


paul 11.17.04 at 4:04 am

How about an AOLifier? take the comment and pass it through the mind of the 12 year AOL user: example here.


Peter Murphy 11.17.04 at 4:05 am

Ôkàỳ, gùýs, trỳ dísêmvõwéllíng THÍS!


novalis 11.17.04 at 4:25 am

Peter: Done. My software now removes everything that’s not a consonant, punctuation, or space. Also, it handles numeric unicode entities (which is what my setup sends when I copy-and-paste that).

Unfortunately, it only knows English consonants, so ç will fail.


Matt Brubeck 11.17.04 at 4:47 am



sennoma 11.17.04 at 5:36 am

There’s been an MT plugin for disemvowelment for more than a year. I’ve no idea whether it works properly though.


Peter Murphy 11.17.04 at 6:29 am

Novalis: that’s good work. I was thinking “How is he going to get a list of every vowel in Unicode into his little script?” But you don’t need to. Good one. Maybe you should remove the asterisk as well for posts like “C*cks*ck*r!”.


Andrew McManama 11.17.04 at 6:37 am

Thanks for posting that sennoma! I was about to code that myself but I MT has asking me to answer 100 questions. That in order to code something for them for free…
Ok back to half-life 2…


Tim Lambert 11.17.04 at 6:50 am

I’ve found that the most effective measure against trolls is what I call the troll hole. Instead of IP banning, you allow them to post, but you only display their comments to someone with the same IP. The troll thinks everyone is ignoring them and wanders off to troll CT instead.


novalis 11.17.04 at 7:28 am

Peter: Good thought. But what about posts which have * used for emphasis? I’ve chosen to only remove * from inside words.


Motoko 11.17.04 at 7:52 am


bad Jim 11.17.04 at 9:12 am

Henry, please, where are the comments you felt needed disemvowelling? Your last Israel/Palestine post appears not to have permitted comments at all. (In other words, how bad is the problem?)

Disemvowelling may be the best approach to handling bad comments. I remember some time ago being a mite bewildered, to quote Daniel Boone, trying to figure out some comments which proved to have been removed.

A removal with a note to that effect is an improvement, but still unsatisfying (particularly if there are replies).

As an alternative, how about the leaving the first and last sentences of offensive posts and obfuscating the rest? Or translating the whole thing into Catalan or Slovakian?


bad Jim 11.17.04 at 9:45 am

Never mind. Google offers neither tongue, and can’t even translate my last comment into Portuguese.


Peter Murphy 11.17.04 at 10:00 am

On the dialectizer: Wannabe homie trolls may actually appreciate being Jived up. That’s dangerous. Set the setting to Sewdish Chef. That’s the only way to be sure. Free sample:

A reqooest eeemed et thuse-a oooot zeere-a veet helffvey decent cudeeng skeells – sumebudy, sumoohere-a, shuoold vreete-a un MT-Deesemfooel ploogeen fur Mufeble-a Type-a. Fur thuse-a nut femeelier veet zee cuncept, deesemfooelling, peeuneered by Teresa Neeelsee Heydee, is zee must iffffecteefe-a trull-repellent yet infented. Bork bork bork! Yuoo leefe-a zee trull’s cumment up, boot remufe-a ell zee fooels frum it. Um de hur de hur de hur. It cun steell be-a reed by unyune-a vhu hes a beet ooff peteeence-a, boot mekes zee trull luuk rezeer reedicooluoos. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Su fer, oon zee fery foo oocceseeuns I’fe-a hed tu use-a it, it’s vurked ebsulootely perffectly. Bork bork bork! Zee oonly prublem is thet it’s a beet ooff a nooeesunce-a – it tekes a cuoople-a ooff meenootes tu remufe-a zee fooels munooelly frum zee lunger herungooes. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Seems leeke-a sumetheeng thet a nut-fery-cumpleeceted .cgee screept cuoold eccumpleesh in a flesh – unyune-a oooot zeere-a up tu zee tesk?

I doubt any trolls would want their screeds to be mutated thus.


abb1 11.17.04 at 11:46 am

That was easy – one regular expression.

Now, can you write a perl script that turns offensive posts into beautiful sonnets? You got 8 days, starting — now.


Dan Hardie 11.17.04 at 12:09 pm

I’ll admit that I don’t like this. The aim is to humiliate somebody, and although I’m sure that Henry Farrell will be very careful who he chooses for humiliation, can you say the same for the geniuses who run Harry’s Place or Little Green Footballs? Either argue against someone on the merits of what they have said; or, if they just resort to abuse, threats or racism, delete their post.

This is the web equivalent of the idiots who slammed custard pies in Bjorn Lomborg’s face- there are many arguments to be made against Lomborg, but those cowards couldn’t or wouldn’t make them, so they chose the schoolground tactic of embarrassing him publicly. Humiliation as a tactic of argument strikes me as nasty and contemptible, although I’m aware that Mao’s Red Guards and Mussolini’s Squadristi would have politely disagreed with me there.


bad Jim 11.17.04 at 12:19 pm

No, the aim is to do as little as possible, as nicely as possible, to anger nobody, including the malefactor to whom objection is made.


Dan Hardie 11.17.04 at 12:20 pm

Btw, the mention of LGF is not just because this is the most poisonous thing on the web, bar Indymedia’s Holocaust denial and sites for Fascist or Islamic fundamentalist groups. Charles of LGF is famous for not deleting any post which advocates the mistreatment of Arabs, but rigorously deletes even the politest post which questions him on his facts, let alone his ethics. Most recently, the US Army veteran ‘Tacitus’ – a registered Republican and no liberal- called Charles, in the most courteous manner, on a number of anti-Muslim lies in his postings on Sudan. Charles deleted every Tacitus post, every post supporting Tacitus and banned their IPs. Why did he have to do this? Because he is so ignorant and stupid that he cannot win the smallest argument with anyone better informed than him.

What will he do now? He’ll humiliate his critics by disemvowelling them- leaving their posts up for all to laugh at, and creating the entirely false impression that it is his critics, not himself, who are fools.

Nice one, Henry and Novalis- I think we can say that you’ve just given a very powerful weapon to any site owner incapable of winning rational arguments.


bad Jim 11.17.04 at 12:35 pm

There Will Be: Smoke Effects, Gun Shots, Strobe Lighting, Cigarette Smoking and Fish Net Stockings.

[SF, 2003]


kevin donoghue 11.17.04 at 1:45 pm

Dan Hardie is right: yv jst gvn vr pwrfl wpn t n st wnr ncpbl f wnnng rtnl rgmnts.

Then again, those who appreciate rtnl rgmnts will probably just boycott st wnrs f tht srt.


Steve 11.17.04 at 2:34 pm

Nice one, Henry and Novalis- I think we can say that you’ve just given a very powerful weapon to any site owner incapable of winning rational arguments.

I don’t think anyone can look at a disemvoweled post and say to themselves, “Gosh, it looks like Jane Smith doesn’t know how to type! What a maroon!” Teresa Nielsen Hayden tends to use it against posts that use invective, which she attracts a lot (more on posts about the publishing industry than about politics, I’d say); she has a lot of commentators, and simply removing the posts makes it difficult to see what they’re responding to.

And it’s not like the site’s owner is incapable of just editing the comment to make the comment look stupid (or, indeed, taking an extra thirty seconds to cut and paste into the Jive-izer or what have you). This is simply a way to neuter the comment while allowing anyone trying to follow the thread who cares enough puzzle it out. Rot-13 would work almost as well.


Henry 11.17.04 at 2:42 pm

Dan – I think you’re going a bit over the top here. The nice thing about disemvowelling is that it leaves the comment there, and more or less readable. If the owner of the blog disemvowels perfectly reasonable comments, (s)he is going to look like the idiot, not the commenter. Thus, I don’t expect much takeup from the likes of LGF, who want to exclude the possibility of conversation with others who disagree with them altogether.

Bad Jim – my policy on trolls is more or less as follows. For the really nasty ones, I delete the comments outright – there was a persistent anti-Semite who we had to deal with a few months ago, who I simply deleted on sight. When people make very (as opposed to extremely) offensive remarks, I give them a warning or disemvowel them. My category of ‘offensive’ covers people who use bad language to no useful effect other than to offend (the odd bit of saltiness I have no problem with), who express the wish that their ideological opponents were dead etc, who keep on characterizing their opponents in ways that are offensive and shut down debate, or who accuse me or other CTites of lying etc etc (I don’t mind being accused of being a naive lefty, of hopelessly misunderstanding this, that or the other, but just ask that you don’t descend into silly slurs and insults; it’s our blog after all). Other CTites have their own policy (we don’t have a universal approach) – but probably we’re all within a reasonably narrow spectrum. The Israel post was an experiment to see if much more vigorous moderating than usual could produce a proper conversation on a topic where there aren’t many proper conversations in the blogosphere – thanks to the persistent efforts of people on both sides of the debate to resume mudflinging, it failed.


jet 11.17.04 at 3:05 pm

Please don’t dsmvwl m. Sht, t lt.


Dan Hardie 11.17.04 at 3:27 pm

Fair enough, Henry, there’s nothing I can think of that would make some people engage in rational debate.


Bryant 11.17.04 at 3:41 pm

Yeah, I wrote that plugin a while back. It’s not very good, doesn’t handle accented vowels, hasn’t been checked with 3.0 or 3.1, etc. :)


Dan Hardie 11.17.04 at 3:42 pm

I think I’d add that the worst humiliation for trolls, users of abusive language, childish individuals etc is to leave their contributions intact, above their names. If, for example, one goes to Chris Bertram’s thread about Orwell, one will see… But I leave you the pleasure of discovery.


harry 11.17.04 at 4:10 pm

If a clever troll reads this thread they might pick up from the debate between Henry and Dan Hardie the idea of leaving competely reasonable-looking pre-disemvowelled comments on a thread to make the host look like a jerk.


Dan Hardie 11.17.04 at 4:23 pm

I think we’ll politely agree that my criticism of Henry was a little OTT – you know, Squadristi, Red Guards…


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.17.04 at 4:37 pm

Another advantage of disemvowelment is that it can be limited to small portions of posts, without rendering either the rest of the post or the rest of the discussion incoherent.

Practiced with this kind of care, it also helps convey a clear message about exactly what is and isn’t considered to be over the line.

(I’ve even seen people in Teresa’s comment threads practice pre-emptive self-disemvowelment on their own posts, as a wry acknowledgement that they may be losing their cool.)


PZ Myers 11.17.04 at 6:07 pm

I’ve been running into this problem with trolls myself, lately. It’s not so much that that they make stupid arguments (they do), it’s that they turn every thread into an annoying wrangle over the prancing nitwit. The best solution would be if everyone could just ignore them, but it seems that having someone jump into a discussion and announce, “look at me, look at me, I’m a f*cking moron!” is just an irresistible target to even intelligent people.

My current solution is whiteout. I set their comment text to white, on a white background. It’s still there, but you have to select it to see it.


sennoma 11.17.04 at 8:20 pm

Tim: the troll hole is sheer genius. I want one! How do you implement it?


msk08 11.17.04 at 8:21 pm

Translate your offensive comments to Navaho. Not even the smartest Germans could figure out that language, and there will be a whole nation of Navahos that could earn some extra dough by doing that for you.

Plus we could all learn a foreign language, which would make the liberal arts people very happy.


Henry 11.17.04 at 10:02 pm

Patrick – having checked out Mt-Disenvowel, it seems a bit of a blunderbuss approach – you identify all the posts coming from an IP address and automatically disemvowel them. I prefer Teresa’s approach as you describe it – it seems to provide a much better signal of what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.


Josh Narins 11.17.04 at 10:41 pm

Revowel Script: Heh, ask the people who reinvented Hebrew, or the ones who translated the Tanakh (Old Testament).

Troll Hole: Great.

Actually, even better, imho, than disemvowellation would be ROT13.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.17.04 at 11:38 pm

It’s actually important to this method that the affected text should be decodable–for the sake of the disemvowelee and for everybody else’s sake as well.


vernaculo 11.18.04 at 3:41 am

Een Trowe is een mythisch schepsel van de Eilanden van Orkney, wat op de Skandinavische sleeplijn gebaseerd is. Het overzees Trowes levend onder het water en is zeer lui. Zij zijn naar verluidt nocturnal, en zelfs wanneer zij uit bij nacht komen, zijn zij onzichtbaar aan velen. Trowe is Scots voor sleeplijn.

“De wet, in zijn majestic gelijkheid, verbiedt de rijken evenals de armen aan slaap onder bruggen, om in de straten te bedelen, en brood te stelen.”
Anatole France

Er is een theorie dat de sleeplijnen een ver geheugen van moderne man’s ontmoeten met Neanderthals zijn. Sommigen beweren ook dat Neanderthals goed in historische tijden kan geleefd hebben, en kan worden herinnerd zoals sleeplijnen.

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