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Do I need to replace holy with sacred in the following formal writing, because a Christian reader might take offense?

The poor survey design and irresponsible use of the results left the parents and their guests with the impression that the district was looking for a way to back up its positions with some kind of data, any kind of data. Questions posed about the holy “data” were seen as obstructions of the 504 process.


Description of the survey: the teachers were asked to fill out a google doc. For each accommodation on the child's 504 plan, each teacher was supposed to say, "yes, should continue to be provided," or "no, etc.," and there was an optional comment field. There were three major problems with this survey: (1) Data should have been taken on whether providing a particular accommodation seemed to result in fewer incidents of misbehavior, or a better rate of e.g. handing in homework (the child has OCD and hoards completed homeworks in his knapsack; also I can prevent homework assignments from being ripped up or stuffed in the toilet by reducing the repetitive math exercises); (2) the parents and the child weren't asked for their input; (3) the comments revealed that the teachers had not really understood most of the accommodations as written, and many of them were being judged without their having been actually provided. (Note, I would have loved to meet with the teachers to explain things, but I haven't been permitted to do so.)

I hope this is the kind of context that folks were hoping for, and I hope it wasn't too long.


There was some doubt about this use of holy being understandable. Here's the definition: "4. Regarded as deserving special respect or reverence" (freedictionary.com). Add some sarcasm and what you get is not-to-be-questioned.

  • Need more context to be sure. "Blessed" may be a better word. – EL_DON Nov 12 '16 at 21:11
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    So there's no religious context? In that case, using the term holy would just cause confusion. If this 'data' is not to be questioned (by laymen), then it could be called sacrosanct. Anyone with an entrenched viewpoint should get the meaning readily enough. – Mick Nov 12 '16 at 21:37
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    If the data is missing some crucial pieces, you could call it holey instead. – David Handelman Nov 12 '16 at 21:44
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    It's generally not offensive, but there are folks who will be offended by anything. And, in the US, I'm not sure the reader would understand the intended meaning. "Approved" or "endorsed" might be a better choice (or check synonyms for "bless"). – Hot Licks Nov 12 '16 at 22:18
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    Anyone over-sensitive enough to find holy used in this way offensive would almost certainly also take offence at sacred, blessed, and even sacrosanct. I'd advise against trying to please such people. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 12 '16 at 22:20
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I don't see any value in characterizing the "data" (sarcasm noted) as "holy", "sacred", ... I see no grounds for religious objection, but such words will most likely result in a defensive response not conducive to your desired outcome. Why not stick to the facts (as you see them) without rendering judgment:

The poor survey design and irresponsible use of the results left the parents and their guests with the impression that the district was looking for a way to back up its positions with some kind of data, any kind of data. Legitimate questions posed about the design of the survey and the use of its results were seen as obstructions of the 504 process.

  • Legitimate is a good addition. I simplified the last sentence to "Legitimate questions were seen as obstructions of the 504 process." Since it's still the same paragraph and the paragraph is short, I figured it will be clear what the questions would have been about. – aparente001 Nov 13 '16 at 2:48
  • In the context of the question you ask, there is no slightest difference between "holy" and "sacred" – Robbie Goodwin Nov 26 '16 at 23:50
  • @RobbieGoodwin I agree. This has nothing to with anything I've said, right? – Richard Kayser Nov 27 '16 at 0:07
  • @Richard Kayser I certainly think not… I do think that 'holy “data” ' should be ' "holy" data' and that's nothing to do with what you or I said before… Beneath all the above, though, a dedicated follower of any faith might very well find "holy" or "sacred" or anything like them offensive outside a truly religious context, as you hinted… and anyway, offense is almost always taken, rather than given. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 27 '16 at 17:26

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