Prudes’ censorship app sparks outrage

Prudes’ censorship app sparks outrage

Sick of seeing the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’ used in a sweary way in books on your Kindle?

Well, thanks to a Christian couple in Idaho – Jared and Kirsten Maughan – such profane words can now be swept off the pages with The Clean Reader Andoid and iOS app, which replaces them with terms much more acceptable to sensitive souls.

“Jesus” becomes “gee”, for example and “Oh my God” becomes “Oh my goodness” and “goddamn” becomes “dang”.

According to this report, the Maughans developed the app (sales pitch: “Read books, not profanity”) after their teenage daughter:

Expressed dismay over some cuss words she saw in a book.

How it works is that you load your ebook into the app via iTunes; you can then select one of three filter levels, from mild censorship to the full monty; and the app does a find-and-replace using a database of “offensive” words selected by the Maughans, replacing them with “clean” versions.

For instance, body parts in the genital region of women are all turned into “bottom”; “fuck” becomes “freak”; “breast” becomes “chest”, “whore” becomes “hussy”; and “bitch” becomes “witch” (which could get somewhat confusing if the book actually discusses dogs). “Sex” is changed to “love”, “penis” to “groin” and “blowjob” to “pleasure”. (See a fuller list here).

The app, predictably, quickly ran into a firestorm. The Guardian reports that Page Foundry subsidiary Inktera, a bookstore system linked to the app, was rapidly unlinked this week, and Smashwords founder Mark Coker requested all of its titles be removed because:

Under the terms of our agreement with all retailers, retailers don’t have permission to alter the words of our books.

The developers bowed to the pressure and stopped selling books, which prompted Chocolat author Joanne Harris, below, to claim a “small victory for the world of dirt”.


Harris had led the charge against the app, with a blogpost entitled “Why I’m saying ‘fuck you’ to Clean Reader”, explaining why she felt the filter was “censorship, not by the state, but by a religious minority”, and that it “misunderstand[s] the nature of fiction writing” and gives a “toxic message” to young people.

Harris was joined by a host of authors in attacking the premise of Clean Reader. The science fiction novelist Charlie Stross described himself on his blog as a writer who:

Deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents

The Booker prize-winner Margaret Atwood asked on Twitter:

Could you take the kettledrums out of Beethoven because you don’t like loud noises and still call it Beethoven?

Harris said that the removal of books from the app by the developers was:

A wise move on their behalf. I think somebody would have proved how fundamentally illegal it is, and would have taken them to court … it’s interesting to see how pressure from the Internet has done it, and how widespread support is for the integrity of books. A lot of people don’t want to see books tampered with.

The Society of Authors said it was concerned:

That the app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution.

Harris also raised the issue of the psychological damage resulting from representing to a child that “bodies are dirty”. She said:

There’s clearly a religious agenda here. And it has a sinister implication to it … it needed nipping in the bud. I’d rather my books were not read at all than they were used as part of some religious agenda to indoctrinate children into thinking body parts are bad, and sex is wicked.

A statement issued by the Clean Reader team said that any books already purchased would still be available to users, and that it was planning to make several changes to the app with an update to be released in the near future. It said:

These changes will also be in response to the feedback we have received from many authors and users.

Harris is sceptical:

I don’t see what changes they can make to stop it being an offensive app. But there is nothing which stops them from starting again quietly once things have died down. It’s a question of watching.

One supporter of the app wrote:

The fact is that we readers would love to hear some of your creative stories without the icky unnecessary junk language.

Harris replied in a blogpost:

Shakespeare wrote icky unnecessary junk language. So did Chaucer, D H Lawrence, Philip Larkin, James Joyce.

If a reader chooses to avoid reading my books, that’s fine. She has that right. If she hates it, that’s also fine. If she has opinions on how it could have been done better, that’s also fine, because she’s entitled to her opinion, whether I agree or not. BUT – her opinion does not extend to changing my work in any way. My book, my rules, and that includes my words. ALL of them.

I should point out that “icky unnecessary junk language” is not confined to literature. I laughed out loud a few days ago when I read in a very serious report about human evolution that scientist Kári Stefánsson described an argument used in a genetic study as:

A crock of shit.

She may well be right. I really don’t know. I am not an evolutionary biologist, and confess that I did not understand a single word of the argument she dismissed, nor indeed the contents of a study entitled “The Y-chromosome point mutation rate in humans” that Stefánsson co-authored.

22 responses to “Prudes’ censorship app sparks outrage”

  1. Daz says:

    “Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.”

    “And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father. […] And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him”

    “and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground”

    “And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? […] And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.”

    “And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.”

    “For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.”

    “A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.”

    “I am a wall, and my breasts like towers”

    “This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.”

    “I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine”

  2. andym says:

    The minute I heard I about this app this morning, I knew god-botherers, probably US fundies would be behind it. It had their prints all over it. Not satisfied with priggish self-satisfaction, they have to distort and impose in the name of their piss-awful beliefs.

  3. Broga says:

    “Honi soit qui mal y pense” comes to mind. What also comes to mind is the naivety of these people. What attracts is what is censored and amongst those most attracted will be priests. This couple think they can control others. The judge in the Lady Chatterley trial, to deserved ridicule, asked, “Would you want your wife or your servant to read this book?”

    The substitute words could cause some confusion in the bedroom: pussy and cunt replaced by bottom, for example. I suppose Jared and Kirsten Maughan , with their smug self righteousness, expected acclaim for their daft venture. What they have got is outrage and ridicule.

  4. barriejohn says:

    Unspecified “words” to replace those considered offensive? What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

    “Bona! Bona! How bona to vada your dolly old eek!”

  5. barriejohn says:

    Broga: The New Testament itself says: “To the pure all things are pure”, but perhaps they haven’t read that bit yet. And here’s yet another example of possible confusion with amazing relevance to current events!

  6. Angela_K says:

    Next these fundie loonies will censor the word evolution. I wonder what happens to Scunthorpe? Sorry old gag.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Angela_K: Cookery books and articles will be useless. What happens to Cock-a-Leekie, Prickly Pear, Sweet Corn, Jerk Sauce, Stuffing Balls, and so on? And anything written by Fanny Craddock will definitely be taboo. “It’s a minefield!”

  8. Me says:

    Ok all you secular, intelligent, thinking, rational, well adjusted,sceptical people out there…this is what we will do…make an app that will add a qualifying comment to various words whenever that word appears in published text…so for example …god (wholly imaginary nasty hateful pestilential fictional figure beloved and revered by retarded fuckwit bigots)….jesus (another wholly imaginary nasty hateful pestilential fictional figure beloved and revered by retarded fuckwit bigots) … bible(a pathetic work of fiction as grounded in reality as Harry Potter)…pope (the head of a profiteering crime syndicate living in the vatican in Rome)… Catholic priest(rancid child molesting liar) ….get the idea.

  9. AgentCormac says:


    Very good!

  10. jay says:

    If the app filters the book by processing locally on your device, I certainly hope it would not be illegal. That would be an incredible jump in intrusive copyright law to restrict what you can do privately with your copy of a work.

  11. L.Long says:

    so she gets ” “breast” becomes “chest” ”
    Since she knows this then she knows it really says breast.
    This is the inane silliness of these xtians and other religious groups that thin their idiot gawd is so stupid as to fall for the silliness.
    Also breast is proper word you silly twat!!
    And fuck and shit have nothing wrong with them other than you don’t like them for some dumb-assed reason. what is the difference between darn and damn? I never got it and still don’t.

  12. geez says:

    Oh, my goodness and freaking heck, those Goshians are at it again! Freaking about with our language.

    Will “pleasure” always be interpreted as ‘blow-job’ among Goshians and Gee-Fucks in future?

    We’d better watch what we write, or we’ll all end up in the goshian heck.

  13. Double B says:

    Jesus Christ I’m glad I use a god damned Nook!

  14. Chris Hughes says:

    Anyone fancy a freak?

  15. @jay The problem with eBooks is that the reader doesn’t own them. They are licensed by the supplier to read them on their devices, but the book itself remains the property of iTunes, Amazon or whoever supplied you with the digital data. I wonder what will happen in forty years time when today’s teenagera want to re-read the books of their youth. Despite having “bought” so many, they will suddenly discover that they no longer have them and will have to “buy” each one again.

    Thus, the publishers are quite right to say that the app makes unwarranted and illegal alterations to their property, without their permission.

    We live in intereating times!

  16. Robster says:

    This is a crap app (or crapp app, perhaps). What’s needed is the auto nonsense remover app (ANRA), specially for bibles and other “holy” books. This app is specifically designed to get rid of all the nonsense in one fell swoop. To activate, roll your phone loaded with the ANRA over your preferred scripture and it will remove all the overt nonsense such as the supernatural stuff, the talking snake, the resurrection, chatty donkey, burning bush, watered down red wine as per the Jesus magic trick, stroll on the lake, birth without bonking, life after death will go too. Purchasers may be concerned that they’ll be left with a very abridged holy book, probably about 6 pages with the illustrations removed, but hey think of how many more collectors will be able to fit into the fire place on a cool night.

  17. Trevor Blake says:

    “Rejoice with the wife of thy youth… Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.” Psalms 5:18-19


  18. Brian Jordan says:

    How long before they move on to cartoons? Jesse and Morris, anyone?

  19. jay says:

    “Thus, the publishers are quite right to say that the app makes unwarranted and illegal alterations to their property, without their permission.”

    This is a concept FAR more dangerous than a few fundies censoring. Can you use a marker to blank out words in a book? A book too is licensed under copyright, but you CAN modify your physical copy.Maybe we need the courts to look at this.

  20. Brummie says:

    Desecration of a book. Don’t some people get murdered for this?

  21. dennis says:

    jesus fucking christ’ ok I just had to go there.

    @me, excellent! I was laughing so hard I got choked.

  22. Peterat says:

    Nous somme Charlie!!