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So I’ve been reading about Clean Reader, the miracle app that will protect your precious, precious eyes from tiny black and white ebook devils that want to crawl in through your pupils and infect you and your child’s brain with sin. That’s right, naughty words.

Too long have your dear sweet eyes been besmirched with profanity! Too long has the unnecessary naughty talk in ebooks been the scourge of society. Thank fuck that we will all be safe at last. Ah shit, I didn’t mean to swear then. Cocks. Fuck. This isn’t going well.

But I mean come on. Seriously? This is what the reading world demands? No more swears? Thankfully everyone normal – including the lovely Joanne Harris whose books aren’t even rude (or perhaps my rudeness threshold is diminished by what a dirtbag I am) – seems to think Clean Reader is the worst idea ever. 

I mean, of all the things that offend the eye and technology can save you from, this seems particularly prissy, irritating and pointless. I was 100% behind UKITTEN, the Chrome App that automatically replaces any images of Nigel Farage’s face with an image of kittens, in order to soothe the angry liberal when casually browsing the internet. I still use it. That benefits me.

But on a serious note, what really irritates me about Clean Reader is this idea that somehow swear words or anatomical words (which Clean Reader makes a real pig’s ear of, replacing ‘vagina’ and ‘clitoris’ with ‘bottom’ which is frankly worse than misleading) are the worst thing that a child or a sensitive adult can come across in a book. What about violence? What about grief? What about loss? What about emotional abuse? It’s prissy and stupid to think that swear words are damaging, but it’s also prissy and stupid fear books and the things they say. There are many people – myself included – that find that experiencing something potentially damaging through fiction before one experiences it in life works something like an inoculation. It’s comforting.

What, then, about swear words and sex? These aren’t damaging, frightening or upsetting. Why do we keep them from children? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we all let our under-tens read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I am saying that it’s going to mess up a child worse to hear that Christian Grey spent ten minutes expertly licking Ana’s bottom until her inner goddess said oh heck golly gosh jee whizzz because Clean Reader had left its surreal squeaky-clean detergent smears all over the dirty prose. Just imagine what bizarre expectations that could lead to.

And the core of it is censorship. It’s no longer, if you don’t like something stop reading it. It’s change the author’s words to make them acceptable. Someone somewhere has decided sex and swearing are bad. And is Clean Reader going to remove domestic abuse? Violence? Casual misogyny? Nope. Only dirty grubby sex. Unless the sex you like involves only bottoms.

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