App removes profanity from books – is it a good idea?

The Clean Reader app removes objectionable language from a book and adds in 'an alternative word with the same general meaning.' One user wrote, 'This app has brought me back to reading and loving books again.' Should books be edited?

Ann Hermes
A bestsellers bookshelf sits at The Book Cellar, an independent bookstore in Lincoln Square in Chicago, Illinois.

Are you finding that contemporary books are a little too full of language that offends you? 

According to a press release, the app Clean Reader can take profanity out of any book. There are three modes: Clean, Cleaner, and Squeaky Clean.

“To preserve the context of the book, an alternative word with the same general meaning is available for each instance where a word is blocked from display,” the press release reads. 

The app is free for iOS and Android, according to the Clean Reader website

In the press release, Upstream Media president Jared Maughan said he was inspired to create the app after an experience with his daughter. 

“The idea for Clean Reader started at our dinner table after our daughter's first exposure to books with swear words,” he said. 

As reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, a Brigham Young University professor looked at 40 young adult bestsellers in 2012 and found that the average novel aimed at young adults has 38 examples of profanity.

So is the app a good idea? In reviews on iTunes and Google Play, some wrote that they are grateful for the filtering offered by Clean Reader. 

“Love this app!!” one user wrote. “Thanks so much! Love to read but don't like the profanity some use.” 

“This app has brought me back to reading and loving books again,” another wrote. “Best app ever!!” 

The app may not be to everyone’s taste, however. As pointed out by Ron Charles of the Washington Post, there was an uproar after a revised edition of “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain was published in 2011. The edition removed instances of the n-word from the text, but Salon writer Elon James White wrote at the time, “The book, which deals directly with racism, is not better served by erasing the racial slur,” while The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote, “The word is terrible. But it’s a linchpin of this book.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to