“Your Kindle has blocked 144 expletives”

“Your Kindle has blocked 144 expletives”

In a recent

Amazon Kindle Community thread

a potential Kindle buyer asked an interesting and controversial question.

Could a Kindle be set to block certain words?

In other words, could you tell it to black out obscenities so you didn’t end up seeing them?

Not surprisingly, this inspired some…less than helpful responses (although there were helpful ones as well).

Some people saw it as potential censorship.

Well, I do think the idea shows an understanding of some of the potentials of the software.

Let’s look at this a few ways:

  1. Could it be done?
  2. Would it be legal?
  3. What would it mean?

Could it be done?

I would think so, yes.  While it might not be easy to alter the original file, I would thin a display change would be possible…or a second, Bowdlerized* copy could be created. 

You could either create a list of forbidden words, and/or choose from presets. 

The words could be blacked out, or, more intriguingly, converted into other words.

This would be easy to set up in a word processing program like Microsoft Word.  I could do it with macros.  Hmm…you could even do it so that, if you selected the word, you’d see a definition of it, without seeing the actual word.

I remember having seen a play once, which was a satire on a Sherlock Holmes type sleuth (the name escapes me for now).

One person called the detective an “effing idiot” (without using effing), to which I recall him responding something like,

“I don’t think it’s fair of you to categorize me as an idiot…copulating or otherwise.”


That makes it clear.

So no, I don’t think this would be terribly complicated.

Would it be legal?

That’s an entirely different question.

If you had to break the DRM (Digital Rights Management) of the rightsholder to do it, that’s generally illegal (there are certain specific exceptions).

Let’s say that wasn’t necessary: let’s say the program read the words and rewrote them, with the desired substitutions.

I don’t think anybody would come after an individual who did this, but they might go after a manufacturer of the program…successfully.


The resulting work would be a derivative work…a new work based on the original.  This would particularly be true if it replaced certain words with other words.

The right to make derivative works is protected under copyright.

For example, you can’t adapt a book into a play without permission of the rightsholder,  generally.

What if it just blocked the words?

That’s debatable…arguably, the resultant work is different from the original.

Again, I don’t think anybody would go after a person for doing this…but if someone made software that did it, that could be a problem.

That has been one of the arguments against text-to-speech: that the Kindle’s “read-aloud” feature (which is Nuance’s RealSpeak) creates a derivative work.

That’s clearly not true, the way I read the relevant copyright law.  Since the reading isn’t recorded, a work isn’t created.  Streaming audio is okay, making sound files is not.

Hmmm….that argues that blacking out the words in a temporary fashion might be okay, if it didn’t create a new file with the black-outs in place.

Would authors object to this?  Oh, I’m sure some would object…vociferously.  I’m sure some authors would rather not have their tough heroes saying, “Rats!” or “Fiddlesticks!”  😉

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn.”

It changes the intent, and the author might feel they have the right to control that intended impact on the reader.

There used to be a great site called the T’inator that converted sites into Mr. T speak, and replaced pictures with his picture.  You could turn CNN into Mr. T talk, for example…you’d get the real stories, but in T speak.

The Dialectizer  “translates” sites into different dialects…but let me warn you, even the names of the dialects may offend some people.

Is that legal?

I assume so.  It’s like using the Google online translator, and since nobody has sued and stopped that, I assume that’s okay.

I think it’s because the output isn’t recorded…just like the streaming audio of text-to-speech.

What would it mean?

This is the part that interests me the most.

Certainly, a lot of people are going to say that any alteration of a literary work is inappropriate.

I think there are a sizable percentage, though, that would like to see certain obscenities blocked.  It does throw me sometimes if I encounter those words unexpectedly in a book I am otherwise enjoying.  I absolutely think the author has the right to use them, even though I don’t use them myself.  I completely see how they can be appropriate, even necessary, in the expression of the character’s intent.

However, I know there are other people who don’t want to see the words.

That’s another key point: which words?

What if it included the “n word”, for example?  That might change the experience of some really classic works.  In fact, that word may be deliberately used to shock the reader and show the way a negative character thinks and speaks.

What if you could chose to replace all gender-specific terminology with gender-neutral terms? 

I actually tend to do that in my writing…not identify the genders of the characters.  I know people assume there own genders for them, and that’s fine with me. 

What if it wasn’t words?  What if it was concepts?  Could you have a Kindle block a scene involving sexual assault?  How would it identify it?  How much would it block?  That’s much trickier.

Let’s take this a bit further.  What if you could use software to block or “convert” characters of a given sexual orientation?

What if you could choose to convert the characters in a book to a certain ethnicity or change the locality?

That’s probably starting to feel wrong…but if you were doing it for yourself, would it be okay?

 I can see how it could be fun, and maybe even educational.  What if you could “dial” the language in a work from Old to Middle to Modern English?  That might help people with some older works.  How about switching it from British to American English or vice versa?

It’s a fascinating idea…or as some might say, a *%/@! good idea.  😉

* Thomas Bowdler published the Family Shakespeare in 1807, and did other similarly “clean versions”.  His name became the verb Bowdlerize, which is to produce a less offensive version of a work.

Weird coincidence: I watched an episode an episode of Fame which dealt with a school book with words blacked out…the day before the thread appeared.

Tip of the day: there are a number of Christian publishers who make books available for the Kindle, and they do not tend to use swear words.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


5 Responses to ““Your Kindle has blocked 144 expletives””

  1. alan church Says:

    Weird? coincidence. How about just coincidence?

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, alan!

      Sure, I’m fine with that. 🙂 I’m not your biggest Jungian synchronicity guy…I’m not assigning any meaning to it. I just think it’s fun. 🙂

  2. alan Says:

    >”not your biggest synchronicity guy”. “not attaching any meaning to it”. <
    so, you ARE a BIT of a synchonicity guy it seems. when you say "weird coincidence" instead of coincidence you ARE attaching a meaning to it seems to me. I noticed this at the measured circle and it troubled me a bit as a subscriber to SKEPTIC MAG, FREE INQUIRY, and SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, there being no scientific evidence for the supernatural, fate, and such, and wishing people wouldn't promote such ideas since it is antithetical to good critical thinking and perceiving the world as it is. You mentioned once in a not to me you teach people in the mental health field. Do you mind being more specific? I'm a clinical pyychologist, retired.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, alan!

      “Weird” to me, in this instance, indicates unusual. I’m not suggesting something supernatural. Hey, some of my best friends are skeptics. 🙂 That’s a joke, by the way, but I’ve gotten along pretty well with them…and with “true believers”.

      It is only antithetical to critical thinking if you make a decision not based on the evidence. I have run into people who both uncritically accept and reject reports. I have found people who uncritically accept the explanation of a hoax, for example. That’s not science, that’s faith-based. I have also found people, of course, who uncritically accept elaborate claims. Marcello Truzzi’s aphorism (often incorrectly credited to Carl Sagan, because he quoted it, I believe) that goes roughly, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is not science. He and I had an awkward moment over that one in correspondence, once. Extraordinary claims tend to require more evidence because they are compound claims, not because they are extraordinary, in my opinion.

      If someone claims that she or he saw a man on a bicycle, you accept as a postulate that bicycles and men exist. You don’t ask the person to prove those elements of the claim. If someone claims that she or he saw an alien on a bicycle, you may also challenge the existence of aliens. That requires more evidence, but not of a different standard. It’s the same scientific standard, just applied to multiple elements.

      I train a wide-range of medical professionals and staff to use a computer system. 🙂 That includes psychiatrists, psychologists, and so on. It also includes obstetricians, pediatricans, and many more.

      That’s not my only exposure to psychologists, though.

      I’ve actually lectured on critical thinking. Critical thinking isn’t about the conclusions, it’s about the process. Someone claiming that she or he has channeled a reptilian from the inner Earth gives many people more of an opportunity for critical thinking than an explanation of the smelting process. Most people tend to accept widely accepted ideas uncritically, in my opinion. Providing them with an idea that is not widely accepted will, I think, often get them to consider the evidence in context in a different way.

      Do I think that there is more evidence that the Mountain Gorilla exists than that Bigfoot exists? Absolutely. However, rejecting a Bigfoot report without examining it on that basis is not scientific. Part of the success of science is that it is legitimate to question any existing theory…and then let the evidence speak for itself.

      I don’t see the scientific value in suppressing reports of flimsy ideas…how else do people learn to make judgements?

      I think one of the most interesting things I was told by a skeptical friend was that this person had twice seen something that appeared to the person to look like a UFO, in both cases convinced himself that he had seen nothing at all. In both cases there were also later logical explanations (one was an advertising plane, I believe, that the person saw again on another night from a different angle).

      As you can tell, we could probably have a long conversation about this. 🙂

  3. וילונות Says:

    עיצוב וילונות…

    […]“Your Kindle has blocked 144 expletives” « I Love My Kindle[…]…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: