Friday Feelings: The Clean Reader Debate

Friday Feelings

Friday Feelings is a weekly post where I will be having my say about the latest news, books and other related things!

This week, I am going to be having a rant about Clean Reader.



In case you don’t know, Clean Reader is an app developed by an American couple to wipe profanities from books after their teenage daughter expressed dismay over some cuss words in a book she read. The tagline is “Read Books. Not Profanity”!

From the Clean Reader website: “Clean Reader prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen. You decide how clean your books should appear and Clean Reader does the rest.”

Basically, you can choose how clean you want your book to be, from Clean, Cleaner and Squeaky Clean.

You have to buy the book from the Clean Reader store.

Jennifer Porter from Romance Novel News has published a list of the words deemed to be unsuitable and what their substitutes are. So I thought it would be fun to write a completely clean story using these words, and show you how the Clean Reader app works. Enjoy!

If you understand this story, well done! If not, check out the key underneath.

Richard breeds his Whippets

Richard, known to his friends as GROIN, had finally done it. His prize WITCH had successfully given birth to six beautiful puppies. Everyone in his house was happy, even his normally disdainful BOTTOM cat, but that might have been due to the cream he had joyously poured into its dish that morning.As he told his wife, even when “the cat had ANGRY all over the floor” in the afternoon, he hadn’t cared. That night, he went out with his friends to celebrate. He smoked a joint for the first time in his life, which he knew wasn’t sensible, but he was in such a good mood, he didn’t care if he went to HECK.

Ok, so you are probably confused. This key might help you out! These are the actual words Clean Reader suggests for replacement. (There are a lot more than this, for a more comprehensive list, click here.)


Bitch- Witch
Pussy- Bottom
Pissed- Angry
Hell- Heck

Ok, so some of these words were unneeded to tell the story. However, the last line, where Richard smokes a joint, this is something you probably do not want you or your child to read if you are so easily suggestible that reading something in a book will make you do it in real life.

My point is, language is actually a pretty good indicator of the type of content you might find in a book. If there is swearing, there is probably going to be other adult content. If you are using Clean Reader as a way to control what your children are reading, maybe you should be worried about the other content in that book?

Besides that, this is completely unfair on the author. You are, in essence, changing an authors work, but it is still under their name. If we took this to extremes, I could change a piece of writing in which an author talks about rape, and make it seem like they are advocating rape, and still sell it under their name! This is in fact illegal. This is called the Right of False Attribution.

Secondly, if I am an author and I have released a book in which one particular character swears a lot, I could be using this to show that the character isn’t a very nice person. (I admit, this would be a pretty lazy way, but it is one way in which I could do this.) Say this character changes in the end and becomes a saint. Clean Reader then sells my book with all the swear words changed to “less offensive alternatives”. Reader X reads this book and publishes a review as follows.

“Eleanor St Clair has not convinced me that Joe Blogs is all that bad. He doesn’t seem to do much that makes me think he is bad, so his change for the good in the end isn’t that miraculous.”

Maybe my book completely deserved this review. (It probably did if I was so lazy as to show Joe Blogs’ evilness entirely through swearing!) But maybe my book didn’t deserve this review. Because at the end of the day, the reader is reviewing a completely different piece of work that is unrepresentative of what I sent into the world. More to the point, maybe the message I was sending out with this book- swearing is evil- is completely lost and my work doesn’t reflect this at all. This is also against my moral rights– namely my Right to Integrity. 

It doesn’t end there. Here is a list. I love lists. Clean Reader will hate this one.

  1. The app literally just searches for words and replaces them. It doesn’t take context into account. (See my story above).
  2. Authors cannot opt out of having their books sold through Clean Reader.
  3. It generalises. For example, three words for the female reproductive parts- pussy, vagina and another beginning with C (Which I really don’t want to write on here as it grosses me out a bit- see, AUTHOR’S CHOICE!) – are all changed to bottom. PLEASE! Vagina is a medical term! I really hope these people are not learning anatomy from their reading, because if a boyfriend tried to push his penis up my BOTTOM I would be very angry! But he would, according to Clean Reader, actually be trying to push his GROIN up my BOTTOM. Anatomically impossible? On a serious note, I really don’t think this is a healthy statement for female sexuality. Or male.
  4. Discrimination. Please, changing Bitch to Witch? That is discriminatory towards Wiccans.
  5. The slippery slope. If we start by allowing an app to edit out bad language, where does it stop? Editing out anything it finds offensive, such as rape, murder or sexism? Sure, I find these things offensive, but ignoring them doesn’t mean they are not happening. We have the right to offend! Taking these things out of books is actually really offensive towards people who have suffered these things. Also, people could then start editing out personal prejudices, such as religions, sexualities or political beliefs. What happens when this technology moves beyond books into We need to stop it now!

UPDATE: Statement from Clean Reader: “…many authors do not want their books being sold in connection with Clean Reader. We have therefore taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue. Any books our users have already purchased will still be available in their in-app library within Clean Reader…”

Ok, so Clean Reader aren’t selling books, but their app is still editing work…

Have I convinced you yet? If not, can I allow the number one critic of Clean Reader to help me out? Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present, Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat.




If I have convinced you, maybe you would be good enough to click on this link and sign a petition to Google, Apple, inktera and to take this app out of their stores! Thanks!

Booky love!
E. St. C.