Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seven words you can never say on iPhone.

by alec on August 5, 2009

The first George Carlin routine I ever heard was the Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV.  Carlin made a point of skewering television’s language police in a foul-mouthed stand-up routine that was simultaneously shocking and brilliant in its logic.   He must surely be laughing in his grave over Apple’s latest move – the censorship of the NinjaWords Dictionary on iPhone.  Yes, six of those same words, first satirized by Carlin in 1972, can now no longer be found on the iPhone version of the dictionary.  I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out which one escaped Apple’s prudish and uneducated censors.

You’ll be happy to know, however, that hundreds of “indecent” words never satirized by Carlin made it through unscathed.  Need a definition for asswipe, johnson, muff, golden shower, 420, spliff, or cooch?  No trouble.  NinjaWords has them.  They just can’t tell you that cock is a synonym for rooster, because you can’t actually look the words up – cock or rooster.  In fact, nowhere in the NinjaWords dictionary is it possible to find a word describing a male chicken, presumably because that might lead to … cock. Or who knows? Perhaps someone in Apple’s censorship department has just revealed a secret chicken fetish.

You can’t find a definition for mother, either, although you can find father without any trouble.  Presumably that’s because the search algorithm might turn up motherfucker – a common vulgarity – whereas fatherfucker is, well, not that common a vulgarity.  To find a definition for mother, first look up parent, and then select the link mother from the definition “One of the two persons from whom one is immediately biologically descended; a mother or father.”

In fact, you can find most of the censored words by eventually following a similar circuitous path, as NinjaWords has removed them from the index but not the dictionary.  For example, to find pussy, choose puss (cat has been removed from the index), then choose cat from the first definition for puss, and then pussy from the synonyms to cat. Bizarrely, you can look up modern day pejoratives built around pussy such as pussified (ironically first used by George Carlin in 1998) – defined as “to make weak or effeminate” – but not anything that actually references cats or female genitalia. Never mind the fact that the first recorded use of the word pussy referring to a cat was around 1575.

Throughout the iPhone version of NinjaWords you simply can’t find common words like mother, chicken, cat, or rooster. Moreover, common slang definitions, however vulgar they might be, have been exorcised from the dictionary as well. George Carlin’s famous line “You can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick” would be impossible to figure out with this dictionary.

The ultimate irony?  How can it have escaped anyone at Apple that for $0.99 you can buy Carlin’s Seven Words routine on iTunes, but for $1.99 you can’t buy a dictionary that defines those words on the App Store?

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