Type or swipe the word on the latest version of Android’s Google Keyboard — or for that matter “intercourse,” “coitus,” “screwing” or even “lovemaking” — and the web giant’s predictive algorithm will offer no help.
These are just a few examples from an obsessive, and often baffling list of more than 1,400 English words that Google has quietly deemed inappropriate for Android users.
They’re all part of a strange, 165,000-word dictionary that appears in the source code of KitKat, the latest version of the Android operating system.
The banned directory includes “butt” and “geek,” all seven of George Carlin’s dirty words, a frat party’s worth of homophobia and misogyny, and is peppered with pornographic sub genres and fetishistically obscure medical terms, like “gonadatrophia” and “irrumination.” Genitalia is banned (with special attention paid to women’s bodies) as well as a mystifying selection of words that aren’t generally considered offensive, like “thud” and “LSAT.”
The filter can be disabled in the Google Keyboard settings, which makes all words both swipeable and available for autocomplete. As you can imagine, turning the filter off allows for foul language and grim racial slurs. But you’ll also get mild euphemisms like “pizzle.” You can always choose to manually add words as well.
Taken as a whole, Google’s list suggests not only a surprising discomfort with sexuality, but also reproductive health and undergarments. Words like “panty,” “braless,” “Tampax,” “lactation,” and “preggers” are censored along with sexual health vocabulary like “uterus” and “STI.”
“I try to Swype-type the word ‘condom’ and I get ‘condition’ or ‘confusion,’” said Jillian York, a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There is no context in which that makes any sense. Grow up, Android.”
Indeed, many of the rules seem to go well beyond simple inconsistency into the realm of the absurd. For example, there’s a zero tolerance policy on “morphine,” “demerol” and barbituric acid precursor “malonylurea,” while “marijuana,” “methamphetamine” and even “bong” are allowed. Islam-related words “Sunni” and “Iftar” are censored, but many others related to the Muslim faith and other religions are kosher. Tech outfits “AMD” and “Garmin” are both verboten and yet Google competitors “Apple” and “Microsoft” are permitted.
Google declined to comment on how it compiles the list of offensive words, and how often it’s updated. But it’s clear that built-in dictionaries for other languages censor far fewer words.
As others have pointed out, words included in any dictionary, digital and otherwise, can quickly become a political issue. Anti-bullying advocacy group Grin Campaign successfully lobbied the Oxford English Dictionary and Microsoft Office to include the word “transphobia” in future editions, and during the runup to the 2008 presidential election, New York Times blogger David Pogue pointed out that many versions of Microsoft Office still did not recognize the name “Obama” (though an updated word list was available at the time as a patch).
But perhaps the most surprising thing about the Android dictionary is the number of Google’s own products that aren’t a part of it. So while the predictive system will help you out with a word like “iPhone,” you’ll get nothing when you type or swipe in “Chromebook,” “Zagat,” or “AdMob.” In fact, they’ll all be marked as misspelled.