Apple’s Naughty Words

engraved iPodOK, this one is personal.

I wanted to buy a new iPod. I decided to order via Apple’s website in part because when you order online, Apple will engrave the iPod for you, at no extra cost.

I wanted to get one of my favourite philosophical quotations engraved. The quotation (from David Hume’s 1739 masterpiece, A Treatise of Human Nature) says: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”

But no. The Apple website refused my request. “Inappropriate message text.”

Huh? “Inappropriate”? A call to Customer Support confirmed my suspicion: the word “slave” is not allowed. You can’t have just anything engraved on your iPod. Certain words are forbidden. Uh, OK. I get that. Apple is providing a service, and they don’t want to engrave ridiculously offensive slogans on their merchandise. And there’s no free speech issue, here. You’re free to get someone else to engrave whatever you want on your iPod once you’ve got it. Apple just doesn’t want to do it for you.

But why is the word “slave,” in particular, forbidden? I don’t know, and the nice Customer Service rep didn’t know either. One possibility is the term’s association with the ugly, mostly-historical practice of human slavery. The other possibility is the term’s sexualization in the world of BDSM. Not exactly a dirty word, but (or so I supposed at first) Apple is just being super-cautious, and forbidding any word with vaguely sexual connotations.

So, just what words are forbidden? I doubt that list is made public, but a little experimentation (and imagination) turned up some interesting patterns, as well as some hilarious inconsistencies.

The word “slave” is forbidden, but “master” is permitted.
The term “vaginal” isn’t allowed, but “anal” is.
“Masturbation” is out, but “rape” is OK.
You can’t have “boobs,” but you can have “nipples.”
“Slut” is not permitted, but “whore” is fine.

I now officially have no idea what kind of filter Apple is using.

Interestingly, only six out of seven of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” are forbidden. The one that refers to someone who performs fellatio — itself a forbidden word — is allowed.

2 comments so far

  1. Nurglitch on


    Would it distort the quote too much to have it engraved as:

    “Reason is, and ought only to be the whore of the passions.”?

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Oddly, that’s exactly the alternative I was considering! LOL

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