The real reason iOS keyboards don’t let you swear

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If you swear from time to time — or, if you’re like me and curse like you just stubbed your toe in your everyday conversations — you’ve probably noticed by now that every popular third party keyboard available for iOS (and the same is true for Android) don’t come with profanity built-in. Don’t you justducking hate that?

It can feel as though the keyboard is scolding you for even considering adding a bad word or two to your personal communications, and it’s easy to roll your eyes at the idea that whoever programmed its behavior doesn’t think swear words are important enough to include. Is it to protect the App Store age rating, or perhaps a moral push to get us to be a bit more pleasant to each other?

We asked Aaron Sheedy, VP of Mobile Products for Nuance Communications — the company behindthe best-selling third party keyboard on the App Store, Swype, and the popular dictation software Dragon NaturallySpeaking — just why we’re not allowed to curse our hearts out. It turns out the answer falls somewhere between business necessity and protecting the users from themselves.

“The risk of having profanity in the dictionary is too high for most users,” Sheedy explains. “If someone wants to send a professional email, or send a text to their mom, they will be extremely displeased if the word they are trying to write ‘duck, whit, etc’ gets replaced by a swear word.” Adding “From a usability perspective, it’s better for a user to add their own words to the dictionary so that they can anticipate the possibility of those words coming up, instead of surprising their friends or family with them.”

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Fair enough. There are already entire websites dedicated to text message snafus, and if requiring users to add their own profanity acts as a failsafe, that’s probably a good thing in the end. But it’s not just about keeping you from inadvertently swearing at your mom, friend, or boss — it’s also to make doing business with other companies and organizations around the globe a bit easier.

“Our OEM and Carrier partners ship their devices to a wide range of countries all of which have varying tolerance on the presence of ‘offensive vocabulary’ in the default language model,” Sheedy says. “Due to this variation, we need to provide a language model that suits a wide range of customers. Wherever possible we build our language models to be connected so that they can adapt regionally (utilizing local dialect and slang) or pull down the users own language model.”

“Given all of that, we feel it’s better to err on the conservative side as a baseline and let the user make their own choice.”

So it looks like you shouldn’t expect Swype — or any other third party keyboard — to embrace your pottymouth anytime soon, but there is good news for anyone who requently adds curse words to their own personal digital dictionaries: Swype is planning on bringing its cross-device sync and backup features to iOS soon, so your personal profanity will follow you from your phone to your tablet, and back again. Sharp tongues rejoice!


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