I have a rather long commute to my work every day (oh, if every day were Yom Kippur. I got to work in nearly half the time it usually takes me today. But I digress…) so I keep an audiobook going nearly all the time. That’s right, the solution to your daily commute: audiobooks. I still have to pay attention to the road, of course, but for at least 90 minutes a day I have me time where – get this – someone reads to me! It’s like being in elementary school all over again!

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a variety of books, everything from Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott) to Prey (Michael Crichton). Currently, I’m in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Whatever I read/listen to, though, I am very sure to only get unabridged versions of the audiobooks.  So something on my ride home got me a bit miffed.

I was listening to A Farewell to Arms and some of the characters were talking and getting a little worked up, and then one of them swore. Or at least, I can only surmise that he swore because the word was silenced. Not bleeped out, silenced, like a scratch on the CD caused it to skip.

Look, I’m certainly not one for excessive profanity, but this is ridiculous. If I were to actually read the book, I seriously doubt the word would have been redacted, a thick black bar obscuring the text for those four letters. Unabridged means that the text has not been shortened, and by extension, otherwise altered. Look, this isn’t TV we’re talking about. There aren’t rules about what can and can’t be said. Hemingway put the word in there for a reason and I see no reason that the audiobook company should have removed it.

Words have power. That’s part of why swearing should be used so sparingly. Cuss words are crude implements, but properly implemented they can have great poignancy.

I’m in full support of editing all the unnecessary swearing out of movies, books, etc. before they are published. We’ll tell better stories that way. Profanity for profanity’s sake isn’t helping anybody. But we can agree that Ernest Hemingway was a pretty great author. The book was published with the word in there. I want the full force of Hemingway’s prose, not some truncated version.

I don’t really have more to say right now because I’m a little exasperated by this (could you tell?), but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this sort of thing. There was a pretty big hullabaloo not that long ago when some publisher decided to edit “nigger” out of Mark Twain’s writing. I’m not going to try to tell you that’s a pretty word. It’s not. But that’s also why it’s important. You don’t get the same characterization or effect out of another word.

Please, stop messing with our books. We’re smart enough to decide what’s worth reading and what’s not without some editor choosing for us.

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