Google says: “John” is “offensive”

100% human

Some months back a lovely young man came into the life of one of my daughters. But he had one problem. His name is John, and Google makes it hard to type “John” on an Android phone. Here’s how to fix the problem, but it comes at a cost.

We use WhatsApp to communicate within my family. In addition to various subgroups, we’ve created a large group for all of us. Including John. But whenever I’d try to address him, my attempts at swiping “John” on the Gboard keyboard (that is, Google’s keyboard) would usually result in “Johnny”, with alternatives like “join”, “job”, “Johnson”, “Johnston” and “John’s” on offer. But never “John”.


I love Gboard. I find swiping out words far faster and more accurate than tapping away. If only I could type John’s name.


Okay, I’m a bit slow. But lately I’d started to entertain with the idea that, just maybe, there’s something wrong with the word itself. I recall from novels that it was sometimes used as slang for, well, the bathroom. And sometimes to describe the male client of what we these days call a “sex worker”. But there are any number of entirely innocent names and words that have been applied to the less savoury aspects of life. So, I started exploring.

Problematic words

Could I swipe the common shortened version of Richard? GBoard put “duck” in the typing box and offered as alternatives “sick”, “Dickinson” and the duck emoji.


To really put it to the test, I tried swiping in an extensive collection of foul words. Plus quite a few that can mean the male member, as well as having innocuous meanings. With one exception, none of those could be produced by swiping. Clearly Google was censoring – excessively – my expression.

Could I switch it off?

Some searches referred to switching off “Block offensive words” in the settings. So, I went searching in the settings and couldn’t find anything of the kind, even under the settings for Gboard.

Making John Work

Further searching revealed the way you get to these settings. It’s not hard, if you know what you’re doing. Here’s how:

  1. Go to any app in which you type and tap in a text area. That will bring up Gboard (if that’s the keyboard that you use).
  2. Tap and hold the comma down near the bottom left corner of the keyboard. After a moment a settings gear icon will appear.
  3. Lift your finger, and the settings page will open.
  4. Tap “Text correction” and a new page with a stack of different settings will open. Have a look at them. Some of the others might be of interest to you as well.
  5. You’ll see that “Block offensive words” is switched on. Switch it off.
  6. Back out of the settings.
  7. Try swiping in various obscenities. You’ll be able to do so now without difficulty. A near miss will put the obscenity in the suggestion bar.
  8. And, of course, you can type truly innocuous words, like John and Dick, which Google has adjudged to be potentially offensive.

The downside of all this is that you’re increasing the chance of accidentally swiping an obscenity into an otherwise innocuous message.

Incidentally, one of the alternatives to “John” offered by Gboard was “Johnson”. Doesn’t Google know that Johnson also has a slang meaning?