Apple rejected the dictionary app Ninjawords three times before accepting it into the App Store, in the process forcing the developers to remove every word it deemed “objectionable,” including commonly-used words that have non-objectionable uses. Unlike many competing low-cost dictionary apps using WordNet, Ninjawords uses Wiktionary as its source. John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes that Mac OS X’s built-in Dictionary app lists all of the words deemed objectionable by App Store reviewers. After having been rejected in May for a bug that crashed the software on the latest beta of iPhone OS 3.0, the app was rejected again for listing curse words.

Phil Crosby, a developer for Ninjawords maker Matchstick Software, told Gruber in an email interview that the rejection came despite the fact that Ninjawords filtered out all curse words in its suggestion listings, something competing apps, including Dictionary.com’s application, don’t do. It was rejected a third time following Matchstick’s efforts to remove the curse words, with an Apple representative calling Matchstick to inform them that “no matter what we did to our dictionary, it will have to be 17+ to make it to the App Store.” In the end, Matchstick ended up having to remove common words such as snatch, c*ck, and screw, and managed to have the app approved in mid-July. Ninjawords is available now from the App Store and sells for $2.

Update: Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller has responded to Gruber’s report via an email, stating that Ninjawords was rejected not because of common swear words, but because of “other more vulgar terms,” “urban slang” that might be more offensive than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, and suggested that had the developer waited for the release of Parental Controls in iPhone OS 3.0, the app would not have needed censoring.

“You are correct that the Ninjawords application should not have needed to be censored while also receiving a 17+ rating, but that was a result of the developers’ actions, not Apple’s. I believe that the Apple app review team’s original recommendation to the developer to submit the Ninjawords application, without censoring it, to the App Store once parental controls was implemented would have been the best course of action for all; Wiktionary.org is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary,” Schiller said in his email.