ONE of my favourite political-speak euphemisms is "intervened".

Usually what's meant is that someone well kent has said something. Usually in response to being asked a question. But "such-and-such-has-said" is so much less dramatic than "such-and-such-has-intervened". That, and "waded into a row".

And so the prime minister has intervened by wading into a row about Roald Dahl's books. Rishi Sunak was asked what he thought about the tweaking of phrases in Dahl's beloved children's novels. Sensitivity readers employed by the publishing house Puffin have gone through the stories to take out words deemed offensive to modern sensibilities.

Plots haven't been changed or passages removed, nothing so dramatic. But words like "fat" and "ugly" are banished. A dreadful, unforgivable job has been done on a rewrite of the Centipede’s song from James and the Giant Peach to take out a reference to Aunt Spiker being "thin as a wire/and as dry as a bone".

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We're overdue a Dahl controversy, you can set a digital timing device by their appearance. Mr Sunak's take was that "we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words" and, for once, I can agree with him. Not everyone does.

Phillip Pullman, speaking on Radio 4, gave an intervention that I would say bordered on the bitchy, if I wasn't unsure how modern sensibilities bend towards that word. Let Dahl go out of print, Pullman said, and allow other, younger authors the space to enjoy prominence instead. God, I wish my university lecturers had had a bit more Pullman about them and I might have been spared the anguish of trying to make sense of The Nibelungenlied.

"Dahl," Pullman added, "can look after himself. I hadn’t read his books for very many years and I don’t want to again." Ooft. Almost as spicy as Angus Robertson's dig about turning down a place in the SNP leadership race due to having young children.

Anyway, Dahl. The thin end of the wedge of unacceptable censorship or an overdue move to ensure longevity for much-loved children's characters? Most likely the third: a money-making endeavour by the Dahl estate's owners.

Dahl was writing 50 years ago in a specific time and culture. We do a disservice to history by erasing it and recasting the novels themselves. Fine if Netflix, the relatively new purchaser of Dahl's works, wants to update the language for limited series or film but leave the books as they are.

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I've seen several mentions of the books being found inappropriate by Millennial parents and, although not a parent, I am a Millennial who is passionate about swamping my young nieces and nephews with books. I take a bit of offence at the notion we're to blame for this. "Fat" was the least of our worries in the rough and tumble of the playground and I feel that my generation is more robust than we're generally credited as.

It is, though, correct that the adults are the problem. Children's authors write for two audiences. They write for children, of course, but they also need to write for adults as the gatekeepers of literature: the parents, the librarians, the teachers.

HeraldScotland: Roald Dahl at Hythe Primary School in December 1979Roald Dahl at Hythe Primary School in December 1979 (Image: Newsquest)

I wonder if adults are giving children enough credit here. It's insulting children's intelligence to think they can't critically read a book and decide whether a character's appearance should be a judge of personality. Presumably the word "fat" or "ugly" is not censoriously offensive on its own but the issue is that the stereotype is offensive – that Mrs Twit's moral bankruptcy is synonymous with her ugliness or that Augustus Gloop's greed is not synonymous with his being fat.

Comparisons are made with the removal of words from Enid Blyton's novels but the comparison is weak. The most-cited word removed from Blyton's books is a damaging racist slur and definitely not appropriate for children. That's a high bar and where the bar should be set. Interfering in literature is a serious thing, to be done seriously, not because it makes us slightly uncomfortable.

Language shapes culture. If we're being inoculated from uncomfortable history then we have no measure of how far we've come and where we should go.

There's a new line in The Witches in which Grandmother explains that women can wear wigs for many reasons, not merely because they're a witch. It should be unanimously understood that having the n-word in a children's novel is wrong.

Upset at baldness standing for witchyness surely comes down to personal taste and individual sensitivity – I write as a woman with alopecia – and is a useful topic for discussion. It's not reason to alter a text.

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There comes a tipping point in life for those on the centre-left where you wonder what the issue will be that shifts perception of your views from liberal to conservative reactionary. Freedom of speech is one of those. One person's "answers a question" is another person's "radical intervention".

One person's "fat" is another's unacceptable slur. Literature, even children's, especially children's, exists to prompt thought, understanding and discussion. It doesn't need to be sanitised. The only people who can't understand that are the twits.