Posted by: Jack Henry | April 30, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Bowdlerize this!

I was just trolling my mailbox for something fun to discuss today (welcome to those of you who have recently joined) and I stumbled on an article from I guess “fun” is relative, but here’s some info on a special kind of censorship editing and a comic for fellow word nerds. Enjoy!


Henrietta and Thomas Bowdler were an English sister and brother who prepared and published an 1807 edition of Shakespeare’s works that was meant to be appropriate for women and children and for families to read together. To accomplish this, they removed or changed many words, phrases, and passages they believed to be racy or offensive. This is the origin of the verb bowdlerize, which means to remove elements considered offensive (from a literary work or other work of art).

Bowdlerization is similar to censorship, but more narrowly defined. Censorship is often official, often politically motivated, and often applied to nonartistic texts, while bowdlerization is usually done by a private individual or group seeking to make a work of art more morally acceptable. Also, censorship often involves outright removal of parts of texts, while bowdlerization often involves cleaning things up but not removing them. The word tends to have negative connotations. Bowdlerizers typically use other terms to describe what they do.

(Thank you for the comic, Jarvae!)

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

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