To censor or purge a literary work by editorial omission of indelicate or potentially offensive passages, from the early 1830s. . . . inspired by a popular pre-Victorian edition of Shakespeare's "incomplete" works - stripped of overtones of and references to drinking, carousing, and general evil-doing - published in 1818 by the Reverend Thomas Bowdler for use as "family reading." . . . Bowdler, a Scottish doctor who had abandoned a medical practice thirty years earlier because his patients made him "queasy," explained that he wanted to present this material without "anything that could raise a blush on the cheek of modesty."

In modern times, this often refers to the odious practice (seen everywhere from IRC to supposedly respectable newspapers) of leaving in "indecent" words, but partially obscuring them: for example, "I have to take a sh*t" or "f— your mother!". It adds obscurity without reducing vulgarity, resulting in the worst of both worlds. As lj points out, it also draws the eye directly to the mangled word, which looks out of place.

Bowd"ler*ize (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Bowdlerized (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Bowdlerizing (?).] [After Dr. Thomas Bowdler, an English physician, who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1818.]

To expurgate, as a book, by omitting or modifying the parts considered offensive.

It is a grave defect in the splendid tale of Tom Jones . . . that a Bowdlerized version of it would be hardly intelligible as a tale. F. Harrison.

-- Bowd`ler*i*za"tion (#), n. -- Bowd"ler*ism (#), n.

 

© Webster 1913.

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