Where does the word “bowdlerize” come from and What does bowdlerize mean?

Now and then someone comes along who, just like the heroes of mythological times, does something that causes his name to be perpetuated.

Sometimes his action is altogether innocent, with no thought that it will bring him lasting glory; sometimes his name becomes noted because the action was held to be especially ridiculous or arbitrary.

Thus, back in 1818, the Scottish physician, Dr. Thomas Bowdler, had no other thought than the favor he was conferring upon conscientious British families when, at great pains, he brought out a new edition of the works of William Shakespeare.

The value of this edition, he thought, lay in the fact that he had so edited it that all “words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.” But it is a risky business for a publisher to decide how the works of a famous writer may be improved, and Dr. Bawdier found himself being held up to ridicule.

From his name, bowdlerize became a symbol for the arbitrary expurgation of words from famous literary works.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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