Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 15th, 2015
Episode 196 of 755 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 15, 2015 is: bowdlerize \BOHD-ler-ize\ verb 1 : to expurgate by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar 2 : to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content Examples: Years later, it was discovered that the publisher had bowdlerized many of the poet's letters. "Being an iconic classic, however, hasn't protected Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from being banned, bowdlerized and bleeped. It hasn't protected the novel from being cleaned up, updated and 'improved.'" Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, January 6, 2011 Did you know? Few editors have achieved the notoriety of Thomas Bowdler. He was trained as a physician, but when illness prevented him from practicing medicine, he turned to warning Europeans about unsanitary conditions at French watering places. Bowdler then carried his quest for purification to literature, and in 1818 he published his Family Shakspeare [sic], a work in which he promised that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." The sanitized volume was popular with the public of the day, but literary critics denounced his modifications of the words of the Bard. Bowdler applied his literary eraser broadly, and within 11 years of his death in 1825, the word bowdlerize was being used to refer to expurgating books or other texts.