Saturday, 10 September 2011


Bowdlerise -    [bohd-luh-rahyz] – verb (used with object) meaning to expurgate (a written work) by removing or modifying passages considered vulgar or objectionable.

Origin: 1830–40; after Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825), the English editor of an expurgated edition of Shakespeare

I once read a book called 'D*amn - Dr Bowdier's Legacy' by Noel Perrin. I love the exploration of bowdlerising - the idea of expurgating the text of books, jokes, and anything that might offend delicate ears. In France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries books were frequently castrated and in 1655 Pierre Costar joked that to speak of a livre châtré was itself an indecency. To quote from Noel Perrin:

“(from The Delicate Jester, 1780) - 'A buck, walking down the street, met with an old decayed lady, with a gown that was by age worn thread-bare; the buck thinking to crack a jest with her, look up the hem of the gown and kiss'd it; which she looking back and taking notice of, asked him what he meant by that. 'Only,' says he. 'to honour old age.'
'Alas! Sir,' replied she, 'you might have kissed my backside then, for that is forty years

One could make a little calendar of how that story would be told. In 1740 the old lady would probably have been represented as plainly telling the buck to kiss her arse. In 1778 refinement is on the march, and she says backside; this constitutes a bowdlerized version. From early in the nineteenth century to the First World War a lady would not have made the remark at all. In the 1920s and thirties she would probably have said 'behind'. (One of the most daring printers of unexpurgated literature in the twenties was a little New York press calling itself 'At the Sign of the Blue-Behinded Ape'). Now we are just returning to arse and ass again.

For those who think that progress is some kind of universal, the history of bowdlerism should be a good corrective.”


  1. Thanks. Brilliant a word I had never heard of. A really good one.
    It reminded me of a book I enjoyed when I first learnt to read. Lambs Tales from Shakespeare. I must find a copy and see if it is still magical.
    I have only been reading a few years. Ten I think!

  2. hi, here is a crumb trail to my new 'space'

    luv 'alice' (fff)


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