bowd·​ler·​ize ˈbōd-lə-ˌrīz How to pronounce bowdlerize (audio) ˈbau̇d- How to pronounce bowdlerize (audio)
bowdlerized; bowdlerizing

transitive verb

literature : to expurgate (something, such as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar
bowdlerize the text
: to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content
bowdlerization noun
bowdlerizer noun

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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.

Examples of bowdlerize in a Sentence

bowdlerize a classic novel by removing offensive language a bowdlerized version of “Gulliver's Travels” that purportedly makes it unobjectionable for children
Recent Examples on the Web Congress and the president must counter the forces that seek to diminish, exploit or bowdlerize our understanding of this terrible and confounding un-American event. James Reston Jr., Star Tribune, 29 Mar. 2021 The mobs of students — and their enabling professors and administrators — renaming buildings and bowdlerizing the language are still products of Western civilization. Jonah Goldberg, Alaska Dispatch News, 28 Aug. 2017 The Bard gets bowdlerized to musical and comic effect in this touring production of the Broadway hit, in which the Bottom Brothers try to outdo that dude from Stratford-upon-Avon. Kerry Reid,, 25 May 2017 Prince the raunchy sylph eventually became a Jehovah’s Witness who would bowdlerize his more explicit material in concert. John Williams, New York Times, 11 Apr. 2017 Maybe there’s a kind of metaphor in there, about how young and spiky verve gets softened and bowdlerized by time spent in the world. Richard Lawson,, 17 Apr. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bowdlerize.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Thomas Bowdler †1825 English editor

First Known Use

1826, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of bowdlerize was in 1826

Dictionary Entries Near bowdlerize

Cite this Entry

“Bowdlerize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

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