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

Did you know?

In 1807, a new edition of the works of William Shakespeare hit the scene in England. Titled The Family Shakespeare, the collection of 20 of the Bard's plays in four volumes was at first anonymously edited, and promised in its preface to "remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious or virtuous mind." Though the sanitized project later became a public sensation (and a source of literary derision) after its expanded, ten-volume second edition was published in 1818 and credited solely to physician Thomas Bowdler, the original expurgation was in fact the work of his older sister Henrietta Maria "Harriet" Bowdler, an accomplished editor and author. Within a year of the younger Bowdler’s death in 1825, bowdlerize had come to refer to cutting out the dirty bits of other books and texts—testimony not only to the impact of his eye for impropriety, but to those of his sister Harriet as well, though her efforts were obscured by history, if not technically bowdlerized.

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 12 Jul. 2024.

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